William J. Mitchell, head of the Media Lab’s Smart Cities research group and former dean of MIT’s School of Architecture and Planning, died on June 11, 2010 after a long battle with cancer.
Bill was an inspirational thinker and prolific writer who touched the lives of many while challenging conventional concepts about sustainable cities, urban transportation, and design. During his 18 years at MIT, he left a lasting impact, not only on the MIT campus, but throughout the world.
We welcome your memories of Bill. Please share your comments here.
Just looking at a picture of Bill reminds me of the infectous smile he always used to bring intimacy and enthusiasm to his arguments.
I remember sitting in his Dean's office showing him my Industrial design and him gushing about how much fun I would have as a professor creating such things at MIT,
I remember sitting in his top corner office at the Media Lab looking over his major achievement, the Stata center, having aesthetic and functional discussions about it, about cars, and about more uncomfortable things too.
I want more to remember the delight he tried to bring with his sparkling eyes than the difficult conversations that surrounded the status of the Media lab that we all worked through during the Dotcom bust and the transitions in the architecture school.
What a great concept- architecture/media art and science-
I just wanted one conversation with you.
You were (are) a genuis- Thank you for your work.
i am so lucky and appreciated being a beneficiary of Bill's Lab and his team. I know Bill when I was a visiting scholar at Mobile Experiences Lab in Design Lab in last years. he was my official host professor. so I often attended some seminars or discussion he involved in Lab, and read his books. i was impressed by his passionate and wise, when i didn't know he was struggling with cancer, he looked so great! I can't believe it... deep sorry...
I met Prof Mitchell briefly in 1997 as a prospective Phd applicant. He was the most caring, interested and attentive professor one could have met for the first time for such a short time.
Although he had already impressed on me his vision through his books I had never imagined that his impression as a person would so mark me in the years to come. In the end, I decided not to go ahead with my Phd application, despite all the 'logical' arguments against my decision. 13 years later, what I regret the most about my decision is not being able to get to know him more.
Here is a very moving piece about Bill that was authored by George Stiny and signed by the computation faculty group at MIT.
MIT Faculty Memorial Resolution for William J. Mitchell September 15, 2010
Dean William J. Mitchell died on June 11 at the age of 65. The cause was cancer, and this affected his life for the past several years. Nonetheless, he was active and vigorous throughout this period – as he was throughout his life – readily available to talk and to share his enthusiasm for new ideas in architecture and design, and frequently in flight travelling around the world. You could count on finding Bill in Cambridge, but you never knew which one. Bill was always a wonderful surprise, in where he turned up – usually everywhere – in who he was planning to meet – usually everyone – and in what he was thinking and doing – usually everything. It was an adventure being with him, when you could keep up.
Bill was an Australian, an academic, and foremost an architect. He loved the delight good buildings brought to the eye, the technical aspects of buildings and how these could be expanded and improved in innovative ways, and what good buildings meant for people and the quality of their lives. Bill loved architecture because it let us see more, and because it brought us closer together in shared creative experience. In this respect, his legacy at MIT is monumental and ongoing. As architectural advisor to President Charles M. Vest, Bill was a key figure in the way the campus grew and developed over the past decade. Frank Gehryʼs Stata Center, Kevin Rochesʼs Zesiger Sports and Fitness Center, Steven Hollʼs Simmons Hall, Charles Correaʼs Brain and Cognitive Sciences complex, and Fumihiko Makiʼs Media Lab addition are all Billʼs creations, as well. They are inspiring examples of his spatial imagination and his unflinching commitment to diversity and high standards in the built environment. These buildings have changed MIT physically, and its social and intellectual landscape – they are already indispensible parts of what it means to be on campus for faculty and students alike. Our academic lives without Billʼs buildings would be hard to imagine. Bill was the key ingredient that made them possible.
Enthusiasm for building buildings is not the usual locus of an academic career. Bill was a successful builder, and equally, an impressive thinker. He was a marvelous conduit and interpreter between different fields with vastly different perspectives, allowing for creative interaction between them. His many books punctuated his scholarly life. These came slowly at the beginning and rapidly in later years, always with a fresh point of view and a clear goal in mind. The common theme was computation and new technology, and how they might impact design teaching and practice, and everyoneʼs everyday lives in cities and urban spaces.
