William J. Mitchell, Sustainable Design Pioneer, dies at 65.


Bill Mitchell, director of the Smart Cities research group at the MIT Media Lab, widely renown urban theorist, and former dean of MIT’s school of Architecture and Planning passed away on Friday June 11, after a long battle with cancer.

Mitchell’s Smart Cities research group investigates ways to integrate design and technology into urban environments, in an effort to make cities more efficient in terms of their resource use and more responsive to the needs of the people who live there. Mitchell viewed the city of the future as one that would operate like a living organism, with a nervous system that could sense and respond to events as they transpired, deftly adapting to changing conditions and efficiently allocating resources as such. In pursuit of this vision, Mitchell pioneered the development of many innovative proposals for new types of urban infrastructure.

One such example is the CityCar, a light-weight, Lithium-ion battery-powered electric vehicle designed to be shared by urban inhabitants, distributed throughout the city at convenient and accessible locations, and folded and stacked neatly when not in use. According to the Smart Cities group it is designed to meet the needs for personal mobility in the cleanest and most economical way possible. The CityCar’s radical design involves four in-wheel electric motors , each of which can be independently controlled, enabling novel driving maneuvers such as moving sideways and turning around in place . The CityCar’s folding mechanism allows it to be parked in a highly space-efficient manner.

In addition to inspiring students and conducting research at MIT, Mitchell acted as Architectural advisor to the University president, spearheading one of the most ambitious building programs in higher education. This program included, among other things, the construction of five experimental projects by internationally-renown designers, viewing such projects as “inventive, critical contributions to our evolving culture.” His optimism and creative energy were an infectious force at MIT and he will be greatly missed.