Treasures of New York: Ralph Walker

Air date: 10/04/2014

Treasures of New York Reveals the Life and Legacy of Architect Ralph Walker on WLIW21 and THIRTEEN

 

Dubbed the “Architect of the Century” by the New York Times in 1957, Ralph Thomas Walker was considered one of the foremost 20th century designers responsible for redefining the skyscraper both in New York and across America. Helping to pioneer what is now referred to as “art deco” design, Walker’s modernistic buildings in New York City forged a new era of architecture, but decades after his death, Walker’s legacy remains largely unknown.

The ambition, success, controversy and tragedy of this architectural legend is uncovered in the half-hour documentary, Treasures of New York: Ralph Walker, premiering on Saturday, October 4 at 4:30 p.m. on WLIW21 and Sunday, October 5 at 7 p.m. on THIRTEEN.

Walker started and spent his entