Sorkin was a fierce champion of architecture and urban design as a medium for social justice. He was the architecture critic for The Village Voice in the 1980s and published several books on cities and urban design. He also taught architecture for decades at the Institute of Urbanism of the Academy of Fine Arts, Vienna, and later, The Cooper Union of New York. “The answer to the crisis of exponentially growing cities, to the millions living in slums, to unequal distribution of access and privilege in the world, is—among other things—to build different cities than those we have now,” he said in an interview in 2006. “In the absence of that possibility, the least I can be doing is argue for such cities and to try to show what they might be like.”
He was also an active practitioner. He founded the architecture practice Michael Sorkin Studio in the early 1980s and the nonprofit urban research lab Terreform in 2005 (since renamed Terreform UR). He was an early proponent of designing cities to be sustainable for the earth and equitable for all people. Many of his ideas—such as green roofs and sustainable energy sources—have become part of mainstream architecture and urban planning. In his view, even small green spaces could mitigate traffic and create “happy accidents” for citizens. As he put it to the New Yorker in 2015, while working out a plan to make New York a completely self-sufficient city full of solar panels and vertical farms, blocks should be seen not as fixed concrete but “as stem cells: transmutable.”
Since the news broke, many people in the architecture community have paid tribute to Sorkin’s life and work.
“RIP Michael Sorkin,” architecture journalist Fred Bernstein wrote on Facebook. “A brilliant and dedicated designer, mentor, author, provocateur, and moral force. The conscience of the architecture world.”
Also on Facebook, architect Toshiko Mori wrote, “I have known Michael for ages since teaching together at Cooper… He was a smart precise observer of urban life and urbanity. [H]ow… strange that [a] virus that thrives on density took him away from us …no words.”