8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Sitting in Seattle
- Published on Amazon.com
This is an interesting, beautifully-written, and thought-provoking set of articles about architecture and its relationship to the public life of cities from a left-wing perspective. If you're interested in those topics, I highly recommend it.
Michael Sorkin is an influential architect, urban planner, architecture critic, and general public intellectual writer, and this book is his latest collected set of essays. It compiles articles from 2000-2009 that appeared in a variety of publications, especially Architectural Record and Harvard Design Magazine. Most of the articles are short -- there is a total of 76 articles in 390 pages or about 5 pages each -- and read easily; they are for general readers, not academics. Overall, the articles are similar in style to something that one might find in the New York Review of Books. He is happy to dwell on small observations, on grand themes, and to call out those he believes are ruining our cities, our politics, our civil liberties, and of course our architecture.
Some of the essays are relatively time-bound, e.g., those about deliberations of the planning commissions in rebuilding after the 9/11 attacks. Some of those are purely of limited and historical interest, but others help flesh out the themes about power and money and their operation in city planning. Even the uninteresting ones are short enough that I don't find them to detract from the overall value.
Two dominant themes in the articles are that architecture is an expression and reflection of politics, and that the design of our buildings and cities affects how we are able to come together in our societies and lives. He decries trends such as the mall-ification of our cities (especially his home of New York). He is fully aware, and discusses early, that there is a tension between social goals of promoting equality and access, and the money and power needed to finance large-scale architecture. Along the way, he opens our eyes to interesting viewpoints on places as diverse as Beijing hutongs (traditional alley residential areas being destroyed), projects he's undertaken in China, and the Great Mall of New York (too much of Manhattan).
In the end the collection is just that: a collection. I wish the introduction had been more thematic, or that the chapters were grouped in some way to provide more continuity in purpose. And I wish many of them were longer. But there is nothing at all wrong with essays that leave you wishing for more, and with 76 of them on tap, there is. Enjoy!