2007
-- online since 1993
Leonardo Electronic Almanac ISSN NO : 1071 - 4391 The MIT Press
 
 
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Luminaries of Art, Science and Technology
Patrick Purcell (1929 - 2007)
 
Sourced from the CAS (Computer Art Society) list:
http://www.jiscmail.ac.uk/cas.html

Patrick Purcell

Patrick Purcell died after a short illness on 9th February. Patrick had wide ranging polymathic interests and was an important early contributor to the founding of the Computer Arts Society. He had early recognised the potential importance of computing and computer graphics to the art and design world and used his position as Senior Research Fellow in the Design Research Unit at the Royal College of Art with great flair to bridge the two cultures gap. He was one of that rare breed, a conduit for ideas and a selfless enabler of action. Sensitive to the needs of creative individuals and the institutional challenges of channeling that creativity he built a substantial portfolio of Science Research Council funded projects, no mean feat, at the RCA. I had the good fortune to work with him on these projects throughout the 1970s. 

Patrick's invaluable contribution to CAS was as enabler of the Society's inaugural exhibition, Event One, at the RCA in 1969. He was the interface for both the RCA and Imperial College. Heroically Patrick persuaded Prof Bill Elliot at IC to loan, and the RCA to accept for a weekend, a PDP7 computer which had to be loaded onto a truck at Imperial College, driven 500 yards to the RCA, unloaded and installed in the Event One exhibition hall. I cherish the memory of Patrick, as always elegant of waistcoat, patrician of demeanour, marshalling the truck driver up the very narrow Jay Mews to the College back entrance. I suspect this was the first computer to penetrate the RCA - and the rest is history. Patrick's remarkable diplomatic skills were further tested when the polystyrene tiles announcing Event One on the outside walls of the College left marks on the stone facade.  Oh, the tantrums! But Patrick smoothed it all out.

Besides helping at the birth of CAS he midwifed many other major innovations at the RCA. The list includes bringing the DTI's Computer Aided Design Centre's London office into the College. Similarly he brought in the Dept of Environment's CEDAR computer aided building design projects and encouraged the development of the Natural Environment Research Council's Digital Cartography unit.  He built strong bridges to Imperial College so that when an internet link was established there it was used to download artwork from Harold Cohen's Aaron drawing system. Joint courses on computing with IC were subsequently established. He provided links to Nicholas Negroponte's Architecture Machine Group at MIT and then went to work with Nicholas in the Media Lab where he contiuned to pursue his many interdisciplinary interests before coming back to his final years at Imperial College.

Looking back we can see Patrick's influence on these seminal projects helped change the culture of the time and hastened the coming of the IT revolution. He is sorely missed.

The following website has reminiscences:
http://sunnybains.typepad.com/patrick_purcell/2007/02/patrick_purcell.html

George Mallen
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