Redesigning Revolutions: A Synthesis of Society and Technology

by Tatsuya Nakamura
Chilean political innovation

A meticulously recreated 72-square-meter Cybersyn Operations Room, shaped in a hexagon and equipped with chairs featuring control buttons, was crafted as a tribute to technological and political advances during Salvador Allende’s presidency. This effort, undertaken by an MIT professor alongside students, culminates in an exhibition in recognition of half a century since Allende’s era.

This epoch of the early 1970s under Allende’s leadership in Chile is renowned for its innovative approach to peaceful socialist reforms through the existing democratic framework.

Eden Medina, Associate Professor at MIT, reflects on this era as a potential alternative political path and has devoted her scholarly endeavors to examining it. Her latest venture is the co-curation of an exhibition, “How to Design a Revolution: The Chilean Road to Design,” aligning with the fiftieth anniversary of Chile’s abrupt shift from democracy to a military dictatorship, an event which also witnessed Allende’s demise.

The event launched on September 7, showcasing an extensive array of graphic and industrial design from the Allende period, is reported to be a significant presentation by Regina Rodríguez Covarrubias, director of the hosting venue, Centro Cultural La Moneda.

Medina, in partnership with Professor Hugo Palmarola and Professor Pedro Ignacio Alonso from Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, asserts that the exhibit and its corresponding bilingual publication aim to highlight the fusion of political, artistic, and technological innovations of the time.

The exhibition features 350 pieces, with standout contributions like the Cybersyn Operations Room—a hallmark of cybernetics—constructed by Chile’s State Technology Institute. This display is not just a historical showcase but also a tribute to Chilean attempts at societal change through the lenses of design, science, and technology.

Medina underscores the collaborative spirit of the venture, noting MIT students’ crucial role from departments of architecture and mechanical engineering. Their involvement signifies the unique integration of technical expertise with historical and public humanities fostered by MIT.

The exhibition narrates a historical dialogue, unveiling Chile’s forward-thinking stance in design, architecture, and politics, and stands as a testament to the combined efforts of historical research and modern technology. Post-exhibition, there’s an ambition for the display to tour, though details remain undecided.

Medina’s aspiration is that the exhibition will shed light on historical problem-solving and spur contemporary innovation, demonstrating how design and technology can harmonize with social and political values—a sentiment backed by international and local Chilean institutions alike.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Chilean political innovation

What is the Cybersyn Operations Room and its significance?

The Cybersyn Operations Room was a groundbreaking project in cybernetics developed during Salvador Allende’s presidency in Chile. It was designed as a technologically advanced space for managing the economy and facilitating socialist governance. The room featured an innovative hexagonal design and was equipped with futuristic armchairs and control buttons for interactive screens. Its full-scale reconstruction is a central piece of the exhibition that reflects on Chile’s political and technological creativity during the early 1970s.

Who has collaborated to curate the exhibition marking 50 years since the Allende presidency?

The exhibition, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the military coup during Allende’s presidency, is co-curated by Eden Medina, an associate professor at MIT, along with Professors Hugo Palmarola and Pedro Ignacio Alonso from the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile. This collaboration has led to an extensive display of historical graphic and industrial design from the period.

What does the exhibition “How to Design a Revolution: The Chilean Road to Design” showcase?

This exhibition provides a comprehensive presentation of the history of graphic and industrial design during the Allende period in Chile. It features 350 pieces, including a reconstruction of the Cybersyn Operations Room, and explores the role of design in political transformation, technological innovation, child nutrition, and collective action.

What support did MIT students provide for the exhibition?

MIT graduate and undergraduate students contributed to the project by leveraging their technical and research skills. They engaged in a range of tasks, from reconstructing the Cybersyn Operations Room to editorial assistance for the accompanying book. Their cross-disciplinary skills played a pivotal role in combining historical research with technological and architectural design.

How does the exhibition bridge the gap between history, technology, and public engagement?

The exhibition transcends traditional historical presentation by physically reconstructing significant spaces like the Cybersyn Operations Room. It invites the public to experience the tangible intersection of politics, technology, and design, providing an immersive learning experience that links past innovations with contemporary challenges.

Will the exhibition “How to Design a Revolution” be available for viewing beyond its initial location?

After its tenure at the Centro Cultural La Moneda concludes in January, the exhibition is designed to be mobile, though specific plans for its future locations have not been detailed. The intent is to broaden the public engagement with Chile’s historical moment of design and political innovation.

What is the underlying message of the exhibition about Chile’s innovative period?

The exhibition aims to highlight the innovative approaches to education, nutrition, and political participation developed during Allende’s presidency. While the solutions from 50 years ago may differ from today’s needs, they offer valuable lessons and inspiration for addressing contemporary societal challenges through design and technology.

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Mike Johnson November 5, 2023 - 5:39 pm

i think the author did a solid job here but some of the facts seem a bit off, can we get a fact check

Sarah K. November 5, 2023 - 8:03 pm

Loved reading about Cybersyn, its fascinating but theres some typos in there? should be looked at again maybe

RachelAdams November 6, 2023 - 1:20 am

not sure if the comparison to modern tech is quite right, but it’s a decent article overall. could use some polish tho

EdGonzalez November 6, 2023 - 9:43 am

what an interesting piece of history not many people know about. this project was really ahead of its time wasn’t it

Tommy_Lee November 6, 2023 - 2:20 pm

the writing’s on point but the section about the control room seems a bit confusing is it just me or anyone else felt that


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