Mad Men’s Don Draper at the mood board, ©AMC

The online magazine Indigits interviewed Bernd Upmeyer about his role as an independent magazine publisher.

Indigits: What was the trajectory (catalyst) from magazine-lover to publisher?
Bernd Upmeyer: In the 1990s I studied architecture and urban design at the University of Kassel in Germany, a school founded in the early 1970s and based on a lot of Hippie ideals. Because of this, strict schedules and the traditional architecture-school curriculum, such as studying thoroughly the entire history of architecture since Vitruvio, were not very common. Deprived of information and curiosity-driven I was drawn frequently into the University’s library, where I started appreciating topic-based architecture magazines that provided general overviews of certain topics, and information about what happened in architecture over the past two thousand years. Once I graduated and founded MONU – Magazine on Urbanism – with a student colleague of mine as a way to keep in touch and to continue to intellectually challenge one another, it could only be topic-based, just as the ones that I found in the library in Kassel.

Indigits: What would be key elements on a new editions inspirational mood board?
BU: I must say that I don’t really work with things such as “mood boards”, they appear rather strange to me. I even had to look up what that actually means. I have the impression that the idea that everybody within the creative industry works with things such as “mood boards” comes from American tv-series such as “Mad Men” or Hollywood movies that depict creative people – it is all fiction. Of course we work with test-prints and sketches, but MONU Magazine has very little to do with moods and the creation of atmospheres. Every new issue starts with a rather reality- and fact-based specific idea about an urban phenomenon that is captured in a short essay that later defines the text of an “open call for submission”. Once this “call for submissions” is released, people can submit abstracts and ideas for a contribution. The most relevant and interesting submissions will be selected and will be published in the printed magazine.

Indigits: What, to date, has been the most (un)fortunate misprint?
BU: The cover of MONU Magazine’s issue #8 was printed, for example, accidently twice: once on the outside of the magazine, as it was supposed to be, and a second time on page number one. If you follow the link you can still see that. A lot of people told us that they thought this was done on purpose, but it actually wasn’t. There is, in fact, not a single issue that has no small misprint somewhere. That is also why the moment the copies of the new issue arrive is always a very scary moment. There is always a little shock involved. You get the boxes, you open them, and then you realize, for example, that texts have been moved, images appear in wrong colours, the cover is too glossy, etc., etc. There is no such thing as a magazine without misprints. Luckily most of them are only recognisable for the people who worked on the magazine.

Indigits: Who or what would be your dream feature?
BU: As a trained architect myself, I get asked often, especially by non-architects, what my dream house-design would be. I must say that such a question comes typically from a non-architect, thinking that architects walk around dreaming about possible designs. But that is a cliché. To the contrary, I experience creative processes as hard work and as rather voluntary – and not as involuntary things such as dreams that simply occur. And the architects that I know, for example from Rotterdam, think and work in a similar way. I believe that those processes only lead to interesting results, if you, in fact, stop dreaming and start understanding and analysing meanings, relevance and relations between things. Being too fixated on particular results and dreams will make you only blind to and ignorant of the great chances and opportunities that appear in front of you. That is why I also don’t have a particular dream feature when it comes to MONU. All the features of the magazine are the result of long hours of concentrated work and this concentration is always focused on the tasks and problems of that very moment.

Indigits: Who do you wish is reading your publication?
BU: To answer the obvious here, that I would wish that MONU is being read by everybody, would not make a lot of sense and would be too optimistic. The magazine is eight years old already and has somehow found its audience and stabilized to a certain extent and is – given its rather abstract and theoretical focus on the city, including its politics, economy, geography, ecology, its social aspects, as well as its physical structure and architecture – in a way far too specific. But for me it felt much more appropriate at the start of the new millennium, in an increasingly globalized world, to investigate topics such as architecture as a part of a wider field – in this case urbanism. In that sense, the magazine clearly targets highly educated readers and intellectuals, first of all architects, urban designers, urban planners, urban theorists, and landscape designers. But it targets also people from fields that are related to urban topics, for example sociology, economics, geography, philosophy, political science, history, and art.

Indigits: How is the independent magazine sector going to disrupt & conquer?
BU: I think that independent magazines, ‘meaning’ magazines, that are independent from major publishing houses and multinational corporations focusing on niche markets and covering niche topics, disrupt and conquer today as they have disrupted and conquered in the past. I believe that magazines such as MONU and other small presses enrich today, and have enriched in the past, our society as they fill the niches that larger publishers neglect. The only difference is that, because of the internet, today, niche magazines can find an audience more easily. But I think that it is a mistake to apply terms such as “disrupting” and “conquering” only to independent magazines. There are many “dependent magazines”, let’s call them such, that disrupt and conquer as well, but cover topics such as politics, economics or sports that are aimed at a broad demographic. And, in my opinion, there are as many so-called “independent magazines” that are very uncritical and don’t disrupt or conquer anything.

Indigits: What has been the most rewarding reader feedback you’ve had about your publication?
BU: A couple of years ago MONU was described as “the sort of journal that catches your eye in the more interesting bookshops and seduces you away from whatever it was you went in there for.” And as a journal that works “by constantly reasserting the value of thinking creatively and in different ways about the world around us.” Another rewarding comment on MONU in recent years was made by one of MONU’s former contributors, who felt “it necessary to stress the valuable role that MONU has played in the past few years, specifically for the architecture and urbanism community. As the biggest indie publication focused explicitly on urbanism, MONU has provided a voice for many emerging professionals – a chance to be published and have their ideas heard in print format.”

Indigits: Has publishing a magazine entitled you to unlimited free underwear?
Bernd Upmeyer: No.

Title: Deprived of Information
Project: Interview with Bernd Upmeyer
Date: January 2013
Type: Commissioned interview
Topic: Independent Magazines
Organizer: ANIKIBO
Status: Published
Publications: Indigits Magazine
Interviewer: Deborah Causton