Warren Brodey

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Warren Brodey
Born January 25, 1924(1924-01-25)
Toronto, Canada
Lives in Båstad, Norway
Avery Johnson and Warren Brodey (R) in 1968. Source.

Warren Mortimer Brodey is a psychiatrist, cyberneticist and designer.

Warren Brodey was born in Toronto in 1924. He studied medicine at the University of Toronto and obtained his MD in 1947. After training as a psychiatrist at the Lincoln Hospital in the Bronx, New York, and the Judge Baker Youth Guidance Center in Boston, Brodey became Assistant Director at the Child Guidance Center in Worcester, Massachusetts. Between 1956 and 1958, he worked as a researcher on Murray Bowen’s Family Study Project at the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, Maryland. In the same period, he became an associate (and later a faculty member) at the Washington School of Psychiatry, where he began a clinical practice in family therapy after his engagement at the NIMH had ended. From 1959 to 1964, he was also a Clinical Professor at Georgetown University and, between 1960 and 1964, a candidate at the Washington Psychoanalytic Institute. Simultaneously, Brodey was a consultant to the Pilot School for the Blind in Washington, working with multi-handicapped blind children and their families. During those years he published several articles on family therapy and worked on two books that were later published as Changing the Family in 1968 (revised as Family Dance: Building Positive Relationships through Family Therapy, 1977) and Earthchild: Glories of the Asphyxiated Spectrum in 1974. In a letter to Gordon Pask dated 21 January 1964, he described his project in these works as that of adding “cybernetic general systems think to psychiatric observations.”

Brodey abandoned his psychiatric practice in 1964 to become a research affiliate in cybernetics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Boston. Formally an unpaid affiliate with the Cognitive Information Processing Lab and informally a protégé of Warren McCulloch, Brodey initially funded his activities at MIT through work as a consultant for the Computer Research Lab at NASA’s Electronics Research Center in Cambridge. Later, became director of the MIT Science Camp. Drawing on his experience of working with blind children, he took an interest in the enhancement of human sensory capabilities. In 1967, he coined the term “soft architecture” to denote the “design of intelligent environments.” Together with the computer engineer Avery R. Johnson, Brodey ran the Environmental Ecology Lab (EEL) from 1967 to 1969. Described by Johnson and Brodey as a “post-industrial” laboratory, the privately funded EEL, located in a former industrial building at Lewis Wharf in Boston, was a highly experimental attempt to develop “responsive environments” and new kinds of tactile and bodily interfaces. Between 1970 and 1972, Brodey and Johnson collaborated on the «upstart» Ecology Tool & Toy, which they ran from Johnson’s property, “the quarry,” in Milford, New Hampshire. Their collaboration resulted in a patent for what they called “soft control materials.” Brodey developed his ecological thinking in dialogue with Gregory Bateson and published in Radical Software, the print organ of the video movement. In 1972, Brodey emigrated to Norway. Here, he was a Visiting Scientist with the Department of Technical Cybernetics at the Technical University of Norway, Trondheim, before he, in 1977, took a job as a factory worker at the Jøtul foundry in Oslo. In 1980, he was a visiting lecturer at the Tianjin University in China, teaching cybernetics. In the following years, still living in Norway, he continued to devote himself to the development of tactile interfaces and was a regular contributor to the Norwegian magazine Flux (2000–2008).

The above is based on Brodey's own account in "Note to the archivist," Warren Brodey Archive, University of Vienna, and Evgeny Morozov's ‘A Bath of Continuous Sensations’: Warren Brodey’s Quest for Human Augmentation and Intelligent Environments, 1955-1975, PhD dissertation, Harvard University, 2018.


  • Earthchild: Glories of the Asphyxiated Spectrum, New York: Gordon and Breach, 1974, 166 pp.

Papers, Articles and Other Writings[edit]

  • "Warren Brodey describes how the blind, if asked, can teach us to experience the other-than-visual world," in Architectural Design (January 1969), 9-10.
  • "Unlearning the Obsolescent," in Architectural Design (September 1969), 483-484.
  • "Information Exchange in the Time Domain," in William Gray, Frederick J. Duhl and Nicholas D. Rizzo (eds.) General Systems Theory and Psychiatry, New York: Little, Brown, 1969, 229-243.
  • with Avery R. Johnson, "Dialogue and Exploration of Context: Properties of an Adequate Interface", in Herbert W. Robinson and Douglas E. Knight (eds.), Cybernetics, Artificial Intelligence, and Ecology: Proceedings of the Fourth Annual Symposium of the American Society for Cybernetics, New York: Spartan Books, 1972. [1]
  • with Gregory Bateson, "The Treaty of Kalakalua Bay," unpublished manuscript, 1972.


Films and Videos[edit]

  • Telling the Fish about Water, dir. Christian Grote, Bayerischen Rundfunk, 1970. Excerpt.