He was at the institution for much of the s, first as a student and later becoming an assistant professor. Today, aged 82, Bonsiepe splits his time between his homes in La Plata, Argentina and Curitiba, Brazil, where he writes, lectures and works on the various translations of his books. Whilst the article was published in Disegno 1 in September , McGuirk and Bonsiepe met almost a year previously, in November Justin McGuirk Gui Bonsiepe is an interesting character. He is someone who has been thinking deeply about design for decades, and who can speak and write about it with a precision and clarity that is all too rare. And yet, he is not well known in the Anglophone world.
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Allende had become president in a free and democratic election. After the military coup, General Augusto Pinochet took power and ruled Chile as a dictator until In the midst of this takeover, the military discovered a strange room in a nondescript office building in downtown Santiago. The room was hexagonal in shape with seven white fiberglass chairs arranged in an inward facing circle.
The constitution would be preserved and the press would not be censored. Civil liberties would be protected. The government began by increasing employment and wages as well as implementing agrarian reforms.
Eventually, the government took control of around enterprises, including some of the largest companies in Chile. Chilean workers marching in support of Allende in But this enormous takeover presented a problem: the government had to manage all of this new industry, and make sure factories in Chile were able to keep producing enough goods for Chileans to buy.
Fernando Flores , a Chilean advisor to Allende, had an idea for how to manage the Chilean economy. He wanted to use a relatively new science called Cybernetics. As humans developed new kinds of machines, they became interested in developing systems for controlling those machines. Cybernetics looks at how to design intelligent, self-correcting systems. In England, in the s, a business consultant named Stafford Beer was applying concepts of cybernetics to business management.
He believed a business could be thought of as an intelligent system. Beer also wanted to enable the different parts of the Chilean economy to communicate easily with each other and thought computers could help accomplish this. Stafford Beer and the team he had assembled set about creating a computer network that would connect all of the factories in Chile.
Stafford Beer was only able to get one computer to create his network. Their solution was to use telex machines. A telex is like a typewriter connected to a phone line. So if one factory had a telex, they could type out a message, and send it to another telex. The messages might contain data about shortages in raw material or how many workers were showing up to their shifts.
This data would be entered into the computer and analyzed, and subsequently, decisions could be made about how to address problems. Image used with permission of Gui Bonsiepe Stafford Beer also wanted this complex cybernetic system to have a physical interface. And that brings us back to the bizarre hexagonal room discovered in the wake of the government overthrow.
Each chair had an ashtray, a place for your whiskey glass and a set of buttons that controlled the display screens on the walls. Image used with permission of Gui Bonsiepe The room was an immaculate piece of design, but it concealed a clunky technology. The buttons on the chairs were connected to wires in the floor which were connected to slide carousels that displayed pre-made slides.
While project Cybersyn was coming together, things were not going well for the Allende government. Internally, unemployment was going up and inflation started to skyrocket. While the presidential palace was being bombed by a military junta supported by the CIA, Allende gave his final radio address to the country. Salvador Allende took his own life that same day. Close to people were executed, another people went missing , and around , people were exiled to other countries. Project Cybersyn never got up and fully running.
The operations room was finished but never put to use. In , the CIA acknowledged its role in supporting the military coup and bringing about the failure of the Allende government. Fernando Flores spent three years in prison after Pinochet took power. Stafford Beer continued to lecture about cybernetics until his death in Enjoy 99pi?