Ooh, what's inside there?
July 17, 2008 3:43 PM   Subscribe

So what's inside areas that are closed off to the public, in buildings?

I know places like hospitals have certain areas that are closed off to the public because they are morgues, have hazardous materials inside, or whatever...but there's other places I have trouble guessing why they restrict access.

Some examples:

On my campus, the library, business, and education buildings have areas where students and sometimes faculty aren't allowed. Same thing with the dorms, but it is even weirder. Some of the stairwells are locked. Isn't that a fire hazard? One of the dorms obviously have a fourth floor, yet no one lives up there, and you can't get there from the stairs or elevator.

Not too long ago, I looked at the floor plan of my favorite casino, and noticed that there was at least five rooms that didn't have a number or name.

As for elevators...I sometimes see keyholes instead of buttons on certain floors. It's usually the very top or very bottom floor(s).

I don't know if this is urban legend or not...I heard that the 13th floor in some buildings aren't open to the public. Superstitious much?If that's true, what's there?
posted by sixcolors to Grab Bag (40 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
 
Most of those locked rooms are probably storage for janitorial supplies, access rooms for heating and cooling equipment, network and phone patch bays; there's lots of infrastructure that keeps a modern office building running that doesn't play well with untrained strangers wandering about.

In your casino, one of those rooms is probably the security center where people sit and watch the CCTV's all day.

Re: the 13th floor, in general, it's not that it's a floor they built but wont' let people on, so much as they just re-label the 13th floor as "14". I've lived in 3 different apartment towers where I was on the "14th" floor. The elevator buttons just went from 12 to 14, no 13th floor to skip over.

There are some very tall buildings that put their HVAC systems at a midway point in the building, and those floors will be closed to non-maintenance people, as well.

Your elevator question is likely related to either a floor that has been reserved for equipment (lower/mid floors), or a penthouse suite (upper floors) where they want an extra layer of security.
posted by nomisxid at 3:53 PM on July 17, 2008


Usually those areas are the building plant... meaning HVAC ( heating, ventilation, and air conditioning), boilers, backup generators. It takes a whole bunch of stuff to run a building. There are also areas for storage- cleaning supplies, tools, and extra furniture (tables, chairs for events).

As for the 13th floor, I've never heard of them not being open. They sometimes skip thirteen in the numbering (so the building goes from 12 to 14, with the 14th floor really being the 13th).
posted by kimdog at 3:53 PM on July 17, 2008


It is my understanding that in tall buildings that "don't have a 13th floor," the physical 13th floor is labeled as the 14th floor and so-on. Economics being what they are, I find it hard to imagine even the most superstitious of building owners letting an entire floor go to waste like that.
posted by Juffo-Wup at 3:53 PM on July 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


Speaking of building owners letting entire floors go to waste, my understanding is that much of the City of Faith in Tulsa (now Cityplex, but I'm still calling it what Oral called it, the conniving bastard) buildings are not finished and have never been occupied.

Presumably, those floors are not accessible by elevator.
posted by wierdo at 4:05 PM on July 17, 2008


I did think about building plant stuff, especially in basements or bottom floors...but some areas appear to be something completely different. The closed off areas in the library and education building have keyless entries and opaque windows on the doors.
posted by sixcolors at 4:07 PM on July 17, 2008


Offices and stuff. It's much less romantic than you seem to hope.
posted by OmieWise at 4:07 PM on July 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


I think you might be interested in Infiltration, the "zine about going places you're not supposed to go." It may answer some of these questions for you, and it'll give you tips on finding out for yourself as well.
posted by Karlos the Jackal at 4:07 PM on July 17, 2008


The elevator buttons just went from 12 to 14, no 13th floor to skip over

Best you check the stairwells, just to be sure :-)
posted by flabdablet at 4:10 PM on July 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


I used to work for the National Trust (organisation in the UK that preserves historic buildings, amongst other things). One of our most popular tours at one stately home I worked at was the behind the scenes tour.

What did people see?

The offices, computers, desks, teetering piles of paper and notices about not taking the last of the stationary without informing Maureen so she can order more, the staff room, the staff kitchen, storage rooms full of boxes of old leaflets, the education room which was open to school kids anyway.

