Brooklyn’s lost world

The soft-white underbelly: Nathan Austin’s urban explorations take him to places most people never get to see.
Photo by Tod Seelie

Exploring the dark corners of the abandoned Domino Sugar factory and then canoeing down the East River in search of hidden, decaying spots on the shore is a typical weekend for Nathan Austin.

Austin is an urban explorer. The 31-year-old intrepidly enters abandoned buildings and cordoned off nooks and crannies around Brooklyn, hoping to find places to get a little-seen perspective on the city.

Austin has been exploring like this since he was a boy.

“When I was a little kid, I was always climbing on top of buildings to see what was on the roof or seeing what kind of strange machinery was buried in the basement,” he said. “Every kid has that curiosity. I never lost it as I grew up.”

Now, Austin is sharing his expertise and insights on urban exploration in Brooklyn.

“It’s about the use of space. Who’s space is this? How is it being used? It’s about the channel we flow in,” said Austin. “I want to encourage people to see the city in a way that’s different from how they are told to see it.”

Austin’s explorations are not always planned. Sometimes he’ll just come across an interesting place to check out while walking down the street. Maybe he’ll notice an opening into an abandoned building or an unused opening to a subway station. Once he determines that it’s safe, it’s hard to keep him out.

In his upcoming lecture on urban exploring, Austin plans to discuss the logistics and ethics of sneaking into spaces one is not supposed to be. Some of the logistics are common sense: wear practical shoes, bring gloves, don’t explore while drunk, don’t break into people’s homes.

But there are also more delicate issues. For example, if Austin is exploring and runs into homeless people, he will back off and go find another spot to check out.

“They’ve made a home there and that’s worthy of respect,” said Austin. “I want to encourage people to explore, but I want them to do it respectfully.”

Nathan Austin’s “How To Trespass: An Illustrated Lecture on the Logistics and Ethics of Trespassing” at the Observatory (543 Union St. at Nevins in Gowanus, Jan. 8, 8 pm, $10 includes a cocktail.

Reach reporter Danielle Furfaro at or by calling (718) 260-2511. Follow her at

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