Author : William Gowland

University : Architectural Association

Status : RIBA II, 2013

Advisors : Liam Young, Kate Davies

Title : Here Be Dragons

The world is now concealed and manipulated in ways that make answering the question of where am I an impossibility. Glitches in the big and fragile infrastructures of Global Positioning systems mean we are sometimes both here and there, as a pulsing blue dot locates us to within 500 meters. What are the implications of a navigational system based solely on the virtual?

Through jamming the GPS network, an alternative virtual topography is revealed as a territorial architecture of spoofed cartography; Emerging as a landscape that operates and exits in two parallel worlds, the physical and the virtual.

Imaginary protest icebergs drift through the autonomously navigated oil shipping lanes. We get lost in a wilderness of illegal signal jamming formations and we glimpse the faint flicker of covert militarised GPS territories, super stable under a secret sky of black satellites.

Some are landscapes of misdirection, others are navigational markers guiding one safely through unstable terrain. We now put our faith in a digital territory that is just as unknown and fallible as the physical.


The live landscape is fed off realtime data through a GPS receiver that is generating a topography that reflects the stability and reliability of the data it receives. Giving rise to the idea that one can learn to read this data like the weather.

The number of satellites connected feeds the stability – The rate at which the landscapes appears to flicker. The more satellites that are connected the less it flickers appearing calm. With fewer satellites connected the landscape oscillates more.

The HDOP is an accurate reading and feeds the jaggedness of the landscape, defined by the satellites azimuth angle. If the satellite is low to the horizon, atmospheric interference is high leading to less reliable data.

The lower the HDOP the more accurate the data and the landscape appears flat.

The higher the HDOP and the less accurate the data, the landscape appears jagged and mountainous.

The latitude and longitude effects the cameras global position by moving about the landscape. With the GPS receiver sat in one location the camera will not move. Although it is still possible to pan from this fixed position.

The satellites onboard clock affects global illuminations so that the landscape follows night and day cycles.

The landscape can therefore be controlled by a device such as a GPS jammer. Allowing individuals to control this landscape at their leisure.


S//A : What’s the most important aspect of this project that we should be aware of?
William Gowland_ The digital landscapes you see in the film are actually generated from real live streamed GPS data. Fed through an app I created using processing, the emerging landscapes are constantly changing and never mere static representations or artistic recreations of what a GPS landscape might look like.

S//A : What other fields outside of architecture interest you?
WG_ I’m really interested in the interactive and reactive nature of technology in allowing buildings and objects to communicate with the world around them – If it moves, I’m probably into it!

S//A : Most important thing you learned in architecture school?
WG_ Two things – The first is, at all costs never settle for scale models and representations through drawing – Make it real and make it work at 1:1! That's when you really learn things. Secondly, at architecture school there are certain assumed and imposed objectives and outcomes for a project – Never let yours be shoe horned into these building shaped objects, the solution isn’t always a building, let them find their own natural end.

S//A : Describe your dream project
WG_ Although I’ve become hugely fascinated by exploring the contemporary edges of architecture, having grown up on a small farm in rural England I’m never happier than when out in the woods getting my hands dirty building small shelters, sheds, treehouses and so on… At some point the two are going to come together!