Electronic Topographies | Peter Jellitsch

“Observing the radiowave behaviour becomes a means to understand the present and anticipating the future of urban environments. In my observation the dimension unit for public space is not meter, kilometer or decibel anymore, it’s milliwatt, hertz and gigabyte.” This is Peter Jellitsch statement on his project Electronic Topographies.

This statement inevitably makes us go back in time to 1971 and think on Ugo La Pietra‘s project Sistema disequilibrante: Casa Telematica [The Domicile Cell: A Microstructure: within the Information and Communications Systems], where he aimed to create a living environment which postulates the development of information and communications systems with respect to their technical, mechanical and electronic characteristics; using them in a way that will overcome the “barrier” that they create between us and reality. Felicity Scott pointed on her article for Grey Room Architecture or Techno-Utopia:

La Pietra’s “Domicile Cell”, for instance, operated precisely through situating itself within this system. As La Pietra [optimistically] explained the strategic intimacy of his domicile unit, “it becomes a center for gathering, processing and communicating information; a microstructure that can intervene in the information system by enlarging and multiplying exchanges among people, with everyone participating in the dynamics of communication.”

The “unbalancing systems” proposed by La Pietra were based on a serie of physical and mediatic interventions within the urban landscape. In that sense, we can consider his project as a predecessor of the Electronic Topographies.


Casa Telematica by Ugo La Pietra. Pic by dpr-barcelona

After this look into the past, we can clearly talk about the interest of architects in new communication technologies and what now is called the Sentient City. Jellitsch points that cities are slightly transforming due to several phenomenas. Radio wave and the resulting ubiquitous communication possibilities is one of the very contemporary factors with which a city has to deal with. Since the beginning of the 90s a high effort was taken on the distribution of mobile communication aerials. His research is based in Austria, and he points that now, 20 years later, Austria is one of the densest covered regions in the world with 20% more mobile phone subscribers than inhabitants. Jellitsch argues that the city center of Vienna was used as testing laboratory wich stands exemplarily for the extremly dense Austrian network coverage.

The electronic topographie drawing series is trying to simulate the actual situation on electromagnetic cones which are coating the physical space. Focusing on transmitter heads for mobile communication, the drawing series allows to have a alternate view on public areas which are now qualified through it’s connecting possibilities. And he adds:

In June 1881 the commercial ministry of the K&K monarchy gave the Viennese private telegraph society a concession for the cablephone arrangement in a radius of 7,5km around the “Stephansturm”. Literally said, the communication spreading in austria has started in a small area around the Stephansdom nearly 130 years ago. Since 1993 the 1st viennese district has a 100% mobile network coverage that startet with basic technologies like GSM, followed by UMTS and now has 100% connection in 3G technologie. Due to several reasons, the inner city of Vienna has the highest connecting qualities compared to the other districts, as well as the densest transmitter pattern.

The current sentient city is subdivided, carved, segregated and coated by electromagnetic oscillation.


Complete map of Vienna’s communication network

Based on the previous data, Jellitsch worked on a “rastogram“, which basically describes how we inhabit and coexists with urban spaces where our body gets coated from electronic waves.

We can also mention here Fabien Girardin‘s research for his PhD thesis on human interactions with ubiquitous geographic information. Girardin focus his research on the increasing use of mobile devices, wireless infrastructures, and the Internet that, according to him, is changing our daily lives, not only in the way we communicate with each other or share information but also how we relate to the environment. And he adds:

Through our interactions with these technologies we access and generate an informational membrane, hovering over the spaces we live in and visit. However, this information layer only imperfectly models the reality due to coarse digitization and technological limitations, challenging the human interaction. On the other hand, the presence of this user-generated ubiquitous geographic information opens novel perspectives in understanding human activities over space and time.

The common link between Girardin and Jellitsch projects are the aspects of human interactions with ubiquitous geographic information.


Measuring connections. Peter Jellitsch


Connectivity Figure. Peter Jellitsch

The operator topographies drawn by Jellitsch shows the valency of public areas related to the amount of mobile communication users. The mobile operator firms have to install the right amount of transmitter heads, to ensure a maximum of quality. Through reading, drawing, simulating and translating the construction plans, one is able to reflect the quality of transmitter heads back to intensive public areas.

The electronic topographies’ drawing series is trying to simulate the actual situation on electromagnetic cones which are coating the physical space. Focusing on transmitter heads for mobile communication, the drawing series allows to have a alternate view on public areas which are now qualified through it’s connecting possibilities, that are reflected on the complete set of the Electronic Topographie maps.


Electronic Topographie map. Peter Jellitsch


Electronic Topographie map. Detail. Peter Jellitsch

As a final point of his research, Peter Jellitsch worked on two specific issues of the project:

[1] The roentgenograms. These are two models made with acetate sheet, plexiglas, lightconstruction, aluminium sticks and a tripod. Roentgenograms shows an alternative top-view on two public spaces in the 1st Viennese district. Cutted through an invisible electromagnetic cone, the viewer is looking through a 54m thick electronic data-cloud that is coating the city of Vienna.


Roentgenogram. Model 1. Peter Jellitsch

[2] Coated Environment [animation, 1:20min]. The general technical progress has led to an estrangement and perceptual change of a person in the relation to his/her environment. The coated environment animation could be seen as recording and notional grading of our surrounding through crossing hidden audiovisual signals. The intent of the animation is the concentrated and conscious perception of an existing physical realm, and attempts to extend the pure seeing into an alternate cognition.


Coated Environment. Filmstill 02. Peter Jellitsch

The “hybridization” of space is only an expression of wider radical changes between analytical systems [order and spacing] to synthetic [complexity, connectivity, permeability] ones. In a system characterized by its high capacity for communication, if space becomes a mix between reality and virtual presence, the separation between private and public space becomes obsolete. According to this theory of urban permeability, the concept of “filter” is important as a new indispensable device. Filter as a mean of connection with the capacity of handling private/public, real/virtual, inside a system where the channels are not separated anymore. Now these channels are communicating -APERTURE-.
From the paper Aperture, Urban Hybridization

Now we’re facing a renewal of the urban experience. With the growing complexity of cities and the fragmentation of urban space, the experience of the city ceases to be static-reflected by city maps and grows as dynamic flows. And the importance of the Electronic Topographies project lies in the way it shows how public spaces become the sum of the built environment and our virtual interactions.

Are we already living inside Ugo La Pietra’s “Domicile Cell”?

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Thanks to Peter Jellitsch for sharing his project with us!

Recommended readings:
– The video Coated Environment by Peter Jellitsch can be visited at vimeo
– A complete photo-set with the project on Peter Jelltisch‘s flickr profile.
– Fabian Girardin PhD Thesis Aspects of implicit and explicit human interactions with ubiquitous geographic information
El espacio público como catalizador de colectividades locales by Domenico di Siena [SPANISH]
– To this date, Ecosistema Urbano is working on Smart Streets: a research proposing “a public space equivalent to the innovative self-organizing and exchange processes occurring on the web”

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