Vale Michael Sorkin 1948 – 2020
An obituary is a strange thing to write; however, I feel compelled. Michael Sorkin famously wrote a book called Local Code. The name of this website is a direct link, as inspiration for discussing ways Architecture and Landscape Architecture could be more political and offer change to the way we live and the way we think. Sorkin’s texts were prevalent during my architectural education. His other hugely influential books were Exquisite Corpse: Writing on Buildings and Variations on a Theme Park, which I remember being drawn to the titles when I was a first-year student.The titles resonated with me then, a 20-year-old from the far eastern suburbs of Melbourne, more than titles like Architectural Principles in the Age of Humanism.
Sorkin dedicated his professional life to writing, teaching, researching all things urban and all things architecture. This incredible legacy needs a celebration. The COVID – 19 virus seems to have a random target affecting specific individuals, yet for others, it would look like another sore throat. The irony here is that probably the most crucial figure in urban studies will not be able to help make sense of the predicament we now all face. Further, however, we must see that the COVID-19 itself has almost created an atmosphere of social equity through its somewhat indiscriminate nature.
“In lectures and in years of teaching, Mr Sorkin inspired audiences and students to use architecture to change lives, resist the status quo and help achieve social equity. His motivational writings and projects helped reset the field’s moral compass.” By Joseph Giovannini New York Times
Local Code is the front door of a unit which we developed for three distinct reasons. To allow students in the Master of Architecture and the Master of Landscape Architecture programs at the University of Western Australia (UWA) contribute to a daily discussion about our design disciplines and the role that it has to play in our built environment. Usually writing in Master programs is devoted to history and theory. However, it would seem to be as relevant for students to learn writing skills like the popular blog style magazines such as Dezeen and Arch daily which arguably influence our knowledge about contemporary design to a much larger extent.
Second, we seem to spend a lot of time as educators telling everyone what we think. In today’s educational environment, I believe that getting perspective from our students allows us to understand the future better and also direct our teaching toward issues that the next generation of designers are genuinely interested. It creates a two-way feedback loop. I also think that we need to develop students who, like Michael Sorkin, develop audiences outside our discipline so more significant ideas can be understood through a broader community.
Third, as our Australian education institutions vie for international students, often targeting countries where English is not the first language, this curriculum allows us to identify students who struggle with English writing. UWA has set up multiple online and face to face resources to cater for English as a second language students. This means we can profoundly change the culture in our international students. We are focusing them on achieving a much higher standard using small amounts of writing on a more frequent basis.
Michael Sorkin – in memory of your legacy, in a small remote place a long way from New York City, through education and innovation in teaching, your trajectory will live on through the magazine called localcode.org. Hopefully, it will reflect social equity and understand our current climate crisis environment, not to mention the outbreak of the devasting and indiscriminate effects COVID-19 not experienced since the post-war Spanish Flu. Most importantly, we hope, like Sorkin himself, it will to make a positive and ongoing change into the future.