The Long View

Metropolis was first conceived in 1980 as a reaction against the theoretical excesses of the era, specifically the Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies, Peter Wolf and Peter Eisenman’s heady foray into multidisciplinary education for architects and designers that ran from 1967 to 1984. After consulting on one of the institute’s publications, the short-lived Skyline, Horace Havemeyer III—who had previously worked at Doubleday—decided there was a need for a different kind of design publication: less ideological and more pragmatic, but still interdisciplinary.

“I wanted a jargon-free magazine, easily understood by people with a more casual interest in design,” Havemeyer says. “I was tired of the glibness that existed in some of the small journals that were being published—and are still being published—where they dismiss a whole work in one sentence. Criticism should be a process where a work is explained and a case is made, not just subjectively wiped away because it doesn’t jibe with a person’s ideology. There was an awful lot of discussion about ideology in the 1970s.”

From the beginning, the Metropolis approach tended to draw an editorial staff with backgrounds in journalism rather than architecture—one capable of translating different disciplines both to one another and to the broader public. “I had this idea that you can see great masterpieces by walking around your city,” Havemeyer says. “You don’t need to go to a museum to see something that’s really valuable. And the idea was that if we had an audience who was more discerning about what works and what doesn’t work—from a practical as well as an aesthetic standpoint—it raises the bar on practicing architects. They have to do a better job. The more discerning the audience, the more discerning the design.”

While Metropolis has changed a lot over the years—it’s grown from an initial focus on New York to a national magazine with an international scope, has shrunk from an 11-by-16.5-inch tabloid to a 10-by-12-inch bound format, and the reporting and design have been fine-tuned over the years—that mission has remained remarkably consistent. “Shelter magazines are just showcasing projects,” Havemeyer says. “We’re the only magazine that does features that really get people excited, that bring it all in so that you can see the whole project, why the designers did it that way, what you can learn from it, and what the process was. I think we’re in a place of our own.”

With the recent glut of media covering all aspects of design and consumers becoming increasingly sophisticated, there are some signs that the mission of improving the world through design is beginning to have real effects. “That’s sort of the dream,” Havemeyer says. “We were so close with the World Trade Center. There was enough public interest so that the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation tried to service the demand, but it wasn’t a genuine effort.” Perhaps in the next 25 years? “Well, being sixty-five,” Havemeyer says, “I should probably talk about five-year goals.”

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