Tributes have been paid from around the world to ‘fierce and brilliant’ US architect, critic and urbanist Michael Sorkin, who has died aged 71 after contracting the coronavirus
The New York-based writer and designer, who was head of Michael Sorkin Studio, was a leading and often polemical voice on urban space, known for his ‘razor-sharp’, ’astute and acerbic’ reviews.
As well as his writing, Sorkin was president of non-profit research group Terreform and judged numerous awards and competitions, including as a member of the World Architecture Festival super-jury.
In 2015 he was also a judge on a rival ideas competition to Helsinki’s contentious, but ultimately never built, Guggenheim Museum concept.
Sorkin worked on several major masterplan projects including numerous across New York, such as his proposals for the Arverne Urban Renewal Area on the Rockaway peninsula in Queens. His practice, which focuses on ‘green urbanism’, also looked at major urban plans across China, where the firm also has a studio.
Describing Sorkin’s influence, architectural writer Edwin Heathcote wrote on Twitter: ‘So sad to hear of Michael Sorkin’s passing. A fierce and brilliant critic, perhaps the best.’
Michael Kimmelman, the architecture critic of The New York Times, tweeted: ’The architect and critic Michael Sorkin has died. I am heartbroken. This is a great loss. He was so many things. He was a supremely gifted, astute and acerbic writer. He wrote with moral force about big ideas and about the granular experience of life at the level of the street.’
Hanif Kara of engineers AKT II, told the AJ: ’Having read some of his work, including Exquisite Corpse in the 1990s and being in awe of his writings, I had the honour to first meet Sorkin in 2000 when he presented a daring, refreshing and razor-sharp review of a project in the Middle East as part of the Aga Khan judging.
’His knowledge and articulation of the project blew us all away like no other review in that judging cycle . We remained friends since, often sharing our views privately on many architects and the way education worked at numerous juries we sat on.’
Kara added: ’We had arranged to meet in may 2020 during the City College of New York talks. I will miss his advice, humour and generosity enormously. Deep condolences to his family and all those he touched.’
Sorkin graduated from the University of Chicago in 1970 before studying for a masters in architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
In the 1980s Sorkin became architecture critic for The Village Voice and wrote or edited about 20 books, including Some Assembly Required (2001), Starting From Zero: Reconstructing Downtown New York (2003) and What Goes Up: The Right and Wrongs to the City (2018).
Sorkin was the co-president of the Institute for Urban Design, an education and advocacy organisation, and vice- president of the Urban Design Forum in New York.
Born in Washington DC in 1948, Sorkin died from complications brought on by Covid-19.
Neil Spiller, editor of Architectural Design pays tribute to his friend Sorkin
Michael Sorkin will live in my memory as a witty, very bright and thoughtful friend, an architectural iconoclast, a defender of the architectural faith and a ceaseless campaigner for equity and quality of life for all residents of global urbanity. Others can chart his immense contribution to our profession, his erudite writings, his distinguished career, his subversive initiatives and his fantastic intellect.
But I want to focus on Michael the man. I first met him 25 years ago in and around Perth; we were both speakers at a rather wacky conference there.
At that time the AA was looking for a new director and I understand Michael was offered the gig. I tried long and hard to convince him to move the Sorkin charabanc to London but to no avail. Michael was the archetypal New Yorker, networked to the hilt. The last time I saw him in London and we retreated to Efes on Great Portland Street, we were asked where we’d like to sit. He said on the darkest table. He explained to me that when in London he was often mistaken for Jeremy Corbyn and was either verbally abused or congratulated.
Sorkin will live in my memory as a witty, thoughtful friend and an architectural iconoclast
The last time I saw him in New York, he took me, Mike Webb, James Wines and James’s daughter, Suzan, to a small Italian restaurant off Broadway and told us he wanted to have dinner with the three finest, living architectural draftsmen on the planet, (he could be a great flatterer and very supportive friend) a great evening ensued, despite depression about the newly elected Trump.
Michael was always political and pushed many boundaries in pursuit of ‘Sorkin’s socialist utopia’. I loved him for that. Often email would arrive with some witty remark and entitled ‘Comrade’. Recently I’d been in Ottawa and Michael was trying to get me to come to New York ’whilst the border was still open’ and we were hatching a plan to meet up in London end of April for ‘hugs and dinner’ just before this dreadful virus assumed control.
So, alas, with sad heart, I remember that night in New York, him disappearing in to a late night florist for flowers for his wife, the last time I saw him.
Sorkin said …
’Archigram’s members were frank exponents of a friendly, petit-bourgeois sensibility. They started not only from an embrace of the refinements of metal joinery, but from a love for the Britain of Toby mugs, caged budgies, and Callard & Bowser toffees.’
Metropolis, April 1998
’High-tech is the high classicism of postmodernity, and the airport is its temple.’
Metropolis, February 1999