Bill saw the unlimited potential of computation in architectural design at a time when it was hard to get a computer to draw or manipulate a straight line – and this prescience from one of the best draftsmen I have ever known. Bill drew effortlessly with clarity and precision – his drawings were beautiful – but this didnʼt keep him from seeing the promise of a brand new technology that didnʼt come close to doing what he could do immediately, holding a pen in his own hand. His pioneering books, first, Computer-Aided Architectural Design (1977), and then a decade plus later, The Logic of Architecture: Design, Computation, and Cognition, profoundly changed how architects approach design and building. The way design and computation are taught today in architecture schools is the direct result of Billʼs work. He had an uncanny sense of how much architects could take, gave them a little more than this, and made it possible for them to take the next step to a new way of thinking about a new technology.
Billʼs interests were not limited to architectural design and computation. There were other books, too: one on the poetics of gardens, with the architects Charles Moore and William Turnbull, and one on digital photography when film was still the norm. And then, there was Billʼs pathbreaking trilogy on urbanism, and the modern city as an electronically interconnected network of systems – City of Bits: Space, Place, and the Infobahn, E-topia: Urban Life Jim – but Not as We Know It, and Me++: the Cyborg Self and the Networked City. As Bill liked to say, “Buildings and cities are getting nervous systems.” It was his special area of expertise to describe this evolving urban landscape in which everything was linked up, and livable spaces were themselves sensate and responsive to unfolding events. Bill was a visionary in this, and also a traditional scholar who took the time to see what was going on as best he could, and to carefully analyze what it meant. Billʼs instincts were more academic than his wonderfully enticing “digital” titles might suggest. He very much enjoyed the irony.
Billʼs wide-ranging thought is also reflected in the several academic institutions he called home. In something like chronological order: Melbourne, Yale, UCLA, Cambridge, Carnegie-Mellon University, Harvard, and MIT. Bill improved all of them by introducing computation into professional education in architecture. He was a dedicated teacher – seductive, and deep and clear – and a steady mentor in academic and professional life, who shepherded many students into successful careers. Wherever Bill lectured in the past few years, his audiences, big and small alike, were evenly divided between his former students and everyone else who wished they were. Bill created a new subject, and he taught many who teach and enrich it today. Billʼs students are spread far and wide in architecture schools and in architectural practices throughout the world. This year, Architectural Record placed MIT first in the teaching of computation. This would have pleased Bill – it was his goal, and he made it happen.
At the time of his death, Bill was designing cars – now in further development in Spain – in the Design Lab he founded after stepping down as dean. This involved a loyal cadre of graduate students from all across MIT. These were Billʼs new colleagues. “CityCars” werenʼt ordinary vehicles, but lightweight, two-passenger electric cars with mechanical systems in their wheels. They were designed to be stackable and shared for mobility on demand, with pick-up and drop- off points located throughout urban areas. This appealed to Billʼs political sensibilities, but he was especially intrigued with the computer algorithms needed to manage the entire system to maximize availability. Bill could never get away from computation – not even in a smart CityCar. Computation was infused in all of his thought. He understood its speed and efficiency. Bill didnʼt like to wait – there was more to see and do, and time was short.
Bill (at home, he was B1) leaves his wife, Jane Wolfson, their son, Bill (B2), his daughter, Emily, from an earlier marriage, and a loving extended family in Australia and the United States.
Iʼve said very little about Bill. (He would have wanted me to read it from my BlackBerry.) But I donʼt have to say much. Bill left books, buildings, and students to speak for him for a long, longtime. He had a marvelous life, and this continuing voice will always ring true.
Be it resolved that the faculty of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, at its meeting of September 15, 2010, record its profound sense of loss on the death of our beloved colleague and friend, William J. Mitchell, and express its deepest sympathy to the family.
I am really sorry.
