Wiseman, Carter (Sterling) 1945-
WISEMAN, Carter (Sterling) 1945-
PERSONAL: Born October 8, 1945, in New York, NY; son of Mark Huntington Wiseman and Eleanor Carter Wood; married Eileen Condon, October 19, 1985; children: Emma, Owen, Damian. Education: Yale University, B.A., 1968; Columbia University, M.A., 1972.
CAREER: Associated Press, New York, NY, newsman, 1972-74; Newsweek, New York, NY, associate editor, 1974-77; Horizon magazine, New York, NY, senior editor, 1977-79; Portfolio magazine, New York, NY, managing editor, 1979-80; New York magazine, architectural critic, 1980-96; Yale Alumni Magazine, New Haven, CT, editor, 1986—. Contributing editor, ArtNews. MacDowell Colony, Peterborough, NH, president, 1999. Military service: U.S. Army, 1968-71.
MEMBER: Yale Club of New York.
AWARDS, HONORS: Special citation award, American Institute of Architects, 1984; Loeb fellow, Harvard University, 1985; Interpretive Writing award, Society of Silurians, 1985; Institute Honor award, American Institute of Architects, 1987; Roger Starr award, Citizens Housing and Planning Counsel, 1987, 1990.
I. M. Pei: A Profile in American Architecture, H. N. Abrams (New York, NY), 1990.
Shaping a Nation: Twentieth-Century American Architecture and Its Makers, Norton (New York, NY), 1998.
SIDELIGHTS: Carter Wiseman, for many years the respected architecture critic for New York magazine, has written two books on twentieth-century architecture. In I. M. Pei: A Profile in American Architecture, Wiseman portrays the modernist architect who was responsible for many important structures, such as the East Building of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston, the Jacob Javits Convention Center in New York, and the pyramidal entrance to the Louvre Museum in Paris. Pei, born in China, is described as both practical and idealistic, both egotistical and humble, and both tactful and political with prospective commission donors. Pei's tendency to go over-budget, along with some of his other faults, are pointed out along with his virtues. According to Blair Kamin in the Chicago Tribune Books, Wiseman's coverage of the actual architecture, which "lacks the conceptual heft needed to put Pei's work into perspective," is less appealing than his portrait of Pei as a person. Still, Kamin called the book "lucid" and appreciated the interviews with Pei, his family, and his associates, as well as the 375 illustrations. A reviewer in Newsweek also praised the portrayal of Pei's "charisma, patience and determination."
Wiseman's second book was welcomed by many critics as a well-written and appealing look at the history of twentieth-century architecture. Shaping a Nation: Twentieth-Century American Architecture and Its Makers covers such important American architects as Louis Sullivan, Frank Lloyd Wright, Pei, Louis Kahn, and Frank Gehry. It also deals with the architects' reactions to the culture and the cultural ramifications of the architecture. Wiseman puts into perspective a number of trends in architecture, including the Arts and Crafts movement, modernism, the growth of the preservation movement, post-modernist revivals, and more recent influences of the computer on architectural design. The author reveals his attitude toward building design in the introduction: "I believe that serious architecture should be buildable, useful and beautiful."
A reviewer in the Economist liked the book for being "undogmatic" and especially appreciated Wiseman's coverage of little-known architects such as Raymond Hood, the designer of Rockefeller Center. In Booklist, Donna Seaman praised the book's readability, calling it a "well-told tale"; she also pointed out that Wiseman fully appreciates both the aesthetic and cultural meanings of the architecture he describes. He explains the forces at work in the culture which produced romantic, early twentieth-century buildings, the "pristine visions" of Frank Lloyd Wright, and the minimalist creations of architects like Mies van der Rohe.
Robert Campbell in the New York Times Book Review called Shaping a Nation "about as good a summary of American architecture of this century as anyone is likely to write." The reviewer thought that Wiseman avoids some pitfalls of a typical book of this sort: namely, he does not set up one paradigm (such as the "march of progress") as a model for the history of architecture, nor does he simply present an encyclopedic look at America's architectural past. Rather, he contextualizes architecture by bringing in many writers and theorists who comment on the culture at large vis-à-vis the architects who were designing the buildings in a particular era. According to Campbell, this gives the book "a quality of intellectual and social narrative that raises it above the level of merely factual history."
Campbell pointed out some factual errors in the book but said that they are "few and minor." His major criticisms of Shaping a Nation were that some of the terms Wiseman uses (such as "romantic" and "rationalist") need more explanation or refinement and that the author tries to pack in too much information: "[He] seems never to have met a fact he didn't want to include." Campbell, however, felt that the book was a valuable contribution to the field, one which would "send . . . people out" to "inhabit [architecture's] spaces, sense its scale and its materiality, [and] know it in its setting."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, January 1 & 15, 1998, Donna Seaman, review of Shaping a Nation, p. 762.
Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), December 2, 1990, Blair Kamin, "Modernism and More," p. 9.
Economist, August 22, 1998, "An Ace Fills the Straight," p. 68.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, November 25, 1990, Charles Lockwood, "Giving Shelter," p. 26.
Newsweek, December 10, 1990, review of I. M. Pei, p. 84.
New York Times Book Review, April 12, 1998, Robert Campbell, "American Blueprint."
Norton Web site,http://www.wwnorton.com/ (November 13, 1998).*