They would still come back and do it again.

The other areas of the house that they couldn't see were flats, one for the current Earl and his family, a holiday flat and 2 more that were for staff that worked there. Although they were in pretty impressive surroundings, they were just normal flats.

It's all pretty mundane and boring, but fascinates people. What did you expect to find?
posted by Helga-woo at 4:11 PM on July 17, 2008 [3 favorites]


sixcolorsPoster: "I did think about building plant stuff, especially in basements or bottom floors...but some areas appear to be something completely different. The closed off areas in the library and education building have keyless entries and opaque windows on the doors."

Ask administrators of those schools/buildings. The world isn't so horrible a place that you're going to be disappeared for asking what's in a room, when you have access to the rest of the building.
posted by Science! at 4:17 PM on July 17, 2008


Those places are where the various cabals meet, their shadowy members arriving through hidden private elevators and secret entrances to meet and supervise their secretive plans for controlling the world. Sometimes, cheaper cabals make do with 'permanently' locked doors and frosted windows in normal rooms, and key rather than button access in public elevators.

Or, y'know, they just put stuff in there that the don't want the public or even normal staff to access. Air con, phone systems, electrical systems, UPSs, computer rooms, secured archives, climate-controlled storage, etc, etc. Places where the rules for access are effectively "if you know what you're doing in there you can get in there; if not, not".

Next time, just grab the first building services guy you see and ask. They'll probably tell you.
posted by Pinback at 4:19 PM on July 17, 2008 [7 favorites]


As for elevators...I sometimes see keyholes instead of buttons on certain floors. It's usually the very top or very bottom floor(s).

I got to stay on the concierge floor of a hotel once, and you had to insert your key to press the button for that floor. There was a key entry thing to get in off the stairwell, too. The floor was just like any other hotel floor, except that it had a lounge with free snacks and drinks. It was mostly worth the extra money for the room, too. Such lounges are typically closed on weekends, I'm guessing because there's far fewer business travelers then.
posted by booksherpa at 4:30 PM on July 17, 2008


On my campus, the library, business, and education buildings have areas where students and sometimes faculty aren't allowed. Same thing with the dorms, but it is even weirder. Some of the stairwells are locked. Isn't that a fire hazard? One of the dorms obviously have a fourth floor, yet no one lives up there, and you can't get there from the stairs or elevator.

It's not necessarily a fire hazard. If there are enough stairways open, and they're dispersed in such a way that they meet the exiting requirements for the building, there's no fire hazard. If the stairway is locked to keep you from going up to an unoccupied floor, there's no fire hazard. If there are dorm floors that are unoccupied, they're probably shut off to keep the "attractive nuisance" factor down a bit. There was a building at my school that you could easily get onto the roof for, and sometimes in another building you could get into the basement and get into the steam tunnels. Students have *no* reason to be in there, and there's legitimate dangers, so they get locked off just for liability's sake, and to protect their own equipment from vandalism.

Not too long ago, I looked at the floor plan of my favorite casino, and noticed that there was at least five rooms that didn't have a number or name.

As others have said, security rooms, counting rooms, HVAC, elevator mechanical rooms, etc. If you can't think of a reason why a casino might not want you to know what goes on in certain rooms, well....

As for elevators...I sometimes see keyholes instead of buttons on certain floors. It's usually the very top or very bottom floor(s).

Top floor is usually a penthouse, either for a residence or building services, like elevator stuff or HVAC. Or it's a roof access. Similar for basements.

I don't know if this is urban legend or not...I heard that the 13th floor in some buildings aren't open to the public. Superstitious much?If that's true, what's there?

Again, as others have said, it's probably HVAC stuff, or they just skipped a floor on the numbering system. See these pictures of the Sears Tower. See the bands across the building at certain floors? Those are floors that are pretty much dedicated to heating and cooling the building, or other mechanical stuff.
posted by LionIndex at 5:02 PM on July 17, 2008


Get a flashlight, stay up late, learn to pick locks, go with a friend, learn to react to "Security! Run!". Roof and tunnel hacking. Especially on college campuses there are WOW! Neato! places behind those doors that lead to bad poetry from somebody back in the 20's, beer that's been left/lost for dozens of years, and rooms with a desk and a girlie calendar from 1970. Learn to run and lie, then go exploring, it's a blast.
posted by zengargoyle at 5:15 PM on July 17, 2008


Those places are where the various cabals meet, their shadowy members arriving through hidden private elevators and secret entrances to meet and supervise their secretive plans for controlling the world.

