Susan S. Szenasy


Susan Szenasy
  • Metropolis Magazine
  • 61 W. 23rd St.
  • 4th Floor
  • New York, NY 10010

When was Metropolis first published? How frequently do you publish?
Metropolis came on the scene 30 years ago this year. In the past we published 10 issues a year. Now we publish 11 issues per year, plus lots of other things.

How did the magazine enter the publishing world?
It was a New York-based magazine, taking its cue from one of the most memorable metropolitan areas, and dealt with everything we deal with today, from urban planning to the smallest product. The magazine took the form of a city tabloid, looking like a monthly newspaper, mostly in black and white. Its intention was always to cover the interconnectivity of all design disciplines and creating an every growing dialogue around designed environment.

How does your publication serve the A/E/C industry?

We pull cultural, social, economic, technological, as well as artisanal issues into the design dialogue, connecting design community to the major movements of our time-everything that is a basic human concern, probing how we live and work and play in densely settled environments. We feel that the design community is not a collection of silos, but is craving to connect with others of helpful expertise. We like to put this inclusive approach into the service of the A/E/C industry (interesting that you grouped them together, just like we do, except we include landscape architects, graphic designers, interior designers, anyone involved in any aspect of the built environment).

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What makes Metropolis different from its competitors, and who are they?

The most distinguishing mark of Metropolis is its interdisciplinary focus. While others concentrated on the silos of design-architecture, interiors, landscape, product, graphics-we focus on the inter-dependency of all these disciplines. We’ve been at it for three decades. Now this approach is gaining traction among teams of designers aided by technology, the kind of technology that helps pull together every detail of a project. We feel that the solutions that result from this interdisciplinary approach are necessary, for anyone setting out to deal with the complex issues the design community faces today. In addition to designers, we also feel the design teams need help from scientists-biological and social, and others.

Is your New York City location an advantage in any way? If so, why?

New York is a crucible of creative energy. The city’s pace, access to many experts, its central location to design communities and universities around the Eastern Seaboard are invaluable to us; that doesn’t mean we ignore other regions, it just means that we’re hyperactive New Yorkers.

When other design magazines folded during the recession, i.e. I.D. Magazine, Metropolis fared relatively well. Why?

I am really unhappy about losing any design magazine from the marketplace of ideas. Less competition is not a good thing for anyone. Competition keeps us on our toes. During the recession we pulled ourselves together, cut staff, cut salaries, cut space-trying not to go to the bone. Also, thanks to a loyal advertiser base, our broad outreach that includes such sponsor-magnets as our traveling films, educational programs, blog, books, directories, and special publications, we’ve been able to pull together the bare necessities to survive these tough times.

Was it important for the magazine to offer readers more product design after I.D. Mag’s collapse?

In line with our philosophy of thorough reporting and analysis in telling stories, we have always delved into product development stories, even when ID was alive. Now we may be doing more of those stories, especially as they relate to the core of our readership: architects and interior designers.

It’s the publications 30th anniversary this year. How has the magazine evolved over the years?

Our evolution is more about finding a sophisticated voice, approach, and presentation than about focus. Metropolis was always interdisciplinary, always seeking to explain the ins and outs of design, using accessible language and expressive graphic design. What’s different now is our ability to tell the full story of collaboration, for instance, showing the complexity of how design gets done as well as how it’s used. We have found a unique graphic presentation technique when we covered the Seattle Public Library story, for instance, which most publications covered as the work of a hero architect, Rem Koolhaas. Telling such complex stories, visually and in text, has become our trademark. It’s a good thing too. The design issues in an age of climate change, aging populations, and technological revolution need to be treated with the detailed attention they deserve, and our audience expects this kind of treatment from us.

In your 25 years at Metropolis which trends have you observed come full circle or reinvent themselves?

Our name, our mission, always put us at the center of the dense urban environment and its outposts. Today we talk a lot about tighter developments, less car-centered, more people centered places that drastically cut back on our energy use and connect us to each other. We have come full circle, back to the metropolis. My 25 years as editor in chief has given me an opportunity to communicate design through an ever-growing selection of media-film, conferences, panels, keynotes, blogs, etc. When I began working at the magazine, we only had the magazine as a vehicle of communication. The current, multi-media phase of Metropolis is a rewarding expansion-we’re still talking about design, but through many different outlets.

What changes are you noticing in your audiences reading habits? Are they reading the publication online more frequently than in the past? How do your print and online audiences compare?

There are some people who only want to read print, still. There is, however, a generational divide: many of our young readers get us on the web, on the blog, in social networking. But at the core of all this is still the magazine which, admittedly, gets fewer readers than our website and social networking sites, but the quality of our ideas is still best expressed in the longer format that our magazine and Metropolis Books, our book division, offer. Paper technology, to date, is superior in communicating the big idea. When you open up a story in Metropolis, the layering of information we offer on our pages is still hard to duplicate on websites, though we do offer an electronic version of the magazine (complete with layouts and advertising), as well as the more linear presentation of stories on our website.

How has the publication unfolded in the social media age? What social media tools have benefited the magazine?

Because the basis of our solid information is still the magazine, we take advantage of spreading the word from it, and from our blog, in the short form of Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. These formats are like writing headlines. What I like to do is write headlines (the short form) and attach the long-form article to it, just in case someone wants to know more. In addition, we now cover news in our blog, leaving the more analytical, curated stories for the magazine.

If a firm has a relevant story to tell you about one of its projects, how should they pitch you or your staff?

We like to know if a design story carries the conversation forward in an age when zero environmental impact, accessibility for everyone, technological sophistication mixed with humanizing factors like artisanal work are at play. A LEED rated building is not a story; but Platinum and self-supporting buildings and neighborhoods are. Technical breakthroughs that make the environment better, healthier, less energy intensive are important to us. Prudent resource use, of such basic elements as clean water, is always interesting. Great stories of fruitful collaboration are always intriguing, especially when we can get access to all key participants. Of course, it all has to be beautiful, but it has to be amazing under and innovative under the beautiful skin. Our readers expect nothing less from us.

What is your vision for Metropolis for the next five years? Beyond?

We want Metropolis to be at the center of the design dialogue. A strong voice of and for design is needed as external forces shape the work of design professionals, as the public grows more aware of the importance of designers as creative problem solvers, as we all relearn what it means to be a human being at a time when we’re all responsible to making our environment supportive of us and the creatures around us. We want to be in the thick of things as we evolve into a more design-savvy, design-dependent species.

Any final thoughts you’d like to share with our members?

I want to tell your members that the designed environment, as it connects to the natural and environment (and to all its creatures) are essential players in our survival. I believe design can be at the center of the next big dialogue about creating an environmentally centered, human-sensitive world. I want Metropolis to either lead that discussion or to participate in it; preferably both. I want us all to know that we have a meaningful role to play in creating our collective future. I want us to talk to each other through whatever media we choose, to share useful information, so we can act on it intelligently.