Page C2.1 . 19 July 2000                     
ArchitectureWeek - Culture Department



Twenty-First Century Urbanism

by B.J. Novitski

Book Review: E-topia: "Urban Life, JimóBut Not as We Know It" by William Mitchell. The MIT Press, 1999. ISBN 0-262-13355-5.

Readers seeking a photographic vision of how future technologies will create science fiction cities of sleek buildings and flying taxis will not find it in E-topia. Author William Mitchell, dean of the School of Architecture and Planning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, refrains from such specific or fantastical speculations.

Instead, Mitchell places technological development in a broad historical perspective, drawing on parallels from many cultures over the past several millennia. From that vantage point, his future is a level-headed extrapolation from today's trends to tomorrow's cities. Most importantly, it presents architects with a challenge: it's up to us to direct change toward richer rather than more fragmented urban environments.

As computers become smaller, cheaper, and smarter, he predicts, we'll find them embedded in our clothing to monitor our health and in our wallpaper to respond to our behavior by adjusting lights, temperature, and music. Architects will learn to include such "smart rooms" in their design palettes. Twenty-first century cities, Mitchell writes, will become "...interlinked, interacting, silicon- and software-saturated smart, attentive, and responsive places.

But as videoconferencing and telecommuting make downtown offices less necessary, what will happen to vibrant cities? Will we all work at home without time for real interaction? Mitchell's optimistic answer is that when people can live and work anywhere, they will become more selective about where they chose to spend their nonworking time; presumably, they will pay more, not less, attention to urban quality.



ArchWeek Photo

E-topia is William Mitchell's latest book on the influence of information technologies on the built environment.
Image: MIT Press


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