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04.22.2014
Obit> Horace Havemeyer, III, 1942-2014
Jayne Merkel remembers the passionate publisher of Metropolis magazine.
Courtesy Metropolis Magazine

On March 19, the architectural and design worlds lost a passionate champion when Horace Havemeyer died at 72 in his Manhattan apartment of complications from CIDP, a chronic neurological disorder.

Horace had used crutches for decades, but his disability failed to keep him from exploring cities, physically as well as through books, articles, and on the worldwide web. Metropolis, which he founded in 1981, was “the first magazine that was ever online,” according to Susan Szenasy, its long time editor who succeeded Havemeyer as publisher on February 12. “He was a big techie,” she said. “He wanted a website before anyone else had one.”

Metropolis was a pioneering publication in many ways—in its scope, which encompassed everything from city planning to furniture, along with early coverage of preservation and ecology. The graphic design of Metropolis itself was groundbreaking, as was the range of feisty writers whose work it published. Michael Sorkin, Philip Nobel, Blair Kamin, Alan Temko, Robert Campbell, Karrie Jacobs, Akiko Busch, Paul Goldberger, James Howard Kunstler, Luc Sante, Laurie Olin, John Hockenberry, Aaron Betsky, Marshall Berman, Ben Katchor, Eva Hagberg, Jonathan Glancey, Alex Marshall, Fred A. Bernstein, Ellen Lupton, Andrew Blum, Alexandra Lange, and Christopher Hawthorne, among many others, wrote for Metropolis, many before they were well known.

Horace Havemeyer’s interest in the built environment began in childhood. The son of Rosalind E. and Horace Havemeyer Jr., he grew up in rural Dix Hills, Long Island, surrounded by Impressionist paintings and Tiffany wares, and summered in a house in Islip designed by Grosvenor Atterbury. Although he graduated from the Pomfret School and the Hobart and William Smith Colleges (where he majored in English and later served on the board of trustees), he struggled with learning disabilities—a problem hard for anyone who knew this articulate, unusually well read man to imagine.

When he graduated from college in 1964, he joined the family’s National Sugar Refining Company, because he was a fourth generation eldest son. But when the business was sold five years later, he was free to pursue a career more in line with his passions. To learn the editorial and business operations of publishing, he became a production supervisor at Doubleday. And to learn about the built environment, he took courses at the Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies, where he worked on its monthly tabloid, Skyline, until it closed in 1980.

The next year, Havemeyer founded Bellerophon Publication to publish Metropolis. He drew on Skyline’s “attempt to reach a broader cultural audience” and on “Massimo Vignelli’s idea of using a tabloid size and… good offset paper rather than on newsprint,” as he explained in the Mission Statement for Metropolis. But he wanted to avoid the “thicket of unreadable jargon” in the institute’s other publication. He “thought this was an odd way to reach a larger audience. Metropolis would instead offer an alternative. We’d strive to be sharp, lively, thoughtful, challenging, and, above all, accessible.”

“From the beginning, we tried to tell stories from multiple points of view,” explained Havemeyer. “We’d interview the architect or designer as well as the client and end user… And we’d… visually show the process through the layered use of photographs, diagrams, sketches, drawings, and floor plans. Like all design publications, we were interested in showing beautiful buildings and objects, but we weren’t content with merely showing them as objects of desire to explain clearly and concisely why things looked the way they did.”

Unlike most publishers, Havemeyer was intimately involved in every issue of the magazine. He read every article before it was published. And in 2004, he launched Metropolis Books which published, among other titles, Design Like You Give a Damn; Expanding Architecture: Design as Activism; Edible Estates: Attack on the Front Lawn; Design Revolution: 100 Products that Empower People.

Ten years ago, when his disease progressed, Horace and his wife Eugenie hired architect Ronnette Riley to make their apartment subtly more accessible with a nautical theme. The floor of the entry hall is painted to resemble rough seas, an historic photograph of a racing yacht is blown up to form a mural, and an oval brushed stainless steel handrail surrounds the space like one the boats he sailed all his life.

Havemeyer went to the office daily until three years ago when his disease progressed to the point where he was confined to his home by his paraplegia. Even then, he held weekly meetings at his apartment with his staff and entertained friends for brief periods. Confined to an elevated wheeled chair, wrapped in a blanket, and wearing a breathing tube, he would have it removed it to ask questions and then express his opinions with all the vigor and passion of his youth. No longer able to paint watercolors, he learned to make collages. He was unstoppable. His indomitable spirit lives on in his publications and in the friends, relatives, and associates he leaves behind.

Jayne Merkel

Jayne Merkel, a Contributing Editor at AD/Architectural Design and Architectural Record, has written for Metropolis and is a member of the Advisory Board of The Architect’s Newspaper.