The Modernist publishes about 20th century modernist architecture and design. We spoke to editors Eddy Rhead and Jack Hale, two of the founders of this Manchester-based quarterly, as they work their way through the alphabet.
The magazine evolved from the Manchester Modernist Society – can you explain how this came about?
We set up the Manchester Modernist Society as a creative project to celebrate twentieth century architecture in Manchester. The city is highly regarded for its Victorian architecture and there were a lot of new developments being built, but no one seemed to be talking about the twentieth century stuff… the stuff that we liked best. We devised happenings and artistic projects and posted stuff on the website.
After a couple of years, we did a small project with some design graduates and we liked the idea of printed publishing (print was supposed to be dead, after all). We had gathered a bit of a following and figured that if we printed a small number of magazines we would have enough followers that would buy one to make it work. We wanted the magazine not to be the magazine of the Manchester Society but to cover topics from anywhere.
By this time, we knew enough people who could contribute articles to the mag, the designers agreed to work with us and so we just went for it. We put the idea to the people on our mailing list and asked them to pay for four copies in advance and this raised enough money to print issue 1.
What do you attribute its success, and survival, over seven years and 27 editions to?
Mainly to the commitment, interest and talent of all the people that contribute to it. All the contributors to the magazine do it voluntarily. We have had four designers, hundreds of writers and photographers and numerous other helpers who give their time for free. The mag has quite a small print run, so if we paid every one who was involved, each copy would cost about £20.
What design considerations came to the fore when considering the subject matter?
From the start we felt that a magazine about design had to be well designed, we were never going to knock it together ourselves in Word. So, we worked with professional designers who largely have a free reign. We have no money to pay designers so their collaboration is crucial. Each designer has their own aesthetic and methods… we don’t get much say in the final design.
Each issue has a theme – how important is it for structure and content to be complimentary?
Each year there are four magazines with a theme starting with the same letter. We started with B (for Bold, Brutal etc.) and we are working through the alphabet. We are currently working on the fourth H issue, themed Holiday.
At the beginning of each year we simply pick four words that we think might suggest interesting articles and hope for the best. To be honest, most of the time we are winging it and making things up as we go along, so the idea of relating structure to content is a bit grand.
What is the significance of having it two-colour? You said in a recent Mag Culture talk that this was more a cost than aesthetic consideration
Yes, it really is down to cost. Our first four issues had one colour only but we quickly realised that printing a magazine entirely in yellow can be difficult to read, so we introduced black as a second colour. This did, however, create its own aesthetic considerations and a particular look. We always admired Art & Architecture for doing so much with just two colours and used that notion as inspiration.
Highs and lows from your work on The Modernist to date?
We had a very early low point, after taking issue 1 to the post office to get an idea of how many stamps to put on it. The person at the counter mistook it for A5, when in fact it was slightly larger, this led us to under paying the postage on the entire first print run. Every single one of our subscribers had to pay the extra charge or go to the sorting office to retrieve their mag. Not a good start.
The high points are usually when we realise that people all over the world like what we are doing, for example we have a very loyal follower in South Korea and when august Institutions such as the Fine Art Institute of Chicago or the National Art Library at the V&A collect it… that feels nice.
Jonny Marr is a patron of the magazine. Is this through a personal connection?
One of his fans sent him a couple of copies of the magazine because she thought he’d like it. Separately, we sent him an “honorary membership” to the society after he had made a music video featuring many of the best concrete buildings in Manchester. After this, he got in touch and as he has a real interest and liking for what we do and of course a strong cultural connection to Manchester, we asked him to be the patron. Neither of us really knows what this means.
Favourite modernist buildings?
That’s a really hard question as there are so many and of so many different types. It’s always been a goal of The Modernist to feature lesser known places. There is a bit of a boom of interest in Brutalist buildings at the moment and inevitably the same buildings get featured over and over (usually in London).
So, here’s to all the schools, local libraries, markets and public toilets that have served us well and will never feature in a coffee table book (unless we publish it, of course).
Three magazines which are you exciting you at the moment?
We are not really big magazine buffs, we generally just get on with our own thing. We do attend print events and fairs and its great to see the range and creativity of magazine makers from all over the place and we approve of the growth of the independent publishing scene. It’s great to see new dedicated magazine shops opening up, Sheffield, Leeds, Manchester, Brighton, Nottingham etc. all have indie mag shops that have opened in the past few years… which is amazing because as we all know… print is dead.
Issue 27’s theme is ‘High’ and features skyscrapers, space exploration, the Euromast in Rotterdam, Concorde and the demolition of tower blocks in Glasgow.
Annual subscription (4 issues) £32.
Words: Michael McDermott