June 20, 2016
Where We Work: Inside the New Offices of Metropolis Magazine
After almost two decades, Metropolis moves to an airy, light-filled office that supports a collaborative model of media production and considers evolving ideas of workplace design.
Photography by Cait Oppermann
A successful move often begins with a period of intense soul-searching. For Metropolis, the process started with a series of interconnected changes—a thorough reworking of the magazine, a thoughtful reconsideration of the team’s approach to work, and a realization that the staff had outgrown their longtime office space in New York’s Flatiron District. “All of this forced us to articulate a new Metropolis,” editorial and brand director Paul Makovsky says.
For one, the redesigned magazine, launched in December 2014, marked a new approach to work, where individual, heads-down activity was replaced by a more collaborative model, as the editorial and art departments began workshopping issues by gathering in a meeting room and working together on shared documents in the cloud. “It was interesting because we were physically in the same space but we were also working all in the same document; in a way the virtual document and the room are both meeting places,” senior editor Avinash Rajagopal says. It was time to find an office that would match this fluid and open process. “We were writing about how the new workplace was evolving, and here we were doing all of this from our nineties cubicles,” Makovsky says. “We realized we needed to practice what we preach.” Prompted by these changes and the impending end of their second 10- year lease, Metropolis president Eugenie Cowan Havemeyer took the opportunity of an early buyout and began looking for a new home base for the magazine.
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It wasn’t just the magazine that had evolved since Metropolis’s last move in 1997; the surrounding Flatiron District had been transformed as well, with smaller businesses increasingly being replaced by chain brands like Home Depot and Olive Garden.
In close collaboration with Robert Billingsley and Bryan Boisi at the real estate firm Cushman & Wakefield, the team began considering a variety of Manhattan locations before finally deciding on a space across the street from the New York Design Center on Lexington Avenue, where the Murray Hill and Kips Bay neighborhoods meet.
One of the first things that won the team over to the new space was its access to natural light and ample outdoor space. The neighborhood, which has recently welcomed many other design magazines and showrooms, was a bonus. In the old location, despite the generous cast-iron windows up front, light could not reach most cubicles, and although the windows were operable, that was not enough to regulate the climate for the entire office. “Here, the ability to get the sunlight in the morning and a breeze in the afternoon is just incredible,” says editor in chief and publisher Susan S. Szenasy. “At the same time, I can see a big building coming up right down the block; it’s a really interesting thing to watch New York grow around you.”
Having reported on the firm’s work for Bloomberg’s New York headquarters, the Metropolis team was already aware of Krizmanic’s portfolio, but in meeting with the architect, they were also won over by his design process. He refused to take a prescriptive approach, Szenasy says: “He looked at patterns of how people worked and began designing based on the needs that we were talking about.”
At an early meeting, Krizmanic picked up a felt pen and began sketching even as people were discussing what they’d like in the space. “He just kept drawing and saying, ‘These partitions could be movable. How can we do it so we can work this out?’” Havemeyer remembers. “I fell in love right then.”The next step was to turn to the magazine’s architectural network to find a way to meet the challenges of utilizing the existing infrastructure of the new space, including the division of offices around its perimeter. After Havemeyer, Szenasy, and Makovsky interviewed several architects, Tom Krizmanic and his firm, Studios Architecture, stood out.
At 4,700 square feet, the new office is the smallest project Studios has worked on. But Krizmanic lists this among the project’s benefits: “You don’t usually get to hear everyone’s perspective. It was very helpful getting to talk to everyone, seeing what they needed out of a space.” The interview process, aided by a questionnaire developed by Cushman & Wakefield, helped solidify the architect’s idea of what Metropolis is about. The scale of the project also allowed a more intimate connection between the architect and the team, going beyond delivering the finished product—Krizmanic checked in multiple times after the staff moved in this past October, and even dropped in to decide where to put up new art from the Havemeyers’ collection and straighten out picture frames.
