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Feature: Susan Szenasy Makes a Place

Beginnings- what attracted you to architecture and design journalism, and how did you begin your career? Was there an influential experience, or mentor, that helped steer you toward this field?

Metropolis Magazine’s 30th Anniversary cover

I was trained as a historian, ending up with an MA in Modern European History from Rutgers. In the course of my grad and undergrad studies I was taking art history classes in which architecture and artifacts played a significant role. Those were the parts of art history I loved studying the best. So when Interiors magazine was looking for an assistant to the editor in chief, I jumped at the chance. The magazine, while it showed beautiful buildings, interiors, and objects, was much more concerned about the economic impact of the design professions. I liked this broad, not the customary siloed approach to design. I still do, this is what we do at Metropolis; we look at design at all scales from a larger, cultural perspective, not as a trade or something to consume. My mentor was Olga Gueft, the irrepressible and brilliant editor of Interiors. She taught me everything I know, from how to behave at a press conference to how to tell a design story. Her lifelong example of commitment to a subject and an idea caught me and never let me go (Olga had been the editor at Interiors since 1945, I arrived at the magazine in the late 1970s).

What does architecture culture signify to you, and how do you go about contributing to, and/or changing this culture? What are your hopes and dreams for the future of architecture and the built environment?

Susan Szenasy

To me “architecture culture” is a visible expression of human knowledge and ambition, spiced up with a good dose of innovation and creativity. I understood early on that architecture and design have a responsibility in giving shape to a built environment that supports cultures and people’s lives everywhere. I took this belief very seriously. I was part of the generation of 70s environmentalists–many of us ended up on picket lines–that took saving the planet seriously and earnestly. When I got involved in design journalism I translated these concerns to my everyday work. In my view, social and ecological sustainability are the key issues of our times, and architects and designers are key problem solvers for the big, complex problems human society faces, both locally and globally. My hope is that the professions continue to upgrade their knowledge base and show how the built environment can make humans and other creatures healthy, safe, and productive. And, in the process, create cities, buildings, interiors, and objects that are uniquely representative of their climates and cultures.

Advice for someone interested in entering an architecture-related field?

If you love it, find a place that fits your temperament. I always wanted to work at a magazine, so magazine work gave me my life’s work, and architecture gave me my focus. If you don’t love it, get out. There’s too much to do and no one needs another yawning face at the table.

Favorite site, place, building? Why does this particular location speak to you?

The NYU campus surrounding Washington Square Park. Photo Credit: BWAFArchive

New York City, particularly my neighborhood near NYU: It’s a mélange of urbanity, with historic and new buildings jostling the streetscape, looking like the times in which they were built (Washington Square Park reminds me of the ambitions of the 19th century City Beautiful movement; the row of cast iron buildings show me how industrial production influenced building facades while their design was stuck in traditional styles; former industrial buildings, like the one I live in, now converted to high ceilinged lofts, show me that everyday endeavors like working in factories could be honored by a building’s details and forms; and those crazy cobble stoned streets that feel like you’re about to drop into a sinkhole with each cab ride), I love it all–architecture, urbanism, people, nature all together in one unforgettable place!

(Ed. note: for more information on Susan Szenasy and Metropolis Magazine visit http://www.metropolismag.com/)
All Photo Credits: Susan Szenasy and Metropolis Magazine

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