Articles about ET&T and EEL


Ecology, Tool & Toy

One of the few reported pieces from Johnson’s quarry, which sheds light on some of ET&T’s projects and captures the hippie vibes of the place.

Source: Rags


The Everyman Project: Resources for a Humane Future (Excerpt)

Traveling across North America and Western Europe, Robert Jungk wrote a fascinating survey of experimental technologies and the innovators behind them. He spent several hours at the Johnson quarry, dedicating a few pages to ET&T in his book.


Soft Control Material: Environment and Design c. 1970

Larry D. Busbea’s article on the genealogy and philosophical significance of Soft Control Material (SCM) also provides some insights into the technical mechanism behind SCM.

Source: Journal of Design History


Soft Control Material (book chapter)

Larry D. Busbea’s chapter on Brodey and Johnson (from his excellent Responsive Environment book) expands on his earlier chapter, explaining the historical and intellectual context in which SCM was developed.

Source: The Responsive Environment: Design, Aesthetics, and the Human in the 1970s



Manifesto for Environmental Ecology Lab

Written towards the end of the lab’s 18 months, the document provides some insights into the motivation of its founders, their hopes and sources of inspiration.


Manifesto for Ecology, Tool & Toy: A New Technology for the ’70s and Beyond

To be read jointly with the Manifesto for EEL, this document reflects on the errors made during the EEL stage of the project. It explains what ET&T is hoping to achieve and describes the kinds of products — mostly toys — they are hoping to manufacture.

Brodey’s Published Texts


Intrateam Reactions: Their Relation to the Conflicts of the Family in Treatment

One of Brodey’s early papers, emphasizing the systemic nature of psychiatric treatment — not just in terms of the relationship between the psychiatrist and the patient but also that between the psychiatrist and the nurse.

Source: American Journal of Orthopsychiatry


Some Family Operations and Schizophrenia: A Study of Five Hospitalized Families Each with a Schizophrenic Member

In this article, Brodey explains the significance of Bowen’s Family Study Project for the elucidation of his own systemic perspective on family therapy.

Source: A.M.A. Archives of General Psychiatry


The Family as the Unit of Study and Treatment: Workshop, 1959: 3. Image, Object and Narcissistic Relationships

Informed by Brodey’s work with Murray Bowen, this brief article outlines what it means to think about the family as a system.

Source: American Journal of Orthopsychiatry


Normal Developmental Learning and the Education of the Child Born Blind

This article draws on Brodey’s early work with the blind and introduces an important concept that would inform his subsequent work: developmental learning. The concept refers to what today we might describe as learning how to learn.

Source: Gifted Child Quarterly


On Family Therapy

One of those rare academic articles delivered as a poem: Brodey waxing lyrical about family therapy.

Source: Family Process


Sound and Space

One of the most important articles in Brodey’s early career — the culmination of his work with the talented blind people. This article argues that there exist a relationship between our perceptual abilities and the environments that we find ourselves in: some environments are friendlier and thus more conducive to the realization of our full sensory potential.

Source: Journal of the American Institute of Architects


On the Dynamics of Narcissism

One of Brodey’s most theoretical pieces — and the last one written in psychoanalytic jargon. Without making his cybernetic influences too visible, Brodey presents narcissism as an information-processing dysfunction.

Source: The Psychoanalytic Study of the Child


The Biological Sciences

A very dense article that Brodey co-wrote with Warren McCulloch. Most of the theoretical scaffolding in this piece is McCulloch’s, but Brodey’s contribution comes through as well, particularly towards the end as the article discusses the importance of context and dialogue.

Source: The Great Ideas Today


Seminar Three: Research and New Areas of Knowledge

This is a presentation — with some subsequent discussion — at an architecture conference. Notable as being the first recorded instance of Brodey explaining his concept of “soft architecture.”

Source: Forces Shaping the Role of the Architect: Proceedings, Second Boston Architectural Center Conference, May 13 and 14


A Cybernetic Approach to Family Therapy

A most curious text that seeks to recast most of Brodey’s earlier insights about the systemic nature of family therapy in cybernetic terms.

