40 Years of Metropolis and the Future of Architecture and Design

Celebrating 40 years of Metropolis, the July/August issue looks back on decades of groundbreaking ideas and digs in to challenging topics like diversity and equity in the design industry.

I walked into the office of Metropolis as an intern in the spring of 2010, and immediately got caught up in its energy. Editor in chief Susan Szenasy had just called out architect Frank Gehry for dismissing the green building movement as “bogus.” Szenasy felt that architecture’s leading lights reveled in a too-cool-for-school attitude in the face of climate change, likening it to their tepid response to the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. Meanwhile, critic Karrie Jacobs turned in a draft jabbing at the “social change” craze that had overtaken the design profession: “Maybe we can’t design our way out of every problem,” she suggested in a column published in our July/August 2010 issue.

At every turn, Metropolis exhorted architects and designers to recognize their power to make a positive impact, but also to avoid hubris.

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40 Years of Looking Forward

For Metropolis’s anniversary we dug up some articles from its archive that are still fresh today.

Those who know Szenasy will recognize this nuanced approach in her personality, but it was supported, expanded, and evolved by many others: founder Horace Havemeyer III and Eugenie Cowan Havemeyer; visionary editors, among whom Paul Makovsky (now editor in chief of Architect) and Martin Pedersen (executive director of Common Edge) deserve special mention; scores of brilliant writers, designers, and photographers; and fearless representatives like 20 year Metropolis veteran and current advertising director Tamara Stout.

On its 40th anniversary this month, Metropolis gratefully stands on their shoulders.

In looking through our archive, I’m struck by how many articles resonate with today’s challenges (“40 Years of Looking Forward”). On remote work policies or gender inequity, carbon accounting or product manufacturing, Metropolis raised questions that we’re still trying to answer today. We’ve gathered some of those prescient stories in this issue, and you can read them in full on metropolismag.com.

There is, however, one perspective that Metropolis didn’t tackle adequately for the needs of the profession in North America: race. To be sure, plenty of older articles include people of color, and I will never forget how then-president Eugenie Havemeyer rolled her eyes the one time I proposed a cover featuring a much-feted white man. But we must dig deeper for racial justice, as this issue attempts to do.

For practitioners of color, representation must come with real opportunities to reshape the built environment, as Pueblo architects are doing in the American Southwest (“A Pioneering Exhibition Will Showcase Contemporary Indigenous Architecture”). To support that effort to remake design, we need grassroots movements and peer-to-peer networks like the ones featured in “Six Initiatives Model Ways to Practice True Design Justice.” Architects and designers also need to engage with racial or colonial histories, as the three practices in “Three Projects Put Community First” have sought to do. And even where there is robust engagement with BIPOC communities, senior editor Kelly Beamon argues in “Why Aren’t Black Firms Working on Memorials to Slavery?”, we fall short if RFP and bidding processes don’t equitably channel opportunities and funds. Unless we address the full political economy of architecture and interior design, our work can never be truly sustainable or just. There’s plenty to do in the next 40 years!

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