Wise, Michael Z. 1957-
WISE, Michael Z. 1957-
PERSONAL: Born 1957.
ADDRESSES: Agent—c/o Author Mail, Princeton Architectural Press, 37 East Seventh St., New York, NY 10003.
CAREER: Journalist and nonfiction writer. Former central European correspondent for Reuters and the Washington Post.
Capital Dilemma: Germany's Search for a New Architecture of Democracy, Princeton Architectural Press (New York, NY), 1998.
SIDELIGHTS: Michael Z. Wise makes use of his experience as an overseas correspondent and expertise in German culture and history to create a study of Berlin as the capital of a reunified and ardently democratic Germany. While after World War II West Germany had shifted its federal operations to Bonn, which then-chancellor Konrad Adenauer called "a city without a past," the dismantling of the Berlin Wall led to a move to reunify the capital city as well. Capital Dilemma details how an awareness of the Nazi legacy influenced the planning of Berlin's federal buildings.
While many of the buildings erected during Hitler's reign were destroyed during the war, he left his mark on a whole school of architecture: the "classical style." Russian dictator Josef Stalin's desire to shape East Berlin into his own image is another historic element contemporary Germans want to offset through a new architecture. But the desire for architecture which sends a democratic message can pose onerous difficulties for architects trying to design buildings for large public use. As Wise quotes one contemporary Berlin architect: "Everything that has a stone facade and a large door is regarded here, in this paranoid situation, as a fascist building." If one tries to imagine Washington, D.C., without stone facades or large doors, it is easy to see how hobbling such restrictions might be.
In efforts to democratize not only the architectural style of Berlin but the process of choosing architectural designs, the German government "sought to make sure that any such controversy would eventually focus on questions of taste rather than politics. It handled the decision-making process in an open, competitive, and deliberate manner. In important instances, winning bids (perhaps not surprisingly) were awarded to prominent non-German architects who could hardly be accused of politically incorrect designs or ambitions," according to Foreign Policy essayist Gebhard Schweigler. Also not surprisingly, those questions of taste have been hotly contested. For instance, for the dome of one new government building its architect supplied what New York Times Book Review contributor Martin Filler called a "tragi-comic array of 26 alternative dome proposals—none very good—. . . before a consensus was reached [which] speaks volumes about the enervating effect of design by committee."
Reviewers were impressed with Wise's research, much of which was in the form of interviews with current parliamentarians and architects. Filler called CapitalDilemma "insightful and admirably concise," and concluded that "one hopes that a decade from now Wise will get back to Berlin for a similarly clear-eyed and sharp-witted reappraisal" of the current plans. A contributor to Publishers Weekly dubbed the work a "concise and accessible study of a deeply complicated issue," and Schweigler called Capital Dilemma a "fascinating analysis of politics, architecture, the burdens of history, and the search for national self-image."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Foreign Policy, summer, 1998, Gebhard Schweigler, review of Capital Dilemma, pp. 145-149.
New York Times Book Review, August 30, 1998, Martin Filler, "Edifice Complex," p. 15.
Publishers Weekly, May 4, 1998, pp. 198-199.*