Environmental Sensing and the Notion of Landscape: real-time geo-referencing and embedded tracking systems for a sensitive cognition of landscape, by Raffaele Pé

The spread of digitalized information and the accretion of geo-referenced data through the Internet and other media has caused a shift of paradigm in the construction of our cognitive method applied to all the different disciplines and fields of knowledge, including our notion of landscape; according to the media theorist and philosopher Vito Campanelli, “the radical novelty represented by the Web and by other digital media has not failed to weaken the atavistic need to know and define reality through its representation” (2010, p.109). Therefore, a credible attempt to define the landscape under these conditions is strongly influenced by a need of understanding the intrinsic characteristics of the lenses through which we observe it and we represent it [1]. We then refer to the current means of acquisition, sharing and manipulation of data available to depict the landscape, in order to grasp possible ethical and aesthetical implications in this specific technical and cultural momentum.

If for landscape we intend a spatial and geographical area, selected in its character by a clear cognitive and perceptive choice, the traditional categories we used for its framing are now inevitably transformed, in a way made more complex, and organically interrelated by the advent of interactive digital media. Organized networks, GPS trackers, RFIDs and other embedded systems, exploited as tools for environmental sensing and mapping [2], structure a correspondence between the biographies of places and the agenda of their users, recreating an objective interweave
between history and geography, an efficient device for a proactive and participative management of ecological systems as well as social patterns [3].

This approach to the landscape implies several reflections on theoretical and practical issues such as the relationships between form and function, between represented reality and fiction, between complexity and reliability of contents, insisting on dynamic and sometimes controversial qualities like hybridity, processuality, editability; the interdependence, the synchronicity and the tuning of the parts; localizability and at times embodiment in places (embedded systems); but also arbitrariness and transitionality (referring to the perception and interpretation of information and data).

Looking at the contributions of thinkers and media theorists like McLuhan, Lovink, Brattle, Perniola [4], Shepard and Mostafavi, and through the review of a collection of case studies produced by the Royal College of Art as well as Laboratorio Misura e Scala of Milan Polythecnic, this essay aims to trace the key-points of a research that perceives the landscape as an emergent condition within the environment, whose treatment is to be conceived as balancing, calibration and reciprocal reference between phenomena interpretation and project development, for a rendition of context as an adaptive ecology of information and contents.

[1] Charles Waldheim, in his definition of Landscape Urbanism as “disciplinary realignement”, he describes the landscape as «both the lens through which the contemporary city is represented and the medium through which it is considered» (2006).
[2] The essay focuses especially on Environmental Sensing Technologies which detect environmental conditions through sensors. Transforming an analogical input into a digital information, the sensors allow the collection in real‐time of a continuous data flow that can be used for environmental monitoring purposes as well as to inform the shaping of environmental design projects. See Shepard, 2010.
[3] Referring to Gadamer’s position in The Relevance of the Beautiful (1986),we see the role of digital technologies in framing the landscape as “objects of art” through which the data processing aims to become a playful engine of social imagination and integration.
[4] The contribution of Perniola’s Contro la Comunicazione (2004) on this topic cleverly express the necessity to construct strong aesthetical approaches and visions to the use of digital media in shaping contemporary reality, in order to mould their effects as means of ethical conscience and cooperative participation in social life.

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Raffaele Pé, Royal College of Art, UK


Harvard Citation Guide: Pé, R. (2012) Environmental Sensing and the Notion of Landscape: real-time geo-referencing and embedded tracking systems for a sensitive cognition of landscape, International Society for the Philosophy of Architecture, [blog] 20 May 2012, Available at: https://isparchitecture.wordpress.com. [Accessed: 01 June 2012].

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