Remembering William Mitchell
El pasado 11 de junio falleció William Mitchell, uno de los urbanistas visionarios más importantes de nuestra época. A pesar de no encontrarse en la lista que citamos en un post anterior sobre los urbanistas más influyentes, de hecho Bill Mitchell podría perfectamente situarse en el número uno de todos ellos por haber sabido anticiparse como nadie a la imagen de la ciudad digital que está emergiendo en el presente siglo.
En palabras de Manuel castells, en su artículo de homenaje en la vanguardia, su obra es un despliegue multiforme de creatividad. Pensó, investigó, escribió libros esenciales y teorizó las nuevas formas urbanas que están emergiendo en un híbrido entre lo físico y lo virtual, constituyendo la ciudad digital del siglo XXI, tal como anunció en su libro E-topía….
Y dirigió un equipo urbanístico del MIT que creó la Milla Digital en Zaragoza y diseñó el pabellón del Agua de la Expo del 2008 mediante sensores que retiraban las aguas al paso de los viandantes comosi fueran Moisés. Todas estas innovaciones no eran gadgets, sino que significaban el poner la capacidad tecnológica al servicio de una ciudad diseñada para los ciudadanos, tanto para lo práctico como para lo lúdico, siempre cuidando la estética, porque, como él decía, el placer de estar trabajando y sintiendo en el espacio público nunca podrá sentirse en internet. De ahí su teoría de la ciudad híbrida, con conexiones ubicuas inalámbricas, donde los puestos de trabajo se distribuyen en el espacio, adaptándose al entorno propio de cada lugar sin perder la conexión con las personas, las informaciones y las tareas por hacer. Su ciudad es un espacio para estar y hacer, superponiendo una invisible capa de comunicación que arropa y acompaña menos cuando necesitamos el regusto de la soledad.
Aquí en Zaragoza, es donde conocimos la inmensa humanidad del profesor y arquitecto, donde tuvimos la enorme fortuna de aprender su esfuerzo por consolidar una bauhaus digital y donde tuvimos ocasión de enseñarle la expo 2008 la semana previa a su clausura, junto a otros miembros del comité de expertos. Al respecto escribe el alcalde de Zaragoza cuando recuerda que “para Zaragoza fue un lujo irrepetible poder contar con su asesoramiento, su visión y su cercanía, que nunca agradeceremos lo suficiente.”
Transcibo, a continuación el obituario publicado en el new york times la semana pasada
William J. Mitchell, Architect and Urban Visionary, Dies at 65
By WILLIAM GRIMES
William J. Mitchell, an architect and urban theorist who envisioned the modern city as an electronically interconnected network of systems and who, while serving as dean of the school of architecture and planning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, enlisted top architects to carry out an ambitious expansion of the M.I.T. campus, died Friday in Boston. He was 65 and lived in Cambridge, Mass.
The cause was complications of cancer, his wife, Jane Wolfson, said.
Mr. Mitchell, who led the Smart Cities research group at the M.I.T. Media Lab and was a professor of architecture and media arts and sciences, was an architect by training but an urban visionary by avocation. Early on, he saw the application of computers to architectural design. His pioneering work in this area, and his books “Computer-Aided Architectural Design” (1977) and “The Logic of Architecture: Design, Computation and Cognition” (1990) profoundly changed the way architects approached building design.
“A lot of what is taught about design and computation in architecture schools today comes from the way that Bill set the subject up,” said George Stiny, a professor of computation at M.I.T. “If he hadn’t been there to inaugurate computer-aided architectural design, architects would probably still not be doing it. Remember, in 1977 it was hard to draw a line on a computer. Bill really had a sense of how much architects could take, gave them a little more, and made it possible for them to take the next step.”
Mr. Mitchell’s interests evolved beyond buildings to the technical and social problems presented by cities in the digital age, which he believed could be reconfigured to promote sustainability, efficiency and social equity. Transportation was a particular interest.
At Smart Cities, he helped design the CityCar, a lightweight two-passenger electric vehicle with the mechanical systems housed in the wheels, and the RoboScooter, a foldable, stackable electric scooter. In theory, both vehicles could be used communally, with drivers picking them up and dropping them off at locations around the city and the entire system managed by computer to maximize vehicle availability.
Another Smart Cities innovation was the GreenWheel, an electrically assisted wheel that can be attached to an ordinary bicycle, providing a power boost when needed.
“We try to identify the fundamental, underlying design assumptions that everybody takes as given and unchallengeable when you try to think about these problems,” Mr. Mitchell said of his work at Smart Cities in an interview with the Web site bigthink.com in January. “Then we try to challenge these assumptions.”
William John Mitchell was born on Dec. 15, 1944, in Horsham, a small town, or “lonely flyspeck,” as he called it in an autobiographical essay, in Victoria, Australia. Both his parents were teachers, and the family moved from town to town with each new school assignment.
He received a degree in architecture from the University of Melbourne in 1967 and, after working at the Melbourne architectural firm Yuncken Freeman, earned master’s degrees in environmental design from Yale in 1969 and in architecture from Cambridge in 1977.
In 1970, Mr. Mitchell began teaching at the graduate school of architecture and urban planning at the University of California, Los Angeles, where he was in charge of the architecture and urban design program from 1980 to 1986. He was also a founding partner of the Computer-Aided Design Group in Marina Del Rey, Calif.
After teaching at the graduate school of design at Harvard, he was named dean of M.I.T.’s school of architecture and planning, a position he held until 2003, when he became head of the media arts and sciences program at the Media Lab. In 2003 he established Smart Cities, one of about 30 research groups in the Media Lab.
As architectural adviser to Charles M. Vest, the president of M.I.T., Mr. Mitchell played a pivotal role in the $1 billion expansion of the campus that unfolded over the last decade. The project resulted in five new buildings completed between 2004 and 2010: the Stata Center, designed by Frank Gehry; the Zesiger Sports and Fitness Center (Kevin Roche); Simmons Hall (Steven Holl); the Brain and Cognitive Sciences Complex (Charles Correa); and the Media Lab Complex (Fumihiko Maki).
Mr. Mitchell described the project and his thinking about the campus in “Imagining M.I.T.” (2007).
His first marriage, to Elizabeth Asmis, ended in divorce. In addition to his second wife, he is survived by a daughter from his first marriage, Emily, of Brooklyn; a son, Billy, of Cambridge; his mother, Joyce, of Berwick, Australia; and a sister, Mary Close, of Kallista, Australia.
A prolific author, Mr. Mitchell explored many of his ideas in books, notably the informal trilogy of “City of Bits: Space, Place, and the Infobahn” (1995), “E-topia” (1999) — which carries the fanciful subtitle “Urban Life, Jim — but Not as We Know It,” a line lifted from “Star Trek” — and “Me ++: The Cyborg Self and the Networked City” (2003).
Many of Mr. Mitchell’s best ideas originated in his notion that the relationships between humans and their social environments were undergoing a fundamental transformation in an era of wireless digital information, with limitless possibilities for making new connections and sharing information. The city, as he saw it, was evolving into a sensitive organism — or, to use a mechanical metaphor, a highly sophisticated robot, capable of responding to human needs.
“We’re rapidly moving toward the point where the spaces we inhabit sensate, know what’s going on,” he said in a lecture at M.I.T. in 2003. “Buildings and cities are getting nervous systems.”
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