Source: Family Therapy and Disturbed Families


Soft Architecture: The Design of Intelligent Environments

Probably Brodey’s most influential and widely read article, which introduces both the idea of “intelligent environments” and “soft architecture.” It provoked the ire of the architectural historian Sibyl Moholy-Nagy, who compared Brodey’s “intelligent systems” to the Gestapo and the CIA (see Miscellaneous section for her article).

Source: Landscape


The Clock Manifesto

A short conference presentation on how culture and environment structure our perception of time.

Source: Annals of American Science


Human Enhancement Through Evolutionary Technology

The first part of another influential Brodey article (co-written with Nilo Lindgren). It argues that human enhancement is an important objective to strive towards in designing computer systems and interfaces.

Source: IEEE Spectrum


Remarks by Warren Brodey

Brodey was one of the speakers at the press launch of the legenday Experiments in Art and Technology — an effort to bring artists and engineers together. His brief remarks are very much in that vein, with him reflecting on what the likely symbiosis of art and technology might be like.

Source: Press Kit for Press Conference for Experiments in Art and Technology


Human Enhancement: Beyond the Machine Age

The continuation of the Human Enhancement piece, once again co-written with Nilo Lindgren.

Source: IEEE Spectrum


Information Exchange in the Time Domain

An important piece where Brodey reflects on the differences in approaching the study of people and their relations from the perspective of psychiatry and engineering. It introduces another important Brodey concept: “time-graining.”

Source: General Systems Theory and Psychiatry


Building a Creative Environment

An interesting essay geared towards the business audience, where Brodey uses the physical design of the lab on Lewis Wharf as a way to explain his ideas about the highly structured (e.g. environmentally determined) nature of creative activity.

Source: Innovation


The Other-than-Visual World of the Blind

Brodey’s in-depth account of his experiment with the talented blind people. Essential reading to understand the origins of his ideas on human enhancement.

Source: Ekistics


Unlearning the Obsolsecent

A short but punchy essay by Brodey which insists that dealing with irrelevance and obsolescence should be an important aspect of designing physical and educational environments.

Source: Architectural Design

1969 [1968]

Experiments in Evolutionary Environmental Ecology

An interesting (if a bit technical) talk by Brodey that illustrates one of the big ideas they were investigating the lab: the complex dynamic between variation (e.g. of individual behavior), constraints, and emergence. What are the minimum constraints needed to imposed on our behavior so as not to impede the process of evolution and becoming?

Source: Computer Graphics in Architecture and Design: Proceedings of the Yale Conference on Computer Graphics in Architecture

1970 [1968]

Remarks on Phyllis N. Hallenbeck’s “Some Issues Concerning the Use of Standard Personality Tests with the Blind”

Brodey’s freewheeling conference presentation, with some interesting remarks on how we need to become more sensitive to those parts of our cognitive and perceptual processes that became automatic. Some brief reflections on the lab.

Source: Proceedings of the Conference on New Approaches to the Evaluation of Blind Persons


If You Can’t Support The Revolution Let The Revolution Support You

Brodey’s manifesto-like declaration presenting the lab’s work as being on the cutting-edge of the post-industrial transformation. Think of a product that could be rendered responsive and intelligent — and it’s probably described in this article.

Source: Innovation



A very dense and abstract piece, mostly reconstructed from Brodey’s stream of consciousness — a long interview he gave to a visiting reporter. Notable for introducing one of Brodey’s key ideas from the 1970s — the distinction between the Mechy Max and bioptemes.

Source: Radical Software

1972 [1969]

On Creative Environments for Searchers

A reprint of the 1969 article “Building a Creative Environment” in Innovation.

Source: Creating an Action Team in R&D


Recycling Biotopology 1972: Notes from Ecology, Tool & Toy

A follow-up to Brodey’s Biotopology article. Quite a bit about Kleinforms — one of Brodey’s obsessions at the time. Some context for how all these ideas inform the work done at ET&T.

Source: Radical Software


Earthchild: Glories of the Asphyxiated Spectrum

Brodey’s richly illustrated and deeply poetic book from 1974. Defies any summary.

Source: Gordon and Breach


US: Portrait of a Pioneer. A Dialogue between Warren Brodey and Rita Westvik

A book-length dialogue between Brodey and Norwegian journalist and activist Rita Westvik. Contains a lot of interesting biographical details on Brodey.