I meant to write earlier, but it has taken some difficult weeks to filter through all of the thoughts and emotions that the news about Bill has elicited for me. I thought back and realized that Bill has been an influence on my creativity and teaching since I was a student at UCLA in 1979. Has it really been 31 years since I considered the meaning of design in terms of algorithms?
After graduation, experience with technology at UCLA helped me get a job. I worked for several years as an architect-technical staff member at a corporate firm in LA with a practice built around CAD. A colleague told me that Bill was launching an academic program at Harvard. After a series of phone calls and interviews, I couldn't believe how lucky I was to be there working with a team of innovative faculty and staff, building a lab around classes where architecture students began to experiment with technology in design.
It was an incredible privilege to co-teach a class with Bill, and get a glimpse into the way that he understood what students were trying to accomplish, related to them with intelligence and humor, and directed them to new levels of achievement by converting his appreciation for their work into motivation to do more - to try again, to take the work to even higher levels. He had the same effect on the administrative staff around him, and on the people learning to be teachers.
After Bill left Harvard, I went in a different direction. As my career evolved, I tried to keep in touch, to read about Bill's work at MIT, to visit occasionally. Whenever I had a question or a request, I would be amazed that Bill would return my email immediately, even though he undoubtedly had a long line of higher priority issues, current colleagues and students awaiting his responses.
Just last year, I was working on an A+U special publication about building information modeling. Of course it made perfect sense to see if we could persuade Bill to contribute an essay, given his world-wide renown and his leadership position in the decades-long movement of technology in design. Cheerfully and immediately, it seemed, Bill responded to my request and provided a beautiful essay which connected BIM to the tradition and evolution of technology innovation in design, leaving yet another remarkable work to inspire future generations.
Bill's legacy surrounds me still. In July I was invited to teach a digital media course which uses his book. "Beyond Productivity: Information, Technology, Innovation and Creativity" by the Committee on Information Technology and Creativity, National Research Council, William J. Mitchell, Alan S. Inouye, et al. And in my professional life, I encounter so many, many people - Bill's students through generations who are leaders across the spectrums of academia and architecture, research participants, readers of his many books - all who continue to be inspired by his creativity, his insight and his engagement with life, as I will be, forever.
I saw Bill last in Boston, 1992 when I was in for a job interview. We spent a good part of the evening reminisce those days at UCLA where he was chair and I was student. In one particular incident where our entire class of 45 students were on the verge of being arrested by LAPD for placing bottles of beer in a Coca Cola machine we had purchased at a swap meet, Bill could not stop laughing, with that gutsy and engaging laughter of his. I never knew he remembered the incident with such amusement, and care. He remembered us because he cared and, as I just found out by reading the commentaries, how he loved silly things. Over the years, whenever a group of us were together, who were at UCLA when Bill was the chair, our conversation inevitably turns to Bill at some point and we were all kept up with his writings and his current endeavors. I remember one particular day when one of our colleagues who had been teaching in Australia said that whenever Bill comes to Melbourne he would take a long drive, at the end of each day, to see his mother. We knew than as I realize now the kind of human being he was/is and the devotion he had to people and cause. We were so fortunate to have been under his tutelage, not only as architects but more importantly as human being.
Prof Mitchell visited Melbourne, Australia, a few years ago and I attended an inspiring seminar by him. He is certainly a person with tremendous vision and insight, and creativity. I trust that many things he imagined we will see and touch, in the near future.
Bill is gone, and as far as Warsaw, Poland many who knew him, are devastated; who will write a new book every year to show everyone of us what's coming, how can we respond, react etc.
Really so sad...
I remember Bill Mitchell coming to my show at the MIT MUSEUM which as a measly gradual student, was , I thought at the time, profound. It showed his dedication to all aspects of architecture even our bastion of serious radicalism at the Center for Advanced Visual Studies, now sadly renamed, ACT ( How can you "rename" art history, exactly--?) He saw value in the arts, in the creative underpinnings of the arts both in architecture and in modalities that pushed new directions: I got the strong sensation that he embraced that element which we were working on. That the traditions of Samuel F.B. Morse was not only the basis for what became known as telecommunication but also PAINTING which he made a living teaching. That Art and Technology have always been linked, and beautifully brought to the surface by Kepes is a direct testament to the continuation of this vision. And seen through MIT's architecture and strong exhibition programs Mitchell brought a concrete understanding of that critical relationship for modern, post modern and future times as it applied to the humanizing of technology. I know he valued that.
i happened in his open and cross disciplinary course. he stimulated students to think critical and outside the boxes....
