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"America's most invigorating writer on architecture"—Praise for Michael Sorkin's All Over The Map

Chris Webb 1 September 2011

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.

A review in the UK Telegraph cites a rather amusing but telling anecdote from the book: Sorkin claims to have stood up in a public meeting on the fate of Ground Zero and bellowed "Bullshit!" at the moderators. This announcement encapsulates Aldo van Eyck's statement, quoted in his introduction, that "democracy means no freedom for fascism!" Sorkin's radical suggestion for Ground Zero was remarkable, but rather unsurprisingly failed to influence tycoon developers:

Sorkin's preference, which he championed in the face of the winning proposal by "starchitect" Daniel Libeskind, was to create a large, empty square in which freedom could be expressed by the simple means of human movement and assembly. New York would renew itself by returning to the original function of a city, a way of bringing people together in an ever-changing community.

Sorkin is masterful in both criticizing the imagineering of corporate landscapes and conceptualizing utopian alternatives of his own. Writing in Canada's Spacing Magazine, Sean Ruthen describes Sorkin's hallucinatory journey from post-911 New York to "a whole new urban plan for the displaced commercial space and imagining it all distributed through the boroughs rather than continuing to concentrate it all in one place." Similarly, Architecture Today praises Sorkin's ability "to yoke two heterogeneous thoughts or experiences together in ways which illuminate both."

His eye ranges widely, taking in the turbo-charged growth of Asian cities, petro-development in Latin America and the contested spaces of the Middle East... Although the subjects are locally-specific, the topics—among them large-scale regeneration, participatory planning and the security agenda—are equally pertinent in cities from Manchester to Madrid.

Sorkin's imaginative landscapes are so powerful that the Telegraph proposes a second career move."If the architectural work dries up, Sorkin would make a fascinating novelist." 

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