Source: Allkopi

Brodey’s Unpublished Texts


The Pathogenesis of Schizophrenia: Narcissistic Relationship, Externalization, and the Image Mode of Reality Testing

An interesting 1963 paper showing the genesis of Brodey’s concept of “externalization.” He is still deploying many psychoanalytic concepts that he would abandon in just a few years. Original in Brodey’s archive in Vienna.


Human Enhancement

An in-depth proposal to study “human enhancement” that Brodey prepared for NASA. Original in Brodey’s archive in Vienna. Contains some quirky visualizations.

Source: Proposal To National Aeronautics and Space Administration Office of Advanced Research and Technology Biotechnical and Human Research


Perceptual Enhancement in Humans

A memo (original is in the Warren McCulloch archive in Philadelphia) that outlines Brodey’s motivation for studying perceptual enhancement.


Courtship, Marriage and Grammar

The transcript of a 1965 talk that Brodey gave to an audience of psychotherapists. Offers some insights as what drew a psychiatrist such as Brodey to computers. Original in the library of Harvard’s School of Design. Apologies for the annotations.


A Stroll Through the Woods

A poetic paper that was initially solicited for a collection edited by Gyorgy Kepes. Kepes found it too experimental and rejected it. This triggered a lengthy letter exchange between Brodey and Kepes — it’s available in the Kepes archives at MIT. The original was originally in Judith Johnson’s possession.


An Alternative for the Post-Industrial Period

An unpublished programmatic essay outlining the scope of ET&T’s ambitions: they wanted to become the techno-hub of counterculture. A nice illustration of Brodey’s faith in the fact that the post-industrial ethos was here to stay. The original is in Warren Brodey’s archives in Vienna.


Technology in the Service of the People: Automation as a Means of Reducing the Change Pressure from the Oil Industry

A set of short but punchy reflections how technology can be reoriented to serve the people. Written in Norway. Original is in the Brodey archives in Vienna


Towards Creating a Community of Eko-Kollectives - A Focus

An illustration of what a decentralized, ecologically-aware, and politically-savvy approach to technology would be like. Written in Norway. Original is in the Brodey archives in Vienna.


Automated Labor Shift

Some notes from Brodey’s study sessions at a Norwegian factory. Original is in the Brodey archives in Vienna.


Dynamic Modeling States of Life

Another interesting short text, written early in his Norwegian sojourn, showing how techniques of computer modeling can be repurposed to serve the working class and not just the managers. Original is in the Brodey archives in Vienna.


Society and Technology Steering One Another

A theoretical text that tries to develop a more political approach to technology. Written early into Brodey’s Norwegian stay. Original is in the Brodey archives in Vienna.


Attack on Co-Evolution Quarterly

Technically a letter to one of Warren Brodey’s brothers, it contains a pungent critique of the Co-Evolution Quarterly, the successor to the Whole Earth Catalog. Ironically, it’s a publication where Avery Johnson published one of his articles. Original is in the Brodey archives in Vienna.


Information Economics

More of a draft, where Brodey speculates on how what an “information economy” propelled by “pseudo-information” results in workers being dumbed down and further removed from enjoying life. Original is in the Brodey archives in Vienna.


Social Effects of Technology, or the American Sickness

Another draft-like essay but this one drawing some interesting parallels between Brodey’s former life in Milford, NH and his new life in Norway. Original is in the Brodey archives in Vienna.


Towards a People’s Technology

Brodey’s laudable attempt to articulate what people’s technology might mean — especially in the context of ecology. His views are almost certainly informed by the debates about “people’s technology” in Scandinavian leftist circles at the time. Original is in the Brodey archives in Vienna.


Homesteading and Biopolitics

Brodey’s critique of homesteading is particularly interesting in light of the fact that many of his former collaborators at the quarry embraced it. Original is in the Brodey archives in Vienna.



Brodey’s interesting theoretical attempt — no relation to Foucault! — to articulate a theory of bio-politics, which is a kind of politics informed by the understanding of biological life in all its complexity. Original is in the Brodey archives in Vienna.


The Capitalist Cow

One of Brodey’s allegoric tales about capitalism.

