Annetta Pedretti vs. A World Out of Time

Explorations in Cybernetics, design and Futures


  • Dulmini Perera Bauhaus University Weimar


Annetta Pedretti, time, second order cybernetics, design, defuturing


In this paper, i propose how the less known work of cybernetician and architect Annetta Pedretti's lifelong experiments of designing in the context of time may provide alternative ways of rethinking problematic concerns related to design and the question of futures(or the lack of futures). Pedretti trained as an architect at the Architectural Association, completed a PhD in cybernetics and language at Brunel, resided in London's Princelet St. 25, ran a printing press, and was a beekeeper. Regardless of the different roles, she took on at different moments, whether related to the rebuilding of her house, the design of an ASC conference book, or sewing a flag as a form of protest, she maintained her interest in 'reclaiming time' as a form of designerly resistance. Though far from perfect, her projects form a unique case where 'time' becomes a common ground in exploring ideas related to cybernetics, design, and the political (questions of oppression and injustice). In what ways do Pedretti's projects(from small scale objects, buildings, and events) enable us to engage questions of designing open systems that remain open for the continuing negotiation of values? How has her approach to redesigning Princelet Street enabled it to become a site of resistance against particular forms of 'defuturing' happening via real estate practices in Brick lane and broader forms of 'accelerationist' processes? By tracing her projects across different forms and scales with the use of published work as well as a hitherto unpublished collection of diaries that carry her reflections, i will explore these questions both in the context of their historical relevance as an extended part of the history of encounters between second order cybernetics and design as well as its relevance to broader design questions of the present. More specifically, i will propose two ways in which one can start to read the relevance of Pedretti's position on 'Time'. The first relates to how she formulated the link between reclaiming time and the idea of an open systemic practice. Pedretti's experiments that happened outside educational institutions provide a different way to explore the questions of open systems and their politics and complement the better-known experiments on open systems by Gordon Pask and Ranulph Glanville conducted in the Architectural Association(AA). The second relates to how Pedretti's move on making time public enables alternative ways of navigating our present defined by phenomena such as 'accelerationism' prompted by self-propagating positive feedback loops, further amplified by the problematic link between technology and design formulated within the logical categories of the market. Accelerationist processes work ontologically and unsustainably to erase the future of many life forms to preserve the future of a privileged few. Pedretti's work provides an antidote to the impasse or discomfort many designers face in dealing with time under these defutured conditions and invites a reflection on the 'future of the future.'