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School of Architecture and Planning, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
by Hashim Sarkis, Dean

March 27 to Staff, Faculty, Students:

Dear SA+P community,

I write to share with you the sad news that Michael Sorkin (March ‘84) has passed away in New York at the age of 71 after contracting Covid-19.

Michael led a very rich and hugely impactful life: from consultant to MoMA, to city planner, to educator, to journalist, to architect with a diverse and experimental practice. As architecture  critic of the Village Voice during the 1980s, Michael helped establish the critical outlook toward the prevalent postmodernism, maintaining a strong commitment to the role that architecture and urbanism could play in addressing the social and urban ills of the city. His writings include some of the most powerful advocacies for a public architecture in support of a vibrant public life. Throughout, he also helped shape a disposition for the architect as a public intellectual.

His affiliation with MIT was long and rich as well. His master’s thesis was a written document about his educational experience, exposing and analyzing many challenges to architectural pedagogy at MIT and in the United States. He later became part of the community in different forms, including serving as a critic.

Nicholas de Monchaux, professor and incoming head of our Department of Architecture, said of Michael, “His deep understanding of cities meant, inherently, that he saw himself as an advocate for the powerless against the powerful, whether in questions of development, in the hierarchies of design culture, or vision of a more sustainable and inclusive urban ecology.” Nicholas notes that Michael’s last lecture at MIT was given in May 2019, itself titled, “The Last Lecture.”

The outpouring of statements and obituaries has been truly moving. They all attest to a sharp mind and tongue, an intellectual wealth and generosity, an ethical commitment and uncompromising engagement with the world, and a warm and endearing man.

With sadness,

Hashim

March 2 5 to Alumni:

Dear SA+P alumni,

In the midst of this global crisis, I write to you simply to reach out and express solidarity with  everyone in our community who has been adversely affected, whether in terms of health, housing security, or major disruptions to educational and professional activities. When social distancing and quarantine prompt feelings of isolation and disconnection, it is often helpful to think about the things that bind us.

Throughout Lebanon’s civil war during the 1970s and 1980s, my family and I had to frequently relocate in order to distance and protect ourselves from the dangers of war. I also experienced how people created community during times of disaster. Against the scarcity of basic needs like water and shelter—let alone telephones—continuity and connectedness were maintained through a sense of sympathy and solidarity among the occupants of the building or the street. In times when reason, truth, or a basic sense of fairness were regularly challenged, what held us together and upheld our spirits was love.

At MIT, our students have had to adapt very rapidly to unaccustomed routines and upended expectations. Yet as we all come to terms with the serious adjustments necessary in our ways of engaging during this crisis, I cannot say enough about the deep spirit of cooperation and generosity that has been demonstrated by SA+P staff, students, and faculty over the past several weeks. This resilient community—including our alumni around the world—is diverse in its activities and approaches, yet there is a shared strength and commitment that will see us through this dreadful situation. As always, we look to our alumni as allies in creatively facing what lies ahead.

Best,

Hashim

March 25 to Staff: 

Dear SA+P staff,

As I hear accounts of how staff across our School are working intensely and creatively to support students and faculty (and each other) in this new reality, I’m reminded of a truism: staff are the strong backbone of SA+P. Whether working in academic units, research groups, building facilities, IT services, or my office, staff are the crucial connectors in all of our efforts. At a time of crisis and uncertainty, the unwavering commitment of staff to the mission of our School makes more of a difference than ever.

“Spring break” has not typically been a break for staff, and this is truer than ever this year, as the Institute continues its work to assure safe housing for students and we get ready to adopt an entirely new way of teaching and learning next week. Your role in working with students and faculty in preparing for this huge shift to online instruction is vital. You are equally important as recognized builders of a sense of community within your units. But I hope that each of you is finding some time this week to adapt to your own remote work while taking care of your families, friends, and yourselves.

As you’ve heard, I’m hosting an informal Zoom lunchtime gathering tomorrow for all staff, which I hope you can attend; please check your email for details. It will be a chance for us to connect and share experiences and ideas, and for me to thank you (almost) in person for your valued contributions during this challenging time.

Best,

Hashim

March 23 to Staff, Faculty, Students:

Dear SA+P community:

Ever since Covid-19 entered our daily lives, the catchphrase “Love in the Time of Coronavirus” has been surfacing everywhere. Whether on SNL’s spoof soap opera, “The Sands of Modesto” or in articles about partners separated by the travel ban, this humorous variation on the title of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s melancholic novel, Love in the Time of Cholera, resonates very strongly in the media, illustrating the opposition between the proximity that we yearn for and the distance that we are forced to keep.

Like most popular humor, there is a piercing truth to this catchphrase. Throughout Lebanon’s civil war during the 1970s and 1980s, my family and I had to frequently relocate in order to distance and protect ourselves from the dangers of war. I also experienced how people created community during times of disaster. Against the scarcity of basic needs like water and shelter, let alone telephones, continuity and connectedness were maintained through a sense of sympathy and solidarity among the occupants of the building or the street, through love. In times when reason, truth, or a basic sense of fairness were regularly challenged, what held us together and upheld our spirits was love.

An abundance of love is what I have noticed with admiration at MIT over the past month, and in our school community in particular—whether in mobilizing the community to address the challenges of relocation for some of our students, or to provide flexibility for our staff to be able to work from home, or to rapidly convert all instruction and learning to online formats, or to turn research around to address the shortage of medical supplies and to monitor the spread of the virus. We will need much more of this sentiment in the coming weeks, but from what I have observed, there is no shortage of supply.

With much love,

Hashim

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