The first product chosen for the space was Suzanne Tick’s Indent flooring for Tandus Centiva, which the editors and the architect had spotted at last year’s NeoCon fair. The carpet, which looks like a solid color from afar, reveals a variety of colors and textures up close. The designers chose to lay a yellow strip down the length of the main space (dubbed the office’s “yellow brick road”) to reinforce the connection between different departments and give the space an overall color scheme—matched by the custom yellow legs of the Herman Miller Canvas desks and BuzziSpace’s BuzziBrickBack felt acoustic panels. The team didn’t restrict itself to leaders in workspace manufacturing, but also drew from younger talents such as lighting designers Rich Brilliant Willing, whose fixtures create distinctive moments within the space. “We’ve always been an independent magazine, and this idea of working both with established design companies that have been around forever and ones that are emerging is part of our identity,” Makovsky says.
The most salient feature of the new office is a large pin-up wall that takes up the length of the main space, showcasing the print magazine in development. In the previous location, the display wall seemed like an afterthought, squeezed into a narrow hallway on the way to the bathrooms. “You didn’t have room to actually see the issue in its entirety,” associate editor and web strategist Samuel Medina says. Even worse, other departments in the office, such as sales and marketing, often didn’t have a clear idea of the issue until it had fully taken shape. “It would only get displayed a couple of weeks before it shipped to the printers,” which meant that all the staff couldn’t look over the issue until that point in time, Makovsky explains. “It was like this magic show—let’s unveil the curtain and now you see the work.”
“Our light-filled, flexible, collaborative workspace is a dream come true!” says Eugenie Havemeyer.
Now, as soon as an issue goes to print, the beginnings of a new one take its place. Apart from being the focal point of the office, the pinup wall helped open up the practice of creating the magazine, by bringing other departments, and even guests, into the process. The wall also has a hidden function—it doubles as storage for the magazine’s extensive collection of books and back issues. “We needed storage on the premises without it compromising our workspace,” says office manager Barbara Suarez. “The sliding doors covered the storage up and also activated the office in a striking way.” In developing the layout of the space, Krizmanic retained a few of the enclosed spaces—providing private offices or conference rooms as needed—and opened up the rest, adding to the ease of interaction between departments. Although Harry Allen’s 1997 design of the previous office was successful for its time, it was limited in the options it provided. “It just outlived its usefulness,” Krizmanic says, most noticeably in its cubicles, which, although spacious, didn’t offer any flexibility, as their partitions couldn’t be changed or removed. And while the walls also gave a semblance of privacy, sound actually traveled over the dividers, making work that required deep concentration difficult. “And there was really no natural interaction,” Havemeyer says. “You almost had to make appointments to interact with people, and everyone had to crowd around cubicle doors to hold a conversation.” In the new space, the editors share a large space at the back of the office and can just swivel their chairs around for a brainstorming session.
This sense of improved communication is not restricted to the individual departments. “I like that I can make eye contact with Paul from the other corner of the office,” director of brand strategy Grace Ehlers says. And although there were initial concerns that an open office plan would encourage a newsroom-style atmosphere, full of distracting noise and commotion, the feeling of community doesn’t come at the expense of office courtesy. “The minute the furniture came and people settled in, everybody’s voice dropped. It was the most amazing thing,” Szenasy says. “It was really interesting to see how people adapted to the space and modulated their voices to match other people’s needs, not just their own.”
In addition to the main open space, meeting rooms of various sizes and flexible arrangements, from conference rooms to the dining nook, promote mobility and allow different levels of informality. Perhaps the most unexpected meeting place is a long console divider that stands between the editorial area and the art department. Functionally, the console acts as a storage cabinet, but the surface also becomes a space for the art department to spread out and assess layouts before displaying them on the pinup wall. It is also where the office shares food and spoils from various travels—the Metropolis team comes together as much around its love of food as its love for design. “On the whole, it’s a very choice-rich place,” says Szenasy. “There is this very humane quality to the interior that invites us to engage with a lot of different ways of working and communicating.”