Michael Sorkin Reading Room in The Architect's Newspaper

Sorkin’s Stacks: The Spitzer School of Architecture preserves the library of Michael Sorkin Studio and Terreform Urban Research in the Sorkin Reading Room. The Architect's Newspaper, May 22, 2023.

Beyond the main library within the City College of New York’s Rafael Viñoly Architects–designed Spitzer School of Architecture building, a cobbled-together space composed of a former storage area and the visual resources room has become the Sorkin Reading Room. Windows overlooking the landscape have vinyl letters that read: “Fish are symmetrical but only until they wiggle. Our effort is to measure the space between the fish and the wiggle. This is the study of a lifetime.”

Designed by Elisabetta Terragni with red-carpeted floors and a long seminar table alongside KEEP bookshelves designed by Keller Easterling, the Sorkin Reading Room houses the book collection of architect, critic, urban theorist, and author Michael Sorkin, who died in late March 2020 due to COVID-19. Had he survived, the pandemic would be the type of crisis about which Sorkin would have much to say. Given the spatial, economic, and political dimensions of the crisis, which continues to impact us today, the milieu would have become material for a compelling argument about how to better organize social and political space.

The library embodies the thick history of this form of thinking. Terragni painstakingly documented the arrangement of the books in the studio to preserve their order. The shelves are stocked with an extensive collection of titles under headings like Utopia, Green Cities, Suburbia, Green Eco-Ecology, Globalism/Imperialism, and an international array of regional urbanisms. Terragni will eventually fully restore the studio’s books in the order Sorkin left them.

“I knew Michael very well in his work, but to go through all the books helped me to understand how these books were the tools for him to write and to think,” Terragni told AN. “If you flip through any of the books, you can find notes, letters. The work I did is just the beginning. Now they’re there to open up for research and studies, because there are a lot of clichés about Michael. He was a talented writer, he was an agitator, he was all of these things, but it’s high time to go deeper and to start to talk seriously about his work.” 

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