First of all, I apologize about my English writing. I am an argentine architect, Juan Manuel Boggio Videla. I met Bill long ago (1978) in Los Angeles, as well as his associates at that time, Jeff Hammer. and Charles Reeder. The international AEC Company (SADE-SADELMI) wherein I was working as Chief Architect, had installed a CAD system in its headquarters in Buenos Aires and by this time I was travelling through USA for the investigation of the applications of the new tool in architecture.
After this first contact, Bill collaborated with our Firm as consultant and visited our headquarters in Argentina, in occasion of his participation in a CAD forum at the University of Belgrano, Buenos Aires. In that opportunity I made an interview to Bill, which was published in a local architectural magazine called Summa. I will always remember gratefully his brilliant intellect, his gentle courtesy and his generous willingness to share their knowledge and achievements.
Years after, I lost frequent communication with Bill, but I continued keeping the best memory of him and I always have his news, through a common friend of ours, architect Alicia Rosenthal who had studied under Bill teaching at UCLA. It was precisely Alicia who informed me about Bill illness and death. It really were very bad and sad news. May God keep Bill with Him.
I am sending attached, copies of the aforementioned interview and of an article appeared in the SADE Newsletter, as well as a photo taken during Bill's visit to our Firm in Buenos Aires. I will finally comment that in the interview, so early as 1985, Bill shows a completely clear and comprehensive overview of the issues (emerging at that time) involved in the use of CAD systems for architectural design and practice. Certainly, most of the problems he pointed then are still valid nowadays. Best regards,
Juan Manuel Boggio Videla, arch.
I first met Bill at the Electronic Studio Conference he ran with Malcolm McCullough in 1990 at the GSD. After that John Macintosh and I would drop in after our summer class at Harvard. He would always spend a few minutes with us or show us his latest project if he had more time. I was able to bring him to two different universities where his presentation brought many different disciplines together and furthered the emerging digital issues at both universities. Bill had a lot to offer the world and he shared so freely. His passing has left a large void. We will all miss him so much.
Bill's memorial service at the new Maki building was truly elegant. My takeaway was a comment made by a speaker on what Bill would often say to his most perplexed students, ""Blast away at it. Get it done." Bill got *alot* done and set an incredible example for all of us. Thanks Bill.
Bill Mitchell was a most caring and brilliant academic Dean and professor who truly cared about students and his colleagues whereever he presided. As a Special Assistant to the President, Institute Ombudsperson and Adjunct Professor of Urban Studies and Planning, I had the need to bring several serious "people" problems to Bill when he served as Dean of the School of Architecture and Urban Studies and Planning. He always provided exceptional solutions to such problems with human decency and quality for all parties involved. I also worked with him regarding his efforts to increase minority presence both in the student ranks and faculty of his school. These efforts were extremely important to him and he demonstrated this commitment through his actions over many successful years at MIT. In my book, TECHNOLOGY AND THE DREAM, on page 35, I talk about a limited number of Non-minority Faculty and administrators who have been instrumental in making MIT a more welcoming, nurturing environment for blacks and other minorities. Bill clearly was such a person of the highest order. In fact, I interviewed him for a video scheduled to be completed in the next few months on the topic of "Bridge Leaders" in higher education. Our friend, Bill Mitchell, will truly be missed but his inspirational spirit that he shared with all of us will last for generations of scholars in the academia.
As an liaison between MIT media lab and ITRI, I attended Bill's "smart city" seminar in 2006 a few times. It was inspiring and fun. Bill conducted the whole process without much intervening; he let participants to go with their flow. In an interview, he talked about smart city and architecture with enthusiasm. I was told that he published the first textbook on how to use computer on architecture. He probably was seen as 'crazy' at the time. Not any more, computation are heavily used in every aspect of architecture nowadays.
