Shaping a Nation: Twentieth-Century American Architecture and Its Makers

Carter Wiseman, Author W. W. Norton & Company $45 (412p) ISBN 978-0-393-04564-2
This vast project, in the hands of an author with less than Wiseman's formidable critical experience, would probably not have been completed, and would certainly not have been completed so well. Taking on the whole of the 20th century, especially before the century has quite ended, is a difficult endeavor in any cultural field, but to do so in American architecture is most ambitious. Few art forms have had the number and variety of personalities and influences as has America's last 100 years of buildings. Wiseman, former architecture critic for New York, now a contributing editor for ArtNews and author of I.M. Pei, reveals a new way of understanding the seemly dissonant styles of eclecticism, early modernism and postmodernism, and recent revivals such as Seaside and Disney's Celebration, while constructing a traditional but compelling argument for the importance of architecture to our current culture. ""The architectural challenge for America is to reflect a society of increasing variation, and still give physical shape to its highest aspirations."" In certain stylistic elements, Wiseman finds a common thread in architects previously separated by formal analysis, and provides a constant, unbiased, sharp critical examination of buildings they have built. Underlying the force of the relentless study of the value of these styles lies a very well developed eye that understands the most subtle successes of architectural forms. The result is a desirable addition to the shelves of readers even with only a passing interest in architecture, and an essential book for the more serious. Photos. (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 12/29/1997
Release date: 01/01/1998
The Best Books, Emailed Every Week
Tip Sheet!