Infographic: Sculptures Made By Measuring Wi-Fi Signals

Vienna architect Peter Jellitsch is back with a new installation based on WLAN strength.

All science, observed writer and oncologist Siddhartha Mukherjee, starts with counting. “To understand a phenomenon, a scientist must first describe it,” Mukherjee wrote. “To describe it objectively, he must first measure it.”


Austrian artist and architect Peter Jellitsch, then, is a kind of scientist. Jellitsch measures the invisible forces around us–electromagnetism, for example–and then documents his findings in drawings, models, and installations. In 2011, he used a common modeling algorithm to simulate wind patterns, then translated them into delicate ink-and-paper compositions. “I am not interested in depicting something that I’ve seen in the real world,” he said at the time. “My interest lies in transforming something that I’ve seen in the virtual world.”

This month, Jellitsch unveiled Bleecker Street Documents, a new installation based on measuring Wi-Fi signals. The piece is named for the apartment where Vienna-based Jellitsch crashed during a New York residency for 45 days last year. “I used a radio-wave-measuring device several times a day in the apartment and translated the measurement result daily on paper,” he tells Co.Design.

With hundreds of handwritten data points in hand, Jellitsch set out to build a physical model of his findings. He began with a flat white plane and plotted the data points across it chronologically. At moments when the Wi-Fi signal was strong, he raised the vertice associated with that day and time. When it was weak, the vertice stayed flat. The resulting model is half model, half calendar; a three-dimensional visualization that charts signal strength over time. He milled the final model on a CNC machine and mounted it on a shipping pallet.

But the model is only one-third of Bleecker Street Documents. Behind it hang Jellitsch’s original notes, plus a massive framed explanation of WLAN signals and radio waves. He compares the trinity of objects to Joseph Kosuth’s 1965 One and Three Chairs, in which a chair sits in front of a dictionary definition of a chair and a description of the chair the curator has chosen. It’s art by triangulation–measuring a signal, disclosing the source, and defining the methods.

How does Jellitsch, a chaser of invisible forces, reconcile his practice as an artist with his role as an architect? “For me, it is no longer necessary for architects to think in measurements such as meter, kilometer, or decibel anymore,” he explained during an interview with BITE earlier this year. “Kilowatt, hertz, and terabyte are the emerging dimensions for our environment today.”

More on Bleecker Street Documents is here.

About the author

Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan is Co.Design's deputy editor.