Virtual Design


Space, Place, and the Infobahn

By William J. Mitchell

MIT Press 225pp $20

What will be the architecture of cyberspace--our concept of the virtual worlds presented by advanced computer networks--and who will get to design it? How will those networks, with their ability to change our perceptions of space and extend our senses, alter our use and design of buildings and cities? Those are the kinds of questions William J. Mitchell addresses in City of Bits, a fascinating essay about how computer networks and the traditions of architecture and design are affecting each other.

Mitchell is versed in both fields. He has been surfing the Internet ever since its predecessor, called ARPANET, came to life 25 years ago. He delights in heralding the new institutions that technology is spawning: 24-hour electronic markets, virtual theaters, and all-electronic libraries. Yet as professor of architecture and media arts and sciences at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he writes knowingly of how buildings, streets, and public spaces have historically shaped the patterns of daily life. And now, as technology changes the design of those places, he says, patterns of life are bound to change, too.

Winston Churchill once said that we make our buildings and our buildings make us. With refreshing wit and lucid writing, Mitchell succeeds in updating that aphorism for the computer age.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.