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.
Encountering Bill Mitchell as a thinker and as a person was an inspiring experience. The twinkle in his eye, the laughter that accompanied any conversation or lecture made Bill an incredible force for change. I first met Bill at Harvard when he was writing "The Reconfigured Eye". His in-sight, which at the time was surprising and powerful, was to probe "veracity" as a core revolutionary value of and problem for the digital age. A few months later, Bill came to MIT. His energy, insights and passion generated rapid change not only within the School of Architecture and Planning but across the campus. As his tenure at MIT moved forward, the change became set in the fabric of the campus - the architectural renaissance and the re-visioning of Vassar Street. In parallel with his prodigious academic output, Bill always had time for people; when you were with him, no matter what other problems were swirling around him, he was 100% with you. This was true whether you were student, staff, a colleague or a visitor. I feel very privileged to have known Bill and celebrate his legacy for MIT and for the world.
“Kookaburra sits on the old gum tree
Merry, merry king of the bush is he
Laugh, kookaburra, laugh
What fun your life must be”
- Childrens’ rhyme.
Bill Mitchell left Australia as a very young man. He lived all his adult life in the great cities and universities of the world. His work concerned city design and some have said that he was one of the great urban theorists of our time. But I knew another Bill Mitchell, one with his roots firmly planted in the Victorian bush towns of his childhood. Every year Bill returned to Australia at least once. Typically he then embarked on a drive through several hundred kilometers of bush country that must have mystified many others. He loved it.
When in Boston or New York or Los Angeles he encountered a friend or relative from Australia it was easy to see a small thrill go right through his body. Quickly, the talk would be about the latest Australian novel or film. Then it would turn to Australian politics and the quick wit would set in and the jokes commenced. Soon he would be back again directing one of the Architecture Reviews of his undergraduate days in Melbourne and revelling in its silliness. The laughter was infectious. And then, very quickly, he would be back in the small bush towns of his boyhood. Perhaps he was exploring the gold town mullock heaps and deserted mine shafts with his sister and dog. Perhaps it was his mother’s reaction to finding that the noise coming from under his bed was emanating from tadpoles which were becoming frogs in their glass container. Then as the Australian red flowed, the corrugated iron roofs of Ararat became even hotter in the summertime and the crackelling frosts even heavier. The gravelled roads became dustier and the great eucalypts even more fragrant. Jokes and stories and ideas competed for space as they tumbled out. Usually the jokes won and the laughter dominated all. Then, truly, “Merry, merry king of the bush was he”. And, in his company, even on the busy streets of some great city, just for an hour or so, so were we.
Laugh, kookaburra, laugh.
Thanks John for this wonderfully evocative piece.
Fellow lovers of the bush.
I will never forget that day 20 years ago when I first met Bill Mitchell, by chance, at a back yard BBQ near Harvard Square. His mentioned his latest book project (The Reconfigured Eye: Visual Truth in the Post-Photographic Era, 1992), and to my amazement, was familiar with my fledgling work on the unbuilt. I am sure that Bill’s message to me was one that he gave to hundreds of others over the years, “carry on, this is important work.” My weekend hobby was transformed by Bill into a serious pursuit.
A few years later, after Bill had become Dean at MIT, he visited my office in Manhattan. In those few hours I saw that beneath Bill’s gentle demeanor, soft voice, and broad smile was a profound impatience with the fundamentally conservative nature of architecture. Bill was on a mission to change the world. He convinced me that I could play a role in this. That day changed my life.
Fifteen years later - just five weeks ago - Bill struggled to come into MIT for the kickoff meeting of a new initiative that he had agreed to be co-director of. At that point, Bill did not need to co-direct anything. It was a totally selfless act of supporting others in a mission that he believed in. Even in a weakened state, Bill was was engaging, enthusiastic, full of ideas, and unconditionally supportive. It was Bill’s way of saying one final time, “carry on, this is important work.”
We will Bill, even if it will never be the same without you.
Besides being one of the kindest, most humble, most insightful, and most devilishly funny people I've ever known, Bill was probably THE single most productive person I ever met. And that is saying a lot considering the MIT, Harvard - and international - communities we are part of. Once when I was struggling to get a creative project done amidst countless other demands and responsibilities, I asked Bill over lunch how he managed to write so much wonderful stuff, and to constantly generate so many good new ideas. He told me that he always made sure to clear two weeks of all other activities at the beginning of each creative project; in that amount of time he could conceive the core ideas for the work to follow, and then could pursue and develop them amidst the everyday chaos. I never forgot that, and often use this as an example of how to create, and how to live (juggling vision and ideals with practical matters and even politics).....like so many other things that Bill shared with us - often by example, rather than explicitely - and that we will always remember and cherish.
I had the pleasure of working with Bill Mitchell on one of my first projects as a entrepreneur at Untravel Media. We developed a multimedia walking tour of the Stata Center in 2007 featuring many of his insights and passions about the building. The tour can be downloaded for free from here:
What I recall most was his willingness to do many takes, even into hour 3 of our tour/interview. He seemed to really value the need to say it right, to tell a story in the proper way. And what impressed me most was in the midst of a discussion of the buildings abstract forms and fanciful humor he got a call from a grad student working on a rendering and he was able to give minute instructions in how to use the software to get the desired effect. Amazing and amazingly generous.
I look back over almost 20 years of interactions with Bill and am overflowing with warmth. Sometimes the subject of our meetings involved marvelous, playful challenges. Other times, we had to deal with the most odious and idiotic sorts of academic headaches imaginable. But regardless of whether the problems we tackled were enjoyable or annoying, I don't think I ever had an encounter with Bill that wasn't filled with smiles and laughs.
Thinking about him, it's impossible not to hear that marvelously lilting Aussie accent give way to a devilish chuckle; or see the bright twinkle in his eyes. Bill had such a unique way of being both subtle and powerful, affable and tenacious, profound and humble all at the same time.
When I left MIT, I gave up the Dreyfoos Chair. Of all people, Bill took over that splendid endowed perch. That blew my mind. It was sort of like playing a gorgeous Steinway for a few mediocre minutes, then watching Artur Rubinstein sit down at the same piano and pick up where you left off.
Technically, in the MIT org chart, Bill was my boss's boss. He was a colleague and one of my most trusted mentors. But more than anything, he was a friend I could always talk to. What a gift.
Bill was my teacher, mentor and friend.
I first met Bill when he accepted to be a keynote speaker at “The Architect’s Computer” conference that I organised in Singapore in 1985. I had found him from a library search (no Google in those days) that turned up only one book: Computer Aided Architectural Design (1977), the only major publication on design and computation at the time. Over drinks one evening at the Mandarin Hotel, I told Bill that NUS (National University of Singapore) wanted me to undertake a PhD but, like all architecture graduates then (trained for practice rather than academia), I had the faintest idea how to go about it. Even at that initial meeting, Bill was gracious to take me on as his PhD candidate despite my ignorance. He was at UCLA at that time.
In 1986, I set out to LA with my wife and our two young boys. Bill had a number of interesting things going at UCLA that benefited me immediately: shape grammars and parametric variations in particular. Bill always have a pool of talented graduate students that I also benefited from. He loved teaching and research, and treated us as collaborators. That inspired all of us.
In 1987, Bill left UCLA for Harvard, and arranged for me to transfer together with him as his first PhD candidate at Harvard. It was such a privilege for me to first tap on his cumulative wisdom at UCLA, and then to follow him to pioneer a computer-aided design program at Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD). Computers were alien at the GSD then! We unpacked the first shipment of Apple Macs in a storeroom at the GSD which was my makeshift workplace.
Bill always had time for me and the other students that he supervised. On several occasion he would come to see me straight from Logan airport with new ideas for my work that he had figured out on the flight. It was the freshness, clarity and simplicity of his ideas that always impressed me. He was also able to write and draw it all out, often in single sittings on a blank sheet of paper. His book, Logic of Architecture: design, computation and cognition (1990) was our benchmark in writing. Bill freely gave us his drafts for reference. Only after I graduated and interacted more generally with Bill, that I find him enormously multi-disciplinary and visionary — aspects that I did not fully appreciated when I was cocooned in my specific PhD thesis. The amazing thing about Bill is that he always carried with him a witty and persuasive “big picture” of the future; it was always so refreshing and exciting to talk to him about “the next big thing” not of isolated innovations, but revolutionary changes such as pervasive democratisation from digital imaging. His book, The Reconfigured Eye: visual truth in the post-photographic era (1992), was thought provoking. Bill even had a regular column in the RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects) Journal, which culminated in his book, Placing Words: Symbols, Space and the City (2005). I managed to get Bill to be on the international advisory panel for the development of OneNorth — the 200Ha R&D district, formerly known as Science Park, in Singapore (master planned by Zaha Hadid). My copy of his book, e-topia (1999), still have the numerous bookmarks that relate his articulation of “the networked-mediated metropolis of the digital electronic era” to OneNorth.
When I was Head of Architecture at NUS, I sought advice from Bill on setting a mission statement. He shared that his implicit mission was “to change the world”, no less! I asked him how he went about this. His reply: “hire the best people you can find, and then leave them to work”.
I had the privilege of commissioning Bill as one of nine Design2050 Studio Masters to present aspects of life in 2050 at the ICSID World Design Congress in Singapore in November 2009. Bill could not come to Singapore as he was undergoing medical treatment, but he gallantly went out of his way to make his presentation, Reinventing the Automobile 2050, with a video recording. As usual, he was totally committed to make a good presentation, complete with simulations and working demonstrations.
I will miss Bill, but his prolific writings and memories of all the good times that I had with him will live on. Thanks, Bill.
I was a collaborator during the initial development of the CityCar and was introduced to the concept of a charrette, "Bill Mitchell-style". Free spinning, highly intellectual discussion and brainstorming - like the flywheel energy of a grade-school playground merry go round. The more energy put in, the more energy and fun that would be realized. The consequences of a Bill Mitchell charrette would be a desire to reflect and reframe - there was always some new perspective gained by the collective experience. Bill had a great way of quickly processing, consolidating ideas/concepts but; most of all, he was a terrific storyteller.
I am forever grateful for the times that I was in Bill's presence during the development of the CityCar project.
Bill and his writings are a Beacon to our collective future - should we be courageous enough to create the future - in his honor.
Godspeed, Bill Mitchell - You have left the earth a much better place.
Roy Mathieu - General Motors
I have known Bill Mitchell for 30 years since he was Chair of Architecture at UCLA and my thesis advisor. It was a very exciting time where manyof the ideas later developed were sprouting.
Bill was the most inspiring, fun, smart person I know and in architecture no less.
He will always remain for me a model of a teacher, a renaissance person and a human being.
He helped and inspired many across the world.
The world of ideas is in deep mourning.
I hope he has arrrived to wherever it is extraordinary people go.
To me, Bill Mitchell was an incredible pioneer, a revolutionary thinker, and a warm-hearted role model. His accomplishments and the ways in which he touched my life - both through his work and as an individual - are countless.
To say that Bill was a multidisciplinary scholar is perhaps cliche, but deserves mention nonetheless. As a student studying engineering and urban design, I found it difficult - even at a place like MIT - to find faculty members who understood the overlaps and the intricacies of both fields. Bill embodied the fusion of technology and design, and was genuinely enthusiastic about sharing his passion for this fusion, both in his writings and through his words. Before we ever met, his books struck a special chord with me. After reading some his of his recent works, I knew that I had finally found a true scholar who understood the world in a way that was not constrained by the rigidity of academic disciplines or traditional boundaries.
Bill's urban vision for the MIT campus of the 21st century transformed my daily life as an MIT undergraduate over the past four years and his "Imagining MIT" not only changed the way I perceived the environment around me, but also blossomed an interest in campus design and planning.
On a personal level, I will never forget Bill's warm smile and his characteristic laugh. Bill had the unique ability to provide constant support, encouragement, and inspiration to his students and colleagues while demanding the same excellence and passion that he gave to his own work. Though my close interaction with him was limited to the final year of his life, I am still amazed by his perceptiveness and knack for adding relevant critique to topics and issues from a plethora of disciplines.
Even during his final weeks with us, Bill mustered up the strength to communicate with his students and provide the thoughtful insight and guidance that we will so sorely miss.
Bill: your legacy, your passion, and your vision will forever live on at the Media Lab, at MIT, and throughout the world. We will work tirelessly until your dreams are realized because the world truly needs your brilliance and innovative thought.
Visionary and dynamic. You will be missed by all of us that you have inspired.
Bill's departure will be dearly missed, a man with a great concern for the environment and sustainable development among others things, his legacy for a better world lives on. May he rest in eternal peace
Bill was an instrumental force for my time here at the Lab. His humility, creativity, and deep analysis from a variety of backgrounds were present in every interaction. The world has lost a great thinker and doer of our time, and will be largely missed. I will forever cherish the time that I did have with him, and thank him for that gift.
R.I.P. Bill. You will live on in the hearts and minds of us all.
His intellect and passion stood out even here at MIT. His eloquence in advocating for the best in our campus architecture inspired me and anyone else who heard it deeply. Bill Mitchell embodied the greatest ideals of the Institute as much as anyone ever could.
My Jesus Mercy. Nam Mo Bon Su Thich Ca Mau Ni Phat.
The deep pain that is felt at the death of every friendly soul arises from the feeling that there is in every individual something which is inexpressible, peculiar to him alone, and is, therefore, absolutely and irretrievably lost. ~Arthur Schopenhauer
My thoughts and prayers are with Bill's family. The contributions that he had made to the world will never be forgotten.
Acting Associate Director
Center for Urban Redevelopment Excellence at Penn
It was a pleasure working with Bill. He will be greatly missed.
Bill always seemed short of time. To stay in tune and aware of the issues of the days and nourish his own professional life but, more importantly perhaps, that of his students and colleagues was not an easy challenge. He mastered it, evidently at a cost. His transition out of life was smooth and quiet- only weeks ago he sent congratulations for our newborn son in his usual style. Easygoing, yet committed.
As a member of the MIT community, I have always appreciated the presence of people like Bill Mitchell around me. I never knew Bill personally, but I have felt his positive energy when ever I read his writings or heard him speak over the last several years.
Along with his quick mind, we remember Bill for his quick wit. Once he told of doing a live interview from Australia with a US television station. "There I was," he said, "in shirt and tie and pajama bottoms."
Images may be shared via the wjmtribute Flickr pool, and may be included in visual tributes celebrating Bill's life.