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misadventures in psychogeography and interaction design

How to exit from a skyscraper



at around 5:30am yesterday (June 27th), an unoccupied 13-storey residental building still under construction at Lianhuanan Road in the Minxing district of Shanghai city toppled over, killing one worker. this is an amazing picture, considering how structurally intact the rest of the building seems to be, except… that they forgot to attach it to the ground a little better.

Telegraph: “Sub-standard workmanship has been a major concern in China’s building sector, as the country rolls out enormous city expansions and finishes off vast infrastructure projects to keep pace with fast economic growth. Construction-related accidents last year included the collapse of a steel arch on a new railway bridge, which killed at least seven, and a crane which fell on a kindergarten, killing five.”

but of course i’m scarcely as interested in things falling onto people as i am interested about people falling off buildings (particularly because at it is still a matter of a choice). even if the details are somewhat sketchy, what intrigues me is the Xinhua news agency report that the sole fatality in this incident had been a worker who was in the building retrieving his tools, and that he had tried to escape from the building by jumping OUT of it. i’m supposing he was still subsequently squashed by the building but the point is that jumping out of a tall building might not necessarily everyone’s reaction to realising that the building is collapsing. would you voluntarily jump out of a building if you knew you were going to die in it anyway and were probably going to die jumping out of it as well, or is this completely arbitrary?


Starting from the 1950s, Mao Zedong initiated two successive totalitarian movements called the “Three Antis” and “Five Antis” to “rid urban areas of corruption” by targeting wealthy capitalists and political opponents.

During this period of terror, hundreds of thousands were driven to suicide: “If you jumped into the Huangpu River and were swept away so the Communists didn’t have a corpse, they would accuse you of having escaped to Hong Kong and your family would suffer. So the best way was to leap down the street.

In Shanghai, people jumping to their deaths from skyscrapers became so commonplace that they acquired the nickname ‘parachutes’.

Parachute: from Fr. parachute, lit. “that which protects against a fall,” hybrid coined by Fr. aeronaut François Blanchard (1753-1809) from para- “defense against” (from L. parare “prepare”) + chute “a fall”

something from Georges Perec’s “Parachute Jump” that i have always liked:
“For as long as we hadn’t been told to get our equipment on, we weren’t afraid because we weren’t yet sure we’d be jumping. From the moment you begin to get your equipment on, you are sure of jumping. Then, you begin to check to see your parachute is all there. You check the fastenings, you check the… You get your equipment on, you check the length of the harness, you fasten the harness, at that moment, you have the parachute behind your back and in front of you. The parachute weighs fifteen kilograms, it is a very heavy and extremely hard thing to carry, one is really… condemned, one is really… minimised! Anyway, it is terrible: you can’t carry it, can’t walk with it. You’re forced to put up with it.”

“…at that moment everyone begins to move forward. And as you move forward, you gradually lose your awareness of yourself. The only thing left is your determination, the determination to get this inertia over with, all this heaviness, all the difficulty there is in having a 15-kilo parachute on your back and on your stomach…. And the moment comes when you find yourself facing into the void… There’s nothing in front of you. And you have to throw yourself out…. The fact is, a moment comes when you’re in the presence of… its not even that you’re in the presence of a danger, its that you have at all costs to put your trust in something.”


on the famous Falling Man photograph taken on 9-11: “For more than an hour and a half, they streamed from the building, one after another, consecutively rather than en masse, as if each individual required the sight of another individual jumping before mustering the courage to jump himself or herself. One photograph, taken at a distance, shows people jumping in perfect sequence, like parachutists, forming an arc composed of three plummeting people, evenly spaced. Indeed, there were reports that some tried parachuting, before the force generated by their fall ripped the drapes, the tablecloths, the desperately gathered fabric, from their hands.”

i’m sure it has been noted many times that in the 9-11 incident which claimed thousands of lives, it was only the few people who jumped from the buildings who remained as the only visible and singularly identifiable human casualties that day, as compared to the thousands of unseen fatalities that day.