Exhibit Takes Soaring Look at Skyscraper Master’s Work

NY 1April 01, 2012
A new exhibit in Chelsea explores the work of a man who changed the city's skyline with his iconic, art deco-styled buildings. NY1's Jill Urban field the following report.

He helped shape New York's skyline with his iconic art deco styled buildings. While many know his work, some say Ralph Walker is the most famous architect no one has ever heard of. Well now a new exhibit is showcasing his life and legacy.

"Ralph Walker was a master of skyscraper design," said Exhibition Specialist Marci Clark. "New Yorkers know and love his buildings from the Barclay Vesey Building, to 1 Wall Street to the 14th Street Salvation Army building. But they don’t know who Walker is. And so this exhibit is to introduce him to the public again."

Located inside the lobby of the Walker Tower located at 212 West 18th Street, which is currently being repurposed as residences, the exhibit highlights the impact Walker had on architecture starting in the roaring 20s. He was one of the first to embrace the new zoning ordinance of 1916 that required buildings set back away from the street to allow more light and air. His first building, which received much acclaim, was the Barclay-Vesey Telephone Building in Lower Manhattan, also known by many to be the first art deco skyscraper in New York.

"Barclay-Vesey building really launched his career. It was widely acclaimed and celebrated as one of the first major modern skyscrapers in New York City," Clark said.

It’s asymmetrical set back design led the way for a generation of skyscrapers built throughout New York. From there he and his firm built over a dozens of buildings in the New York area.

Aside from his vision for a skyscraper at a time when New York was being defined by its skyline, what made Walker so remarkable was his incredible attention to detail and his ability to create buildings that people could really enjoy.

"The ornament of his buildings was meant to engage individuals in a very unique way," Clark said. "So this seemingly severe silhouette when viewing the buildings from afar seemed less so with elephant heads and crystalline forms and a wonderful curtain-like ornament."
Examples of Walker's work can be seen through the exhibit's archival photos, models and original sketches.

The exhibition runs through May 1 and is free and open to the public daily from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. by appointment only.
For more information, visit ralphwalkerexhibit.com.