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William J. Mitchell, architect and leading urban theorist, dies

William J. Mitchell, architect and leading urban theorist, dies William J. Mitchell, the former dean of Massachusetts Institute of Technology's School of Architecture and Planning, who pioneered urban design of sustainable cities through technology and brought in renowned architects for a major expansion of the M.I.T. campus, died Friday in Boston after a long battle with cancer, according the university. He was 65.

Mitchell, who joined MIT in 1992 and led the Smart Cities research group at the M.I.T. Media Lab and was a professor of architecture and media arts and sciences, held a place as one of the world's leading urban theorists. Through his work at MIT, he developed new ways to integrate design and technology so cities would be more responsive to citizens and more efficiently use resources. Among his innovations was the development of the CityCar, a light-weight, electric, shared vehicle that folds and stacks like supermarket shopping carts at convenient locations and housed essential mechanical systems in the car's wheels; the folding electric RoboScooter; and GreenWheel, which turns an ordinary bicycle into an electric-assisted one.

As architectural advisor to former MIT President Charles M. Vest, Mitchell guided one of the most ambitious building programs in U.S. higher education, which added nearly one million square feet to MIT's 154-acre campus. The result of the $1 billion building program were five innovative architectural projects by world-renowned designers: Frank Gehry's Stata Center, Kevin Roche's Zesiger Sports and Fitness Center, Steven Holl's Simmons Hall, Charles Correa's Brain and Cognitive Sciences Complex and Fumihiko Maki's Media Lab Complex, which opened this spring.

Born in 1944 and raised in rural Australia, Mitchell 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.

Prior to MIT, Mitchell had leadership positions at Harvard University Graduate School of Design, at UCLA's Graduate School of Architecture and Urban Planning and taught at Yale, Carnegie-Mellon and Cambridge universities.

Mitchell was a prolific author and his “Computer-Aided Architectural Design” (1977) and “The Logic of Architecture: Design, Computation and Cognition” (1990) are credited with changing the way architects approach building design. His most recent book, “Reinventing the Automobile”, co-authored with Christopher Borroni-Bird and Lawrence Burns (MIT Press, 2010), and focused on re-imaging the automobile for the 21st century.

Mitchell is survived by his wife, Jane Wolfson; a daughter, Emily and son-in-law, Seth Rooder of Brooklyn Heights, N.Y.; a son, Billy of Cambridge; his mother, Joyce of Berwick, Australia; a sister, Mary Close and brother-in-law John Close of Kallista, Australia; his previous wife, Elizabeth Asmis of Chicago; and extended family.

Donations in his memory may be made to the Learning Prep School at 1507 Washington St., West Newton, MA 02465, where a technology fund will be established in his memory.

A memorial service will be held at MIT at the new Media Lab Complex, 75 Amherst Street, Cambridge, MA, on Wednesday, June 16 at 10 a.m. Private burial services will follow at Mt. Auburn Cemetery.

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