Johnson’s Published Texts


The Servo-Analysis of Postural Reflexes

Avery Johnson’s (rather technical) doctoral dissertation.

Source: M.I.T.


Processing the Electromyographic Signal

While seemingly technical, this short presentation illustrates the consistency with which Johnson applied his ideas: even his thoughts about prostheses are informed by the same respect for participation and letting the user set their own path as the rest of his writings.

Source: The Control of External Power in Upper-Extremity Rehabilitation: A Report on a Conference


A Structural, Preconscious Piaget: Heed Without Habit

Slightly technical, this paper provides a good overview of how Johnson thought about cognition and perception, with particular focus on the importance of interaction, play, and intention.

Source: Proceedings, National Electronics Conference

1969 [1968]

Remarks by Avery Johnson on “Panel Discussion: The Impact of Computer Graphics on Architecture”

Avery Johnson’s brief conference presentation on the role of the architect in modern society.

Source: Computer Graphics in Architecture and Design: Proceedings of the Yale Conference on Computer Graphics in Architecture


The Active, Self-Organising Interface

A conference presentation that nicely illustrates how Johnson’s insights about perception and cognition could inform the design of computer interfaces. Notable for Johnson’s discussion of self-organizing controllers — one of the technologies they were hoping to implement in designing soft control materials.

Source: International Symposium on Man-Machine Systems, 8-12 September 1969: Contributed Papers


Organization, Perception, and Control in Living Systems

The most coherent and extensive theoretical statement of Johnson’s theory about the interconnection between organization, perception, and control in living systems. Particularly important for emphasizing that there's no perception without active participation.

Source: IMR; Industrial Management Review


Self-Organizing Control in Prosthetics

Yet another piece on how Johnson’s valorization of active participation in perception and cognition should inform the design of prosthetic devices.

Source: Third International Symposium on External Control of Human Extremities

1971 [1970]

Information Tools That Decision Makers Can Really Talk With

One of Johnson’s most accessible pieces. Written for the business audience, it applies his theory of perception and “reflective participation” to the world of computing and office work.

Source: Decision Making in a Changing World;: Selected Essays from Innovation Magazine


Infolding Paul Ryan

A dense but interesting piece that explains how McCulloch’s interest in thirdness, lekton, and the logic of becoming has informed the work of ET&T.

Source: Radical Software


Experiments in Self-learning Closed Loop Simulation

A highly technical presentation by Brodey and Johnson, which sheds light on their view — emerging mostly on Johnson’s doctoral studies — about the important role that perception and intentionality play in cognitive processes. How should this view change how we build prosthetic devices?

Co-written with Warren Brodey.

Source: Academic Press


The Three Little Pigs Revisited

Some interesting reflections on soft architecture and intellegent environments presented in the form of a parable.

Source: Student Publication of the School of Design


Toying with Ideas

Johnson applies his ideas about perception and participation to the world of architecture. Notable for explaining the difference between tools and toys.

Source: Architectural Design


Point of View: Hunger or Appetite?

This short article introduces a distinction that was very important to Johnson’s work - it first surfaces in this work in 1966 but is explained at length in this article. Stated in a slightly different idiom, the distinction between hunger and appetite parallels one between physiological needs and cultivated desires.

Source: The Sciences


Telegrasping at Midnight ‘Neath the Starry Sky

Even though written almost a decade after the demise of the Environmental Ecology Lab, this piece provides some useful information about the initial design of its Telegrasp technology and the role that self-organizing controllers were to play in it.

Source: ROM - Computer Applications for Living


Forget Me, Forget Me Not

In this short piece, Johnson celebrates hermeneutics without naming it as such. It's a paean to the importance of context — something that one cannot reproduce through facts, copies, or photographs, for it requires a personal narrative, and a vantage point.

Source: ROM - Computer Applications for Living


Come Closer and We Won’t Even Have to Talk

This essay recapitulates a theory that Johnson presented at a 1970 conference: the degree to which our communication (and the interfaces supporting it) ought to be formal and non-ambiguous depends on what is being communicated. Lovers can skip words and communicate through touch and glances; bureaucracies have no choice but to use language.

