Avery Library Announces Major Gift of the Michael Sorkin Collection: Internationally Renowned Architecture Critic, Designer, Urbanist, & Professor Devoted to Social Justice


Avery Library is pleased to announce the major gift of Michael Sorkin’s papers, architectural records, and drawings to the Drawings & Archives department. This significant collection comprises approximately 40 linear feet of records related to Sorkin’s architectural projects, articles, films, exhibitions, and other works, over 2,000 drawings (primarily conceptual sketches and site plans), as well as Sorkin’s papers, photographs, lectures, writings, and prospective projects.

Portrait of Michael Sorkin
Michael Sorkin in his studio.

Curator of Avery Drawings & Archives, Dr. Michelle Jackson-Beckett, remarked: “The gift of Michael Sorkin’s papers and architectural drawings to the department will undoubtedly be a significant research and teaching resource to serve faculty and students, as well as the wider architecture and design community. I am especially excited by the opportunity to build on a new direction to focus on targeted acquisitions that speak to issues of social justice in the built environment in the coming years. Michael Sorkin’s influence on the field as an internationally renowned voice in architecture represents an historic step in this direction, especially considering Sorkin’s fearlessness in questioning many established structural biases and elitism in the field of architecture.”

Brown University Professor of Modern Culture and Media, Joan Copjec, Michael Sorkin’s wife and the donor of the collection, has been a generous ally throughout the process. Professor Copjec said of the new acquisition: “Michael was described by a friend as ‘everywhere at home.’ This is true. He was admired for the ease with which he was able to roam about not only geographically but also across boundaries of genre, language, and skill sets. But he was also greatly admired for his groundedness. If he felt everywhere at home, it was because he carried ‘home’ along with him. He remained riveted to certain values, causes, a sensibility, and desires that were beyond choice, fundamental. Among the cities he loved, it was New York that captured his heart and imagination. I never considered any archive other than the Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library for Michael’s drawings and writings, knowing that he would consider it the proper place for his work. I am very grateful to Avery for agreeing to become its permanent home.”

Michael Sorkin (1948-2020) was an American polymath in the world of architecture and design. An architectural critic, educator, designer, and curator, Sorkin had a significant impact on twentieth-century and contemporary architecture and urbanism, with a focus on architecture and design as agents of social change.

With degrees from the University of Chicago and Columbia University, and a master’s in architecture from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Sorkin moved to New York City in 1973 where he was largely based for the rest of his life. In the 1980s, as the architecture critic of The Village Voice, Sorkin became known for his signature wit and pithy critiques of the excesses of contemporary architecture, which earned him international recognition as a provocative voice in the field. His designs were largely unbuilt explorations of theory, but his founding of the eponymous architecture firm Michael Sorkin Studio in the 1980s (based in New York with offices in Shanghai and Xi’an, China), his academic positions in the United States and Vienna, and his extensive body of publications provided him a public platform to widely share his architecture and design pedagogy and criticism.


Michael Sorkin, Andrei Vovk. Michael Sorkin Studio. Conceptual Drawing of Governors Island, New York Harbor. Pencil, colored pencil on trace paper. 1995-1996
Michael Sorkin, Andrei Vovk. Michael Sorkin Studio. Conceptual Drawing of Governors Island, New York Harbor. Pencil, colored pencil on trace paper. 1995-1996

The Michael Sorkin Studio engaged in designs for buildings, office and teaching complexes, residences, hotels, scientific centers and religious structures around the world. Sorkin’s foundation of the non-profit organization Terreform in 2005 continued his leadership in architecture and design research and advocacy. Beginning in 2000, Sorkin was a Distinguished Professor of Architecture and Director of the Graduate Program in Urban Design at City College of New York. His previous academic appointments included Professor of Urbanism and Director of the Institute of Urbanism at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, Gensler Chair at Cornell University, Hyde Chair in Nebraska University, Saarinen Chair in the University of Michigan, Gilbert Chair in the University of Michigan, both the Davenport and Bishop Chair at Yale University, and professorships at the Architectural Association, Cooper Union, Harvard University, and Columbia University.

At the time of his passing in 2020 due to complications of Covid-19, Sorkin held an established position as a significant public intellectual in the field of architecture and urbanism, having published numerous books and articles in addition to his studio practice and engagement as an educator and curator.

The Michael Sorkin collection is currently closed for processing. Avery Drawings & Archives will be organizing a program to celebrate the gift in the coming year. Please direct inquiries to avery-drawings@columbia.edu

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