Bill will be remembered, for his foresight, his encouragement, and his passion for architecture.
"An Impossible Truth"...
Manuel Castells used to say that Bill Mitchell was the Renaissance Man, and that could not be closer to the truth. The passing of one of the finest minds in architecture+urban planning+digital media and akin disciplines comes as an impossible truth. A person of such erudition, complexity, cross disciplinary magic, powerful prolific and outstanding writer, teacher and subtle thinker and a wonderful colleague to all that have known and collaborated with him - this is just not possible. I had the pleasure and honor of collaborating with Bill in the least decade, especially from 2005 to now where I was at periods a Post-Doc fellow at MIT and Berkeley. Bill was a fantastic host and he was kind enough to contribute a great piece for my New Urbanism & Beyond book in 2008 and was about to write a new piece for the upcoming Sustainable Urbanism & Beyond 2011. I was going to see him now in September and talk about another project as well as the finalization of the idea that Bill was going to be nominated for an honorary doctorate at KTH in Stockholm. Now that is just the past, as 'tears in the rain'...I can just begin to imagine what blow this will be to the Lab and all his colleagues and especially to his family. My sincere condolences go out to them in this time of grief as well as his fellow friends at the Design Lab. It is a loss that can never be recovered but a realization and consolation that this great man will always live with us, in our hearts & minds, thorugh the great things he has created in his amazing scientific carreer...He will never be forgotten! I hope to see all his wonderful friends and fellows at the Design Lab in Fall. The Lab and it's staff is the best monument and legacy to Bill Mitchell's work...
I will always be grateful to have known someone as generous as you.
i m like this university full
I never met William Mitchell but through his initiatives and students and colleagues st the MIT, Ken Larson, Ryan Chin, Frank Piller and Jarmo Suominen I was introduced to the Smart and Resposive Cities and the Smart Customization Mashup. It ended up for me creating a Living Lab in Montreal on Co-Creation and Open innovation starting with tests on mobile Web 2.0 platforms, geolocalisation and a bicycle mobility-on-demand system to lower the carbon footprint of Montreal transportation while creating a rich experience for bycicle users. I sincerely think and feel that it is a true tribute to his conntribution to our world for the future of our cities, streets and lives.
‘Time is our most valuable resource,’ he warned me, the last time I spoke with him in person. Willem Mitchell used his intellectual gift to inspire access to learning global, locally and on a personal level. Bill saw his vision through with action. In 1995, he gave his unlimited support for our City of Boston’s technology initiative (Mayor Menino’s Blue Ribbon Commission for the Public Schools), which among other things, introduced internet to the Boston Public Schools and encouraged a new way of learning. Opening MIT for the Boston Teacher’s Institute in collaboration with Mel King, he was a change agent and helped to empower teacher’s and parents (as parents were also included in this institute). Globally, MIT opened its elite learning resources through Willem Mitchell’s vision. It is with great sadness that I learn of his loss, a man who inspired so many to make accessible and to realise the human dimension to our technological advance. From the Netherlands, I believe this electronic tribute is an appropriate and demanded adieu, 'until we see you again'.
I cant believe he is not here.
So driven by ambition - not just for himself but for everyone. Needy. And that was his true power. He involved himself so deeply with those people who he felt ambition for. A booster. A booster of things, gadgets and people that dont deserve boosting. Too indiscriminate. But thrilled with it all. Thrilled with leaving Aus and its colonial cringe. Thrilled just with not being in the bush. Thrilled and thrilling to be with because boring little things became important. Dull things became interesting.
I will miss him so much.
Bill, I like to think of your soul as floating in the ether and bits of the City/Cities you imagined and made us all consider and imagine.
Your vision will be missed on earth and I can't wait to see what you've done to the after-life!
I first met Bill at a Media Lab retreat in 1992, his first as new Dean. We shared a background (mine New Zealand), each having left home at about the same age, and our quiet rapport was evident each ANZAC Day when a brief mention by one would elicit a knowing glance and pensive moment in the other. Most of the time we all knew Bill by his infectious smile and expressive eyes, which were disarming props in his teaching and telling jokes and stories.
But there was another side of Bill, even beyond the Reconfigured Eye, and in this I'm indebted to the contribution by John Close detailing Bill's devotion to the Australian bush and the indigenous villages that were indelibly etched into his early view of the world. In recent years I've taken a spinoff from Media Lab into very remote Australia, and have kept Bill informed on how the One Laptop per Child initiative was doing in its bid to help change the world in indigenous Australia. A few weeks before Bill's death I sent him a video clip from the National Evening News that gave public awareness to our bringing digital education and hope to the children of remote Yirrkala. Bill's response to the report was immediate: "This is great. ... I know these sorts of communities (not specifically Yirrkala) and it literally brought tears to my eyes."
So, behind the worldly man, whose keen eyes could visualize changing the urban world most of us live in, lay an intensely empathetic soul -- likely the key to the myriad accomplishments we outwardly recognize. His kind is sadly missed.
Bill was a friend of the NUS (National University of Singapore) Department of Architecture. Since the mid-80s, he provided invaluable advice and encouragement to our design computing efforts. He also assisted in the development of OneNorth, Singapore's 200Ha R&D district with his propositions of a post-industrial community. We are grateful for his generosity.
We are saddened by his passing, and we send our heart-felt condolences to his family.
Wong Yunn Chii
Head, NUS Department of Architecture
Peace be with you.
I remember Bill Mitchell as a man who was continuously giving, without ever expecting anything in return. When I first came to MIT, I shared a suite with Bill. I was a relative newcomer from outside the academic world, but Bill embraced me, offering insightful advice and a welcoming and positive presence. I will always remember and deeply appreciate that. He put his trust in my plan for what eventually became the Legatum Center and has been an invaluable supporter and resource for us since the very early days. Everyone who knew him remembers his warm humor and incredible energy.
It was quite striking, but not surprising, to see at the memorial today how genuinely valued and admired he was by all. Bill was a truly extraordinary man. This is a tremendous loss on a personal level, for MIT, and indeed for the world.
Bill Mitchell was my teacher. He had just become dean of the architecture school and was in the process of transforming it into the leading place for design and computation. He called our section "Studio of the Future", a name I then found curious and remember joyfully now. You live on in our work, Bill.
Memories of Bill Mitchell
1966 Stage sets for University of Melbourne Architects’ revue – movable curved walls on castors faced with multi-coloured egg cartons making an astonishing array of stage spaces
1967 Assisting Bill en charrette to complete his undergraduate thesis project – a hospital. Nights without sleep, printing and mounting large prints, leaving them to dry and returning right before the presentation to discover they had bubbled and distorted almost beyond recognition – disastrous.
1968 Stage sets for Summer of the Seventeenth Doll (stage managed by Peter G Rowe) – 45 degree rotated living room of a Victorian row house, painted musky pink and festooned with kewpie dolls
1975-80 Taking Bill’s exciting classes in CAD and design methods at UCLA at the vanguard of the computer revolution.
Convivial dinners with Bill and Liz at his Venice Beach apartment and ours in West LA
House sitting for Bill in Venice with his rope ladder access from balcony to the beach
Collaboration on Melbourne City Square, Australian National Archives and Stockmen’s Hall of Fame competitions convinced we would win and become rich and famous
Sharing a charming white 30s bungalow off Venice Boulevard, balmy Southern California evenings on the back stoop, smoking cigars
Emily, tiny, days old in her crib at Bill’s Baldwin Hills apartment
1980-85 Reciprocal visits to New Orleans and LA with convivial gatherings
Reciprocal visits to Boston and Melbourne with colleagues, family and friends
Miegunyah lecture in the School of Architecture Building and Planning on the astonishing transformation of the MIT Campus
Constant email exchanges and, recently, swapping images of our respective gardens.
He leaves a great void in our lives.
Images may be shared via the wjmtribute Flickr pool, and may be included in visual tributes celebrating Bill's life.