Source: ROM - Computer Applications for Living


The “Party Line” (An Experiment in Public-Access Ad Hoc Teleconferencing)

Johnson’s account of the “Party Line” experiment that he ran in Milford — a project of his “A Small World Exchange” venture.

Source: CoEvolution Quarterly


Three Bowmen: A Fable by Avery Johnson

A short fable celebrating those who are prepared to be flexible and embrace the unexpected.

Source: Burst Out Laughing


Eve’s Apple Was A Fatty Sheath

In a strange turn, towards the end of his life Johnson became interested in human’s ability to “objectify” or “reify” reality — i.e. to see things and objects where one might otherwise see systems and processes. Johnson linked this ability to the peculiar nature of our brain structure. This was also the main focus of the book that he was working on at the time of his death.

Source: The Association for the Anthropological Study of Play National Meeting

Johnson’s Unpublished Texts


The Consequence of Man: A Cybernetic View of Mind and Matter, Minding and Mattering

The text of Johnson’s unpublished 1966 book manuscript, which seeks to explain distinct processes — from perception to politics — as enabled by “reflexive participation.” A must-read to understand both Johnson’s ideological positions and his hopes for EEL and ET&T.


Is This Machine Intelligent?

Johnson’s paper — cowritten with John Kotelly — updates the well-known Turing Test by claiming that machines would only be intelligent once they can understand jokes, i.e. recognize unexpected shifts in context.

Source: IEEE - Systems Science Cybernetic Group


Dialogue and the Exploration of Context: Properties of an Adequate Interface

Johnson’s first articulation of his theory about how the level of abstraction of our communication — and the interfaces that underpin it — depends on what is being communicated and by whom. A more popular account is provided in the 1977 piece (also available here) called “Come Closer and We Won’t Even Have to Talk.”

Source: Fourth Annual International Symposium of the American Society for Cybernetics



Eolithism and Design

An essay by Hans Otto Storm that greatly shaped the intellectual agenda of the lab. It introduces the notion of “eolithicism”: the idea that objects don’t need to have unique, stable, pre-determined functions. This is how ordinary single-function tools can become toys with infinite, unstable identities.

Source: Colorado Quarterly


Editorial | Confrontation on the ASC Campus

An angry editorial about one of the most hilarious provocations of the Environmental Ecology Lab: the disruption of the second annual congress of the American Society of Cybernetics.

Source: American Society for Cybernetics Newsletter


Scientists Rebelling At ‘Dull’ Meetings

An entertaining write-up of the confrontation at the ASC congress.

Source: The Clarion Ledger


Feedback at the Meetings

Another entertaining write-up of the ASC confrontation.

Source: Science News


On the Environmental Brink

Source: Landscape


The Shell Game: Filling the Shells of Old Buildings Scores Points for Architects

A quirky article about one of Avery Johnson’s houses. Architecture and design were an important theme for many in the lab.

Source: Progressive Architecture


REVOLUTIONARY ENGINEERING: Towards a ‘Counter-Technology’

Even though not directly related to EEL or ET&T, this 1971 essay on “counter-technology” by the Berkeley-based AQUARIUS PROJECT shows that not all countercultural thinking about technology took the naive apolitical or libertarian shape. The magazine where this essay appeared - Radical Software - was started and edited by people in the ET&T orbit, with some of them visiting Johnson’s quarry.

Source: Radical Software

1972 [1970]

No Room for the Searcher

A cogent response to Brodey’s utopian business vision from a seasoned executive.

Source: Creating an Action Team in R&D

1974 [1972]

Pneumatic Structures, Cybernetics and Ecology: Toward Ecostructures for Habitation of People and Other Lively Systems

This is the transcript of a talk that Blair Hamilton, one of the people affiliated with ET&T gave an architecture conference (where Nicholas Negroponte was also presented). It sheds some light on how the Johnson Quarry community brought cybernetic vocabulary to the problems of architecture and ecology.

Source: The Responsive House: Selected Papers and Discussions from the Shirt-Sleeve Session in Responsive Housebuilding Technologies


Johnson Challenges Milford with Libertarian Viewpoint

A mid-1980s article about Avery Johnson’s eccentric libertarian views and his involvement in local politics in Milford, NH.

Source: The Nashua Telegraph