By Brian J Pape, AIA
Michael David Sorkin, Greenwich Village author, teacher, humanist, and one of the most distinctive voices for social justice and sustainability in the design of the urban environment, died on March 26, 2020 after contracting COVID-19.
Sorkin was considered to be one of architecture’s most outspoken public intellectuals, a world-class provocateur whose criticism always showed his keen intelligence, love of language, and sharp wit. Two months before the 2016 presidential election, Sorkin wrote presciently in an opinion piece for Architectural Record, “Civilizations are marked by their priorities, and ours are too given over to prisons, malls, and McMansions, and too little to good housing for all, complete and sustainable communities, green energy, rational mobility, structures of succor. Politics programs our architecture.”
Born in Washington DC on August 2, 1948, he was raised in an architect-designed suburban community nearby, graduated from the University of Chicago and Columbia University, and had a master’s degree in architecture from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He moved from Cambridge MA to New York City in 1973. As a Village resident, Sorkin loved his community, living with his wife Joan Copjec in a walk-up brownstone on Waverly Place, and writing about his observations when walking from home to his Tribeca office in a 2009 book, Twenty Minutes in Manhattan.
A distinguished professor and director of the urban design program at the Bernard and Anne Spitzer School of Architecture at the City College of New York City, Sorkin was a contributing editor to Architectural Record as well as architecture critic for The Nation. Sorkin was known for the provocative essays he wrote for 10 years for the Village Voice in the 1980s. Additionally, he wrote or edited 20 books as president of Terreform, the non-profit research studio for exploring sustainability issues, that he founded in 2005.
Sorkin headed the local architecture firm Michael Sorkin Studio, which worked on a number of urban design and architecture projects in China. Michael expressed his disappointment with canceling a trip to China due to the spread of coronavirus. He was often on business trips which took him all over the world.
Robert Ivy, FAIA, Executive Vice President and CEO of the American Institute of Architects (AIA), wrote, “Michael Sorkin had a mind I loved to engage. Few people could match his rapier-like wit, his eloquent language, his fierce analytical eye. Somehow, he found words and phrases to sum up a thought or an idea that could floor you. Michael, for all his prickliness, loved: loved the city, the people of the city, the built and imagined world, and students. We won’t see his like soon.”
Sorkin was a contributor and friend to WestView News and we will miss him greatly. The Michael Sorkin Studio also offered proposals for local concerns, such as An Alternative Plan for the Growth of NYU Expansion in New York (2012) which suggested accommodating part of NYU’s academic expansion on Pier 40, the adjacent St. John’s Terminal building, and the legendary ocean liner S.S. United States.