Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
Treasures of New York: Ralph Walker, Architect of the Century
Walker did not design the Empire State Building, but he arguably made it
possible by popularizing a striking Art Deco style for skyscrapers and perfecting
the mandated setback structure. The architect’s very Manhattan work is briskly
surveyed in Treasure of New York: Ralph
Walker, which airs on Tri-State PBS outlets this weekend.
in reared in Connecticut, Walker was a man of New York destiny and a lifer in
the McKenzie, Voorhees, and Gmelin firm. Early in his career, the City Council passed
an ordinance requiring wedding cake-like “setbacks” for skyscraper construction
to prevent wind canyon effects. Walker would be the architect who really
understood how to make them work functionally and aesthetically. He also had a
talent for richly ornate entryways and imposing lobbies. As a result, he
captured the late 1920s architectural zeitgeist in buildings like the
Barclay-Vesey Building, the Irving Trust Building, and the Western Union
one time, Walker was honored by his American Institute of Architects peers as “The
Architect of the Century”—an admittedly lofty and ambitious honor, considering
the century was then only 57% complete. Yet, he has since been overshadowed by
the largely European International School, despite the fact most architectural
laypersons find their glass and steel rectangles rather cold and severe compared
to the Art Deco buildings built by Walker and his contemporaries. Of course, a
scandal at his firm (rather mild by today’s standards) did not help.
many previous entries in the Treasures of
New York series, Ralph Walker is
less of a guided tour of City attractions and more of a short but proper
documentary profile. Indeed, its brevity is a virtue, covering most of Walker’s
signature New York buildings, which also represent overall career highlights.
Written and produced by Julie Cohen, the half
hour Ralph Walker is a nice little
piece of television that ought to foster greater appreciation of the New York
skyline without overstaying its welcome. Recommended for arts-minded viewers,
it will be available for online viewing at the Treasures of New York site, following its broadcast this Saturday
(10/4) on WLIW and Sunday (10/5) on WNET 13.
Labels: Ralph Walker, Treasures of New York