William J. Mitchell
The MIT Press | 0262633647 | 2008 | PDF | 160 pages | 2 Mb

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Artifacts (including works of architecture) play dual roles; they simultaneously perform functions and carry meaning. Columns support roofs, but while the sturdy Tuscan and Doric types traditionally signify masculinity, the slim and elegant Ionic and Corinthian kinds read as feminine. Words are often inscribed on objects. (On a door: "push" or "pull.") Today, information is digitally encoded (dematerialized) and displayed (rematerialized) to become part of many different objects, at one moment appearing on a laptop screen and at another, perhaps, on a building facade (as in Times Square). Well-designed artifacts succeed in being both useful and meaningful. In World's Greatest Architect, William Mitchell offers a series of snapshots—short essays and analyses—that examine the systems of function and meaning currently operating in our buildings, cities, and global networks.

In his writing, Mitchell makes connections that aren't necessarily obvious but are always illuminating, moving in one essay from Bush-Cheney's abuse of language to Robert Venturi's argument against rigid ideology and in favor of graceful pragmatism. He traces the evolution of Las Vegas from Sin/Sign City to family-friendly resort and residential real estate boomtown. A purchase of chips leads not only to a complementary purchase of beer but to thoughts of Eames chairs (like Pringles) and Gehry (fun to imitate with tortilla chips in refried beans). As for who the world's greatest architect might be, here's a hint: he's also the oldest.

About the Author

William J. Mitchell is the Alexander W. Dreyfoos, Jr. Professor of Architecture and Media Arts and Sciences and directs the Smart Cities research group at MIT's Media Lab. He was formerly Dean of the School of Architecture and Head of the Program in Media Arts and Sciences at MIT. He is the author of Imagining MIT: Designing a Campus for the Twenty-First Century, Placing Words: Symbols, Space, and the City, Me++: The Cyborg Self and the Networked City, e-topia: "Urban Life, Jim--but Not as We Know It," City of Bits: Space, Place, and the Infobahn, and The Reconfigured Eye: Visual Truth in the Post-Photographic Era, all published by The MIT Press.


1 Kicking the Bottle 1
2 Paper Wonders 5
3 Viva Venturi 9
4 Sin No More 13
5 Loveliest of Trees 17
6 Alberti’s An iversary 21
7 The Net Has a Thousand Eyes 25
8 Surveillance Cookb ook 33
9 Forget Foreign Wars 37
10 Everyday Low 41
11 Texas Chain Store 45
12 Right Place at the Wrong Time 49
13 Best Practices 53
14 Mama Don’t Take My Megapixels 57
15 In struments and Algorithms 61
16 Theory of Black Holes 65
17 Elegy in a Landfill 69
18 Theory of Ev erything 73
19 Deep Focus 77
20 Dappled Things 81
21 Morphology of the Biopic 85
22 Little Blue Coupe 89
23 Bicycle Socialism 93
24 Faux Book 97
25 Man of Steel 101
26 It’s Not Easy 105
27 Imagined Wall Street 109
28 The Eagle Flies 113
29 Architectural Assassination 115
30 Urban Plastination 119
31 Civic Im unology 123
32 World’s Greatest Architect 131


"Here's a provocative collection of witty, insightful, and argumentative essays that helps us think about the world of architecture and design in new and startling ways."
— Steve Paul, Kansas City Star

"Like the extraordinary Whole Earth Catalog of our youth, these brilliant essays create patterns of possibility that allow the reader to see and design one's personal connection between each essay. The allusions to various cultural icons and their views on topics ranging from maps and communication to modern culture and creativity make this book a must read for the hungry mind. World's Greatest Architect is incisively written and along with William Mitchell's other contributions, firmly establishes his place in the pantheon of learning professionals."
—Richard Saul Wurman

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