In the News: Architect and critic Michael Sorkin dies at 71

Michael Sorkin, whom The Times called one of architecture’s “most outspoken public intellectuals” whose prodigious output “established him as the political conscience in the field,” died last week of the coronavirus at age 71.

His death was first reported in Dezeen, which triggered an outpouring of warm tributes from architects, critics and writers around the world. “I am heartbroken. This is a great loss,” tweeted New York Times architecture critic Michael Kimmelman. “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.”

Sorkin lived on Broadway and over the years kept his New York office here and in Soho and another in China, where he did much of his work. (The rendering below is for a new city the Chinese government was planning to relieve overcrowding in Beijing.) Since 2000, Sorkin was a distinguished professor of architecture and the director of the graduate program in urban design at CUNY’s City College.

He founded the non-profit architecture think tank Terreform in 2005, and he held academic positions all over the world — including a professor of urbanism at the Institute of Urbanism at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, Gensler Chair at Cornell University, Hyde Chair in Nebraska University, Saarinen Chair in the University of Michigan, Gilbert Chair in the University of Michigan, both the Davenport and Bishop Chair at Yale University, and professorships at the Architectural Association, Cooper Union, Harvard University and Columbia University.

He was also the architecture critic for The Nation, contributing editor at Architectural Record and the author or editor of 20 books, including “Twenty Minutes in Manhattan,” which chronicled his daily walk downtown from his Greenwich Village apartment through Washington Square to his Tribeca office and is a celebration of New Yorkers’ most familiar routines. And he was on the board of several civic and professional organizations, such as Urban Design Forum and the Architectural League of New York. His recent awards include “Design Mind” from the National Design Award in 2013 and fellow in the field of architecture planning and design from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation in 2015.

From Dezeen: “Whether or not one agreed with Michael Sorkin didn’t matter in the end,” said Chicago Tribune critic Blair Kamin. “He was a great activist critic – fearless, unafraid to challenge received wisdom or powerful figures, and, because of his wit and insight, a pleasure to read.”