Productive Urban Landscapes

Research and practice around the CPUL design concept

Drawing showing part of New York City (Steady) State (source: terreform www 2020)

The passing of Michael Sorkin

On the 26th of March 2020, Michael Sorkin, the New York based architect, academic and critic passed away as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Michael Sorkin was a prominent and prolific advocate for rethinking cities in such a way that they could operate within the limits of the Earth’s carrying capacity while being more ‘equitable, harmonious, sustainable and beautiful places’ (Bengal Institute for Architecture, Landscape and Settlements lecture 2015).

As a Manhattan resident, density and walkable cities with good public transport had a real meaning in the designs Sorkin co-produced via his studio, teaching and as president of the terreform research centre. Perhaps, and certainly in relation to productive urban landscapes, the research programme New York City (Steady) State, referred to by Sorkin as ‘thought experiment’, will be one of his greatest legacies. In this study, scheduled to finish in 2020, a series of scenarios are developed to test the feasibility of New York City (NYC) becoming 100% self-sufficient within its political boundaries, including in food production. For Bohn&Viljoen this has been fascinating to observe as it explores the concept we call ‘site yield’: the percentage of all (fruit and veg) needs that can be generated from within a defined boundary. NYC (Steady) State generated striking images visualising what would be required to become food self-sufficient, necessitating the extensive use of vertical farms. Not surprisingly, the study concludes that the extensive reliance on energy-intensive vertical farms does not make sense, for example estimating that a PV area equal to the entire area of NYC would be required to power these farms. But the study concluded that 30% of the city’s food needs grown within NYC would provide a “sweet spot” balancing quality of life and practicality, a figure complimenting our own calculations.
A 2015 lecture delivered at the Bengal Institute for Architecture, Landscape and Settlement, linked to below, provides an excellent overview of Sorkin’s thinking and the NYC (Steady) State project.

While there is some inconsistency in the scale and form of projects emerging from the Sorkin Studio – some entirely contradicting his advocating for five-storey walkable apartments – even the most outlandish proposals aim to demonstrate an ecological thinking applied in very different contexts. Indeed, it is ironic that one of the three projects Sorkin presented in his Bengal Institute lecture is for the 2014 Qingtan Lake Eco Science and Tech Park in Wuhan, China.


For further information on the terreform research centre see here.

To see Michael Sorkin’s 2015 lecture at the Bengal Institute see here.

Image: Drawing showing part of New York City (Steady) State (source: terreform www 2020)

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* landscape* urban agriculture* urban designUSA

Andre Viljoen • 6th April 2020

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