london design biennale: at the 2016 london design biennale, chile presents the ‘counterculture room’ as their response to utopia. created by fab lab santiago, the installation sources its influences from the 1970 ‘project cybersyn’ or, as it is also known for, synergy cybernetics. this 45 year old project, developed in collaboration between fernando flores and the salvador allende government, aimed to improve the south american country’s enterprise network efficiency. in doing so, they created a cyber management system, which would unite workers with authorities through a flow of information.

a glance into the ‘brain’ of the ‘counterculture room’
image © victor leyton




the chilean ‘counterculture room’ pavilion at the 2016 london design biennale, presents the historical potential and innovative personality of ‘project cybersyn’, and how it has been a reference to the current design world. the exhibition portrays the political and social context of chile in the 1970s, through an array of classical images and showcases the ground-breaking ideas through an interpretation of the cyber management system center.

images are transformed into digital codes of data
image © victor leyton




during the occasion of the inaugural 2016 london design biennale, designboom sat down with fab lab santiago co–directors and the ‘counterculture room’ design curators, andrés briceño gutiérrez and tomas vivanco. here, we discussed the relevance of the biennale’s theme of utopia, the ideas behind ‘project cybersyn’, and how it is still pertinent in today’s design world and society.



designboom (DB): the counter culture room draws upon the idea of project cybersyn, can you tell us more about this project and how it connects to your design?


andrés briceño gutiérrez (ABG): the idea of project cybersyn was to create a technological platform, a communication platform, to manage the whole production system of chile. this was because the country was totally blocked off. the state and the soviet union were blocking of chile. we were totally isolated; chile is in a corner of the world – very far away from everything. whilst alone, we were trying to work out how to manage companies, technology, communication. they started thinking about cybernetics, so invited fernando flores, who was from CORFO which is the national agency to promote the economy in chile, to solve this issue. in the end, they created this team to design a technological and communication platform to manage this complexity.


overall, the cybersyn project was all about a fresh-start. they were trying to create a new path. it wasn’t about the capitalist or communist way of understanding the world, it was a third way. that is why it is so ‘counter culture’ and why our exhibition is like it is. we are trying to provide lots of different information within the installation. we wanted to show the story behind synergy cybernetics, in some fields its well known, but most people don’t know anything about it and how ‘project cybersyn’ is very real. as well, we wanted to provide enough information for everyone to understand the whole story, but at the same time, we wanted to explain the entirety of this complex project. it isn’t just one thing, there are a lot of things about it.

images of the political and social context in chile from the 1970s.
image © victor leyton




DB: why do you think the themes of utopia at the first london design biennale, are particularly relevant at this time?


tomas vivanco (TV): a couple of years ago, design and architecture got into a point where they weren’t solving any questions. we got into this situation where society got so superficial that people from design were starting to answer imaginary questions, which no one really cared about. however, utopia is an invitation to think in a new order, to think in a new world, and to think with a new imagination. nowadays, we need to start thinking again about proper questions. for me, utopia is very relevant because we need to create the new order. the creation of this is not a matter of one year or five years, instead, it could take a century or half a century because it needs to pass one generation of society.


utopia is an invitation to restart the answering of those questions. the project that we are presenting here, is the answer to how we can create a new order. it was not about how to control society but was about how to create a new kind of mindset.

image © victor leyton




ABG: just to compliment what tomas just said, I read an article recently about this installation and about project cybersyn, where they described it as a sinister project of agenda. this is because people from first world countries cannot understand that the chilean politicians wanted something other than getting power, money and control over everything. that is very interesting to us as, when we talk about utopia, they don’t really understand what we mean because they have never had scarcity.  in those times (the 1960s and 70s), chile was really, really poor. we are not as bad as that now but we have a lot of scarcity still. we are trying to handle this and so, when we design, we are always considering these factors. we do not have the money to do everything perfectly. this is why it is interesting to have the chance to be here, at the london design biennale, because we can really open people’s minds about different responses to utopia.

the recreated control center
image © designboom




DB: with the counterculture room, how does the space reflect this new order and control of communication?


ABG: we were trying to explain a lot of different things in just a small amount of space. the way that we did it was by basically creating this thickness, this membrane of reality. this was to express the real issue in complete contrast with this totally new, avant garde point. we believe that the most interesting thing about this installation is the temporary wall in the center of the room. this is because it is transforming images of this scarce reality into digital codes and data.

image © designboom




TV: in a way, the project’s team from 45 years ago, designed the black box of technology. no one understood how things were made but someone made it first. the room is just one part of the project but there is five overall. it is the synthesis of all of the system and is the black box. imagine if we could fit a person inside of an ‘iphone’ and they could live and work it; that would be our room. from inside, you can control the monitors, the interactions, the communication. there is this threshold between the analogue and the digital world. for us, design is this threshold. it is the space in-between, where you can digitalize a social interaction, a movement, an economy and turn it into a code.


ABG: through the video monitors, we are trying to provide a final question. this is; if fernando flores did this project in 1971, what can we do today if we were all potentially connected? this is really contemporary in the end because it is so relevant nowadays.

‘counterculture room’ design curators, tomas vivanco (left) and andrés briceño gutiérrez (right)
image © designboom


an image of the 1971 project cybersyn operations room
image © gui bonsieppe