250 Things an Architect Should Know

John Hill
29. October 2021
Photo: John Hill/World-Architects

Architect and educator Michael Sorkin, who died in March 2020 in the wave of Covid that swept through New York City, was known best as a tenacious and irascible critic of buildings and cities. His writing was also joyful, apparent in the widely circulated list of "250 Things an Architect Should Know." An illustrated version of the list is being released by Princeton Architectural Press.

Although Michael (as this former student of his still thinks of him) first put the "250 Things" into print in 2014, as his contribution to Educating Architects: How Tomorrow's Practitioners Will Learn Today (the background of the photo at top), it wasn't until the fall of 2019 that he started to work on a book version, collaborating with Princeton Architectural Press on the pocket-sized, 144-page Two Hundred and Fifty Things an Architect Should Know. While Michael did not live to see his funny, thoughtful, meditative list in book form, his longtime wife, Joan Copjec, who I was also a student of, worked with the publisher to complete the book.

Given how easy it is to find the list of "250 Things an Architect Should Know" online, the printed version is for people who want more than just a checklist of things to learn and do, of places to visit and experience. The pairing of words and images accentuates the humor in Michael's words, breaks down the lengthy list into smaller sometimes related chunks, and reinforces the diversity of his advice: from philosophy and sustainability to architectural history and science. Ultimately the list encourages people to look attentively at the world around them and — more importantly, perhaps — get out there and experience it.

A selection of the "250 Things" follow, accompanied by the corresponding images from the book. 

14. How to lay bricks

Laying bricks in construction of manhole at migrant camp at Sinton, Texas, photograph by Lee Russell. From Photography Collection, Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs, Digital Collections, New York Public Library.

76. The pleasures of the suburbs

Suburbs photo, source unknown. From New York Public Library Picture Collection

77. The horrors

An aerial view of housing developments near Markham, Ontario, November 2005, photograph by Ian Duke.

118. The capacity of white pine trees to sequester carbon

17 Feet Diameter Fir Tree near McMurray, Wash., 1908, photograph by Darius Kinsey. Courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program.

203. Which way the wind blows

Windy city, photographer unknown. From New York Public Library Picture Collection.

220. The acoustic performance of Boston Symphony Hall

Boston Symphony Hall (detail). Charles Follen McKim, Richard Guy Wilson, Stanford White, and William Rutherford Mead, The Architecture of McKim, Mead & White: Selected Works 1879–1915 (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2018), plate 141.

233. Straw-bale building technology

Straw-bale secondary school, Malawi (detail). Courtesy of Nudes Architecture/Nuru Karim.

248. The heights of folly

Men doing exercises in a gymnastics wheel (Rhönrad), 1929. From Getty Images.
Two Hundred and Fifty Things an Architect Should Know

Two Hundred and Fifty Things an Architect Should Know
Michael Sorkin

5 x 7 inches
144 Pages
ISBN 9781648960802
Princeton Architectural Press
Purchase this book

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