Depending on your school, that's not necessarily false. Just saying.

But yeah, one of the best parts of my college education has been learning how to get on rooftops. And then getting stoned on said rooftops. Other places you should explore after hours: library stacks, church basements, tombs, the gym, and any other old buildings you can find.

YMMV, but my college's security is extremely benevolent regarding such shadowy activities.
posted by acidic at 5:42 PM on July 17, 2008


Another interesting one is when there is a two-story meeting room or such. In a commercial building, that'll often cause a "room" on the 2nd floor that has no doors, which can look awfully suspicious on a plan or when you're trying to make a mental map.
posted by smackfu at 5:45 PM on July 17, 2008


I used to work in a library (a few, actually) that had rooms with keyless entry systems and opaque glass. Every single time, without exception: closed stacks.
posted by box at 5:51 PM on July 17, 2008


Contrary to the general trend of comments, I once worked in a building in which, behind a faceless basement door, was something called Omega Control (I kid you not), and was a security-related operation. I probably shouldn't say more than that, but always thought it was an incredibly corny name.
posted by idb at 5:59 PM on July 17, 2008


In museums, sometimes entire galleries are closed off because they can't afford enough staff to keep all of them open at once.
posted by Melismata at 6:09 PM on July 17, 2008


The most extreme case of strange floor numbering in a casino that I know of is the Rio Suites in Vegas.

It turns out that the number 4 (四 shi ) is considered unlucky by the Japanese. That's because it sounds the same as 死 shi which means "death". There are no floors at the Rio which include the digit "4" in their floor numbers, because they get a lot of Japanese clientele.

Or so I was told when I asked about it.

Of course, it's not that those floors are empty. It's just that the numbering skips those values.
posted by Class Goat at 6:13 PM on July 17, 2008


One of the dorms obviously have a fourth floor, yet no one lives up there, and you can't get there from the stairs or elevator.

I lived in such a building. (Even the floor numbers matched!) I was on the 3rd floor, right next to a staircase that went up to the 4th floor. No one ever took that stairwell, so one weekend I decided to investigate. I was all excited about spelunking or whatnot, and even slipped a flashlight into my back pocket. (A small one, in case I got caught, so I could try to claim I was lost... or something.) What secrets would I unearth?

It wasn't much of an investigation, it turned out. The door was locked, but had one of those little tempered glass windows. I shined the flashlight in, and saw... A bunch of furnace-type stuff. I was kind of disappointed, frankly, as I'd spent quite some time wondering what could be up there.

Last year (senior year) my dorm room was right across from a big locked closet. One day they were doing some work and didn't lock the door... So I investigated again. A fusebox, a vacuum cleaner (presumably for the janitor), and a wireless access point. (Presumably locked because someone would take the vacuum cleaner within a couple days, and because come the weekend, someone would most assuredly pee into the fusebox and get electrocuted.)

I used to work in a place that had a janitor's closet. We kept it locked full-time, and caught hell any time we left the door ajar. The reason wasn't that the bosses were worried someone would steal our toilet paper or Windex, but that it's apparently a major liability if someone were to wander in and burn their eyes out with Bleach or something.

As for elevators...I sometimes see keyholes instead of buttons on certain floors.

The Student Center at my school had a keyhole for the 4th floor. Storage and janitorial supplies, it turns out. You'd always see the janitors going up.

nth-ing what others have said about "stop a maintenance person and ask." If your experience is anything like mine, you'll not only get your answer, but you'll make the guy's day, since he's accustomed to dealing with bratty college kids who think he's there to clean up after them and complain when he doesn't fix their problems fast enough, and here you are, actually interested in what he does.
posted by fogster at 6:27 PM on July 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


There's a rumor of tunnels connecting the buildings at a local college. The rumor has it that the tunnels were used to go from the dorms to class during bad weather, but that they have been closed since "the rapes." While the rumor of rapes may be true, knowing the limitations of this particular college makes me think that it is most likely that the tunnels were closed because they didn't meet the access standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act and were too expensive to fix.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 6:59 PM on July 17, 2008


