Studioteka Honors Michael Sorkin, Colleague, Mentor, Friend
April 8, 2020
We are profoundly saddened by Michael’s passing. Words cannot express how much he meant to all of us. Rest in peace, dear friend. We promise to keep pushing for the ideals you championed. Below are some photos of happier days, and a few words written in his memory.
When I came to New York City as a young architect 20 years ago, I was in search of a mentor. Coming from a fine arts background, I wanted someone who I felt was a truly great mind, who I could learn from, and who would take me under their wing. So when I met Michael while I was working on a project for the Spitzer School of Architecture at CCNY, I felt an immediate affinity. He reminded me in some ways of my academic parents and their radical lefty friends who dreamed of a better world while working on their PhD dissertations. From there, I started teaching studio at CCNY in 2002, and being invited to Michael’s UD juries was definitely a high point. He was so innovative, and he always had the backs of everyday people who don’t always get to have their voices heard. He made us think critically and differently, and he didn’t shut down ideas just because they were coming from someone younger or less “educated.”
In 2007, Michael; Achva Stein, then head of CCNY’s landscape architecture program; David Leven, of LevenBetts and CCNY; and Ana Maria Duran, a good friend from grad school at Penn who was teaching at PUCE (Pontificia Universidad Catolica del Ecuador) in Quito, were doing a joint architecture, landscape, and urban design studio focused on a site in the Ecuadorian rainforest. Ana Maria invited me to lead a student charrette at the Quito Architecture Biennale, which I accepted. Once there, I received another invitation, this one to travel with the studio groups to Lago Agrio, taking Achva’s place. Again, I accepted, getting the yellow fever vaccine and some anti-malaria pills. Shivering and teeth chattering from a reaction to the injection, I jumped on the bus heading down the mountains. What a treat! We took trips up the river with local guides in canoes, avoided the areas marked “piranha,” and at a safer junction jumped into the muddy river water fully dressed in all our gear. The entire group stayed in the rainforest at a research station, saw butterflies in metamorphosis against the backdrop of oil installations, and had a jolly old time. Michael joked about making a calendar featuring scrappy Ecuadorian street dogs, the very antithesis of the Westminster Dog Show. He always rooted for the underdog, valuing the ingenuity and skills of local people and treating them with the utmost respect.
Michael helped so many people, and he was so generous with his time. He was always up for coming to Studioteka and playing the role of critic for whatever we were working on in our annual summer research project. That’s how my book, 2100: A Dystopian Utopia — The City After Climate Change for Terreform’s UR imprint, came to be. Several years of in-office juries, occasionally zinging (but usually hilarious and on-point) critiques, and edits followed, and the book came out in 2017. Since then, Michael and the team at Terreform have offered incredible guidance, support and enthusiasm, helping us to get the word out, and cheering me on through each book event, lecture, publication, and milestone.
More recently, we had our 2100 VR day at StudioTEKA and gave Michael, along with UR managing director Cecilia Fagel, their very first experience in virtual reality! They were dubious at first, but they were quickly among the converted. At one point in the VR tour, they were put on a plank changing a lightbulb hundreds of feet above the city, and in the end, they asked everyone to jump down. Michael demurred, Cecilia said yes, and we had to catch her!
Michael was a brilliant mind, a champion of the dispossessed, and someone who fought valiantly for a just, equitable, and environmentally sustainable future. He believed in cities, in the power of collective action, and that doing better was always possible. Now we must strive to carry on without him, and push hard for the better world he laid out for us in his work.
Vanessa Keith, Principal, Studioteka Design
Here are some more memories and remembrances from many who knew him well. https://archpaper.com/2020/04/terreform-berke-wines-and-more-remember-the-late-michael-sorkin/