But this potential enmity doesn't mean that I can't appreciate the sublime product they assemble month in and month out. More a thought journal than an airy picture book, Metropolis seeks to examine the roles of architecture, design and more within a larger cultural framework. The mag clearly has more on its mind than visual stimulation.
Rather than re-re-re-chronicling the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina, the June issue of the mag eyes the reinvention of New Orleans through the lens of an urban planner. Instead of merely describing the upcoming reunification of Nicosia (which has been a city divided for years), it depicts through starkly illustrative photos and text the cultural and political divides that need to be bridged. Its profile of 99-year-old Viktor Schreckengost, on the other hand, ducks the usual autumn-of-his-life banalities in favor of a critical-minded look at his legacy.
Better still is the cagey examination of Ave Maria, a Catholic university and surrounding town funded by Domino's Pizza scion Tom Monaghan. In its design, the writer/critic senses more than a few hints of its underlying religious bent -- and after reading the analysis, it's hard not to be swayed. Persuasive writing does not have to bludgeon you over the head to get its point across.
The front-of-book "Observed" section comes across as slightly spottier than the features, owing to its wildly eclectic topical breadth (reports on Architecture For Humanity, a stylin' Krups blender and a nest-like sculpture in the Portland, OR office of Wieden + Kennedy). Too, while infused with occasional jags of wit, the mag's stories tend to take a while before getting to the point: an item on a village being constructed outside Atlanta commences with "The prospect of a utopian society has bewitched humankind for centuries."
Of course, the June issue also boasts its share of quirky art/design people acting all quirky and arty/design-y and such. A quote from Yves Béhar -- "I wanted the ability to modulate light and allow that light to consider different emotional needs" -- elicits a few unintended chortles once you realize that the guy is talking about the design of a desk lamp, as opposed to a religion. I'm not sure what the mag is attempting to describe with the phrase "a perceptually adventurous pattern that appears to shift within space," but I can hazard a few guesses based on my adventures in consumption during college.
And heck to Betsy, won't the magazine industry PLEASE stop name-dropping Josef Müeller-Brockmann in order to spur newsstand sales? Talk about overexposed.
It'd be easy to dismiss Metropolis as a niche pub exclusively for high-minded, big-city design types. Yet I can't see why this publication would be any less at home on the coffee tables of people with a pathological need to impress their houseguests than the luxe shelter mag du jour. Metropolis alternately provokes and enlightens; it's an eminently worthy read for anybody who fancies himself or herself broad-minded.