As chosen by Anthony Vidler, a Professor of Architecture and the Dean of the Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture, Cooper Union, New York
A witty, incisive, critical, and brilliantly written invitation to see contemporary architecture and urbanism as a complex result of economic, political, and ideological forces that are hardly masked by the formal expressions of architects. This is criticism as we rarely read it, of the sort that Jane Jacobs and Lewis Mumford provided in an earlier era. These essays demonstrate that Sorkin goes well beyond his own advice, and that he adds something else for good measure: a deep and broad knowledge of architecture and cities, a love of both, and a profound belief in the role of architecture in constructing a just city.
'Liberty Square' is from Michael Sorkin's All Over the Map
One of the basic rights enshrined in the First Amendment to the Constitution is that of "the people to freely assemble." Free assembly is the primary expression of democracy in space, the physical embodiment of liberty. This relationship far predates the American experience. Cities, in particular, have long been seen as especially conducive to freedom, as exemplified in the famous motto of the Hanseatic League: "City air makes you free." The just city is one where citizens move unimpeded and gather in many different forms for self-expression. In modern times, social progress has been directly linked to the variety of rallies, demonstrations, marches, and insurrections that have had as their arena the streets and squares of the city. From women's suffrage to civil rights to union organizing to anti- war protests, the power of bodies together in space has been crucial to the defense of our rights. In real democracy, the streets belong to the people.
In city after city, certain places have become linked to these gatherings, institutionalized by repeated use. While the street is the bedrock of the popular right to the city-the conduit of association-it is only part of the necessary infrastructure of assembly, which includes privatized spaces such as bars, cafés, lecture halls, stadia, and stoops, as well as bigger public spaces: the parks, plazas, and town squares that remain fundamental to sound urbanism. Whether the Zocalo in Mexico City, the Mall in Washington, or Tiananmen Square in Beijing, these great sites are zones of focus, the common property of those dedicated to the struggle for free association. Indeed, the right of the public to gather in these places continues to be defended in blood.
For the Guardian, Chris Hall reviews All Over the Map: Writing on Buildings and Cities by Michael Sorkin, "a flâneur with a sense of public purpose." The incisive critique of contemporary architecture by "America's most outspoken architect ... doesn't pull punches."
Hall points out how Sorkin questions the triumphal nature of the planned Ground Zero memorial in New York. Instead, Sorkin calls for "open, public space that encourages 'peaceable assembly'":
He is undistracted by the false debate about which was the best design in the Ground Zero competition, questioning the very idea that there must be buildings to replace those lost and looking at the wider context of the ecology of Lower Manhattan and beyond.
Sparing no room for nuance, the magazine covers are all reminding us that the United States—and hence the planet—is set to commemorate the ten-year anniversary of 9/11, a day that not only changed the world and signaled the end of innocence and spawned a new greatest generation, but also launched a thousand new slogans with which to label that day, and inspired thousands of speeches intent on inspiring thousands more.
However, despite the horror, anger, uncertainty—and yes, for some, glee—from the damage inflicted on that momentous day, there remained, in the aftermath and up to now, a limited vocabulary within the mainstream with which to describe the events of that time and the trail of destruction that followed.
And since we aren’t anticipating a commemorative circuitous flight over the country on Air Force One with the President of the United States, we would like to offer an alternate journey—that is, a survey of Verso’s responses to 9/11:
Michael Sorkin's All Over the Map: Writing on Buildings and Cities, just published in hardback by Verso, has been garnering its fair share of praise on both sides of the Atlantic from popular media and urban design publications alike. The Guardian's architecture critic Rowan Moore has described Sorkin as "an enraged but forever hopeful liberal" wandering the streets of his dear lower Manhattan with a keen eye and sharp tongue for those corporate architects—watch out Rem Koolhaas—and their fawning critics "who dress the works that crush the freedoms." If there is a narrative that runs through these essays, it is in the particulate of September 11th that still coats Sorkin's architectural psyche:
The most persistent theme is the architectural response to the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Centre, which happened in Sorkin's neighbourhood, early in the time span of All Over the Map. He combines his usual astute analysis of the politics with his own ideas of what might be built there—"A World Peace Dome" for example.