Remembering Distinguished Professor Michael Sorkin

It is with profound sorrow that we announce the passing of one of our most valued and most brilliant faculty members, Distinguished Professor and Director Emeritus of the Graduate Urban Design Program Michael Sorkin, on March 26 from complications brought on by COVID-19. The entire faculty, staff, and students are united in paying tribute to one of the school’s best-known and celebrated figures, whose contributions to teaching, scholarship, and public thought are irreplaceable. Michael led the profound transformation of the Urban Design Program and the entire department. He steered the school away from trends, styles, and disciplinary silos to a deeply poly-symphonic mission of creating new, equitable, beautiful, and sustainable forms and technologies for the city and urban life. His staggering productive output at school, at his nonprofit, Terreform, at his practice, and, as a critic and writer, was matched by his boundless generosity to the entire department and beyond. Michael contributed tirelessly to the career of many without hesitation and imbued every faculty event with a joyful, mischievous wit and intellect.

We are grateful for the wealth of scholarship he has left us to mine. Through his teaching, and through books as Local Code and Exquisite Corpse among many others, Michael launched forth rich visions of beautifully complex urbanities that escape definition, but that we may too attain if we seek beyond. Through Terreform, we now see the city as part of larger ecological and social systems that contribute so much toward equanimity and sheer pleasure — terms that for Michael were as important as any formal or infrastructural resolve. In Michael’s view for cities, hierarchies are turned on their heads, development heeds to the idiosyncrasies of neighborhoods, funky-livable public space trumps “good city form,” bioswales provide new fabrics for sustainable communities, and big data lacks the sociability we need coexist. The city is about it all.

The loss will be felt not just on the interpersonal level but in urban design projects throughout the world. We take some comfort in knowing that he inspired and taught so many designers and instigated speculative and real-world projects that continue to shape the world. He is deeply missed by the entire community of The City College of New York.

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