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William J. Mitchell

We make our cities, then our cities make us, and so on recursively. In the end, we are what we live in. So I look for ways to create great spaces, buildings, and cities, using the new means available to us in the twenty-first century.

Ancient buildings had structural skeletons to hold them up and protective skins to keep out the weather and the bad guys. In the early industrial era, buildings acquired mechanical physiologies—increasingly elaborate systems for circulating air and water, supplying energy, and sucking out waste. Now, with networking, sensors, and embedded intelligence, buildings are getting electronic nervous systems. They are becoming less like fossils, more like living organisms.

William J. Mitchell Simultaneously, we are learning to design and construct buildings in new ways. If you draw up designs by hand, in traditional fashion, then you quickly run into limits on the complexity you can manage. So, for example, you are likely to settle for straight lines and planar surfaces rather than complicated curved forms. Furthermore, if you rely upon industrially produced components, you will end up with a lot of repetition. But, if you design by constructing digital models, employ software to develop and detail these models automatically, and use the resulting information to control smart fabrication processes, then you can create some strange, wonderful, and hitherto unimagined things. You might print buildings, or grow them, or produce components that know how to assemble themselves.

Our buildings and cities are no longer just dumb piles of brick or stone. Nor are they the mechanically produced, mechanically augmented "machines for living" imagined by early modern architects. They can take unfamiliar forms, serve unprecedented functions, and delight us in unexpected ways. We need to understand, through inventive exploration and critical analysis, the emerging social and cultural opportunities that they represent.

Favorite recent read: Australian poet Les Murray's Conscious and Verbal
Copyright 2003 MIT Media Laboratory; Image Suguru Ishizaki