When I worked at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle many moons ago, the (as I recall) 5th and 9th floors were locked. One was the psychiatric ward and the other was for dangerous patients (read, prisoners, etc.).
posted by maxwelton at 7:11 PM on July 17, 2008


It's the Hot Chicks Room
posted by zippy at 7:14 PM on July 17, 2008 [2 favorites]


In one of the more fascinating bits of "What are they building in there?," there's an oil well hidden behind the walls of a major Los Angeles shopping center. (Related: More hidden oil architecture in L.A.)
posted by mykescipark at 7:15 PM on July 17, 2008 [2 favorites]


Plenty of times, there are entire floors of buildings that have been closed off because they're no longer in use and aren't maintained. Or alternatively, if it's a new-ish building, entire floors can be left unfinished until funding or the development climate is available/right. If it's likely that the space will be needed in the future but isn't currently needed, it's often more efficient and cost-effective to build the entire building and leave the currently unneeded space as a "shell" - none of the interior would be finished, awaiting future plans. These "shelled" spaces are then left as inaccessible.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 8:17 PM on July 17, 2008


I think older buildings will have more locked up spaces that don't have a real purpose. I've managed to get into a usually-locked series of rooms in the basement of my College's library. It was completely unfinished, no electricity hookups, no carpet or tile flooring. Just concrete walls and floors with a bit of standing water in places. There were five or six 30x30 rooms connected by what appeared to be small doorways. We found a soggy book from 1949, a muddy pair of what appeared to be crumpled pants and an odd piece of metal bolted to one wall. No visible purpose or utility.
posted by andythebean at 8:22 PM on July 17, 2008


On my campus, the library, business, and education buildings have areas where students and sometimes faculty aren't allowed.

My college had a dorm in which one large portion of the building was basically held by the IT department as a storage room. It was rarely open, windows had blinds up, and naturally rumors formed about what went on inside. (Nothing at all interesting)
posted by Brian James at 8:29 PM on July 17, 2008


It's all pretty mundane and boring, but fascinates people. What did you expect to find?

One time, poking around and trying doors (and climbing out a window and jumping up to an outside parapet) led me and a friend to the cupola of the Wisconsin State Capitol. There was a nesting box for peregrine falcons (thankfully empty) and a few disembodied pigeon heads scattered around.

Another time, poking around my dorm, I found a porno mag in the janitor's closet.


You might like Jan Theun van Rees' photos of the secret spaces in Chicago landmarks. (I made a post about them last fall.)
posted by hydrophonic at 8:31 PM on July 17, 2008


There are skyscrapers in San Francisco where entire floors are reserved for counter-weight systems to dampen back and forth movement during earthquakes and wind storms.
posted by Class Goat at 9:11 PM on July 17, 2008


In my explorations, I've found that these rooms tend to be used for storing obsolete junk that nobody feels motivated or comfortable enough to discard: boxes of files, old computer parts, shelves of 3 ring binders filled with documents, office supplies from the 1970s and 80s, manuals, textbooks, encyclopedias, and educational vhs tapes.

Now that I work in a situation where I am in a room in a public building that requires keys and fingerprint scan access...I fully understand why the public really shouldn't have free range. In a lot of cases it's to protect the public from exposure to hazards or injury so you don't sue us.
posted by pluckysparrow at 9:13 PM on July 17, 2008


In the college library I worked at, most of the closed off rooms were either surplus office supplies that wouldn't fit in the circulation department area and there were closed off janitorial closets.

When I worked as a student custodian in a dorm for a year, one of the closed off doors without a handle was mostly just a closet filled with toilet paper. Likewise, there would be closets next to the bathroom with excess cleaning stuff in case I ran out.

In short, nothing sinister.
posted by champthom at 10:27 PM on July 17, 2008


The 13th floor of the L.A. County Hospital is the Jail Ward. You have to pass through a double set of locking gates (and check your weapon) before you enter.

Inside are a bunch of cops and burly old battleaxe nurses, and some frightened, sick, miserable patient-inmates. Docs and med students come in from side to side too.

The decision to make 13 the Jail Ward was intentional, or so County lore would have it.
posted by ikkyu2 at 10:54 PM on July 17, 2008


My campus library has got about a zillion little hole-in-the-wall offices, some taken by subject librarians, some by faculty who want to be close to their stacks, some vacant and therefore locked. It's also got four disused stairwells (which are alarmed fire exits now), a book-repair department, and the like. There are the boring offices where journal subscription decisions are made on the basis of slightly screwy data (just because you can keep a statistic, doesn't make it informative). At times certain departments or interest groups have gotten a room outfitted with a keypad/code lock, for use as a reading room. And before they build their shiny new Special Collections vault and centralized those collections, I think quite a few of their locked rooms were for that.

In other buildings: For regular campus business, we're talking about tiny little interviewing rooms in the career counseling center, workrooms used by research groups, and the like. In the facilities area, roof access is generally closed off, as is tunnel access (though the tunnels have been/maybe still are used to move projectors and things between buildings). The student center features a mysterious locked room whose keycode is known to all the Muslim students and that sees surges of use up to about, oh, five times daily.

Buildings may have an alternate purpose, by season or by weekday. One of these is responsible for the vast majority of anonymous locked rooms and closets at my (highly religious) school: Practically every large lecture room or classroom needs to be repurposed for church meetings on Sunday. (Many an alumnus can recall staring at the periodic table during a boring sermon.) So tucked away everywhere are little libraries of reference books and visual aids to supplement curriculum, rooms with copy machines or with record-keeping computers and a shredder, closets with a couple tablecloths and a few trays for passing the Sacrament (or Lord's Supper or whatever you want to call it), teachers' manuals for other years in the curriculum cycle, unlikely objects whose raison d'etre is known only to last year's Activities Committee, "motorcars, handlebars, bicycles for two" as it were ... and once a week the campus is an entirely different place.
posted by eritain at 3:00 AM on July 18, 2008


Places I have studied and worked include a university building where certain floors require keycard access from both the lift and the stairwell - the research there involved animal experiments, and so there was greater security for protection against animal rights activists; a building where the code-locked doors got you access to such enthrallingly staff-only areas as the back of the bar, the staff coffee room, toilets, a store room and the stairs connecting them; and somewhere else where you needed a key to get certain buttons to work in the lift. I felt so special when I could use my key to get to the secret, unlabelled floor higher up than any members of the public could go - but if they'd been able to see that floor, they'd have come out into a corridor with dirty carpet, and bags of rubbish kept right by the lift, and once again, the staff coffee room just down the hall.
posted by Lebannen at 4:35 AM on July 18, 2008


Most tall residential buildings in my area have a floor every 10 floors or so required by law to be totally empty, in order to contain a fire if it breaks out. You can usually spot these at night when the residents turn off their lights because those floors are lit up. The lift doesn't go there so you'll have to take the stairs.

As Class Goat has mentioned, all buildings frequented/built by Chinese or Japanese do not have any floors with the number 4 due to the unlucky resemblance to "death". But that's just a matter of numbering.
posted by monocot at 5:35 AM on July 18, 2008


YMMV, but my college's security is extremely benevolent regarding such shadowy activities.

The opposite extreme: you might get confronted by the authorities merely for expressing an interest in steam tunnels.
posted by spamguy at 7:46 AM on July 18, 2008


The college I attended was criss-crossed with tunnels, primarily used for steam heating pipes. They were also used by maintenance and custodial crews for quick access between buildings. And, of course, adventuresome students. The best find were all the fallout shelter supplies stored here and there. That and the broken gate leading to one of the dorm's kitchens.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:52 AM on July 18, 2008


Self link to a short video I did on a secret room at my college.
posted by cccorlew at 8:10 AM on July 18, 2008 [1 favorite]


The library has a deep dark secret...

Deep in the library, down in the mines, a cadre of student workers is kept enslaved at low wages, chained to desks and and forced to process incoming materials. Occasionally the students are tortured with a practice called ¨shelf-reading¨. The library harvests any spare brainpower from this to power the lighting and heat. One of these locked doors is the entrance to these mines, probably the one closest to the loading dock.
posted by yohko at 7:01 AM on July 21, 2008


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