Demolish nothing, always add

Ed has written a foreword for 250 Things A Landscape Architect Should Know. Edited by Cannon Ivers, the book is inspired by Michael Sorkin’s essay “Two Hundred Fifty Things an Architect Should Know”. In the foreword Ed reflects on his time studying under Michael Sorkin and on Michael’s fluency in writing lists with poetry and force.


Michael Sorkin was a master of lists. From Local Code to “Eleven Tasks for Urban Design” and from “A Merry Manifesto” to “The Sidewalks of New York”, Michael employed lists as he crafted manifestos, design codes and urban agendas. While they rarely repeat, they all articulate common concerns – even when revealing tensions and contradictions. As with “Two Hundred Fifty Things an Architect Should Know”, the inspiration for this book, brilliantly edited by Cannon Ivers, Michael’s lists consistently express his desire for walking, his faith in cities and his confidence in the future.

Almost 20 years ago I was a student of Michael’s, and ever since I have been immersed in his world of “Two Hundred Fifty Things…”: studying urban design, living in a Manhattan walk-up, enrolled in a public college, learning from his designs, listening to his friends, encouraged to draw, supported in research. From fieldwork in Soweto to seminars with Jane Jacobs, and from readings with Marshall Berman to designing “exquisite corpses”, the world that Michael generously shared was a constellation of the lists he wrote. During this time, he only once recommended we read one of his books. Frustrated with the urban codes that he had asked us to compose, he requested we read Local Code: The Constitution of a City at 42° N Latitude. I dutifully visited Labyrinth Books on West 112th and Broadway, read it in the store, bought it and have reread it many times since.

The urban code that I subsequently wrote was the basis of a proposal for the industrial district of Willets Point, Queens. It began with: “Demolish nothing, always add”. While reflecting on my fascination with the area’s self-built auto-repair workshops, “Demolish nothing, always add” should have been preceded by “Do not displace, welcome in”. This marginal landscape of auto-parts, disaggregated and reassembled as precarious workshops and remodelled vehicles, was the result of situated work practices – lives that have since been displaced as part of contested urban renewal.

Cannon’s reinterpretation of “Two Hundred Fifty Things an Architect Should Know” as a collective landscape endeavour brings a new dimension to this visionary work. From Kate Orff’s contribution of “Bitches Get Stuff Done” to Aniket Bhagwat’s “Understand the Soul of Derek Jarman”, this book is both pragmatic advice and poetic demand. Although unable to include any of the landscape architects that Michael listed in his “Two Hundred Fifty Things…” — “154. Capability Brown, André Le Nôtre, Frederick Law Olmsted, Muso Soseki, Ji Cheng, and Roberto Burle Marx.” — this is an extraordinary collection of lists that also includes delightful tensions and contradictions. In “250 things that every landscape architect should know” Cannon demonstrates his mastery in bringing landscape voices together, creating a true landscape list of lists.

Ed Wall, March 2021

[Image: Demolish nothing, always add by Ed Wall, 2004 - 2021]