Early on in A Burglar’s Guide to the City, Geoff Manaugh’s transporting and transformative book on the criminal uses of urban space, I met Bill Mason. Mason is a jewel thief, yes, but also a “watcher of buildings”. He’s pretty much a reader of buildings.
Mason started out in real estate, and became intrigued by the apartments he was showing clients. “I liked buildings,” he told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer in 2005. Why does he like them? Because, “you could go in and achieve something, bypass a lot of security. And it was a game, it became a challenge, a sort of adrenalin rush I got addicted to.” Mason became a jewel thief, in other words, because of something that sounds a lot like a form of love.
A reader of buildings! Mason would wander, often at night, reading the faces of the buildings he passed. He was looking for useful ledges, easy windows, rooftops he could reach at a push. It was a process of finding useful details, and then chaining them together to create a path. I know this feeling. I was doing it last week.