William Mitchell, Former MIT Architecture Dean, Dies

June 18, 2010

By C. J. Hughes

William Mitchell
Photo © Webb Chappell, 1997
William Mitchell

William Mitchell, a longtime technophile and booster of the idea that computers could aid designers, died on June 11 in Boston of complications from cancer.

In books like Computer-Aided Architectural Design (1977), written after he got his master’s in architecture from Cambridge University, Mitchell predicted that PCs would soon revolutionize architecture. In later books, such as Me++: The Cyborg Self and the Networked City (2003), Mitchell explored themes about how the ubiquity of cell phones forces people to use public spaces different from in the past.

Mitchell, who from 1992 to 2003 was dean of the School of Architecture and Planning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), launched the school’s Smart Cities research group, part of MIT’s Media Lab, which churned out unusual prototypes of cars, scooters, and bicycles to encourage sustainable transportation.

While at MIT, where he taught for 18 years through this spring, Mitchell also advised the school on its 1 million square foot expansion of the 154-acre campus, which resulted in buildings like Frank Gehry’s Stata Center (2004), Kevin Roche’s Zesiger Sports and Fitness Center (2002), and Steven Holl’s Simmons Hall (2002).

Born in 1944 in the rural town of Horsham, in Australia, Mitchell received an architecture degree from the University of Melbourne in 1967 before taking a job with the local firm Yuncken Freeman.

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Mitchell also earned a master’s in environmental design from Yale, where he later lectured. In addition, he taught at Harvard, Carnegie-Mellon, and Cambridge, and led the architecture program at the University of California, Los Angeles, from 1980 to 1986.

“Bill Mitchell was a very important thinker, truly a pioneer of the future,” said Adèle Naudé Santos, current dean of MIT’s architecture school, in a statement. “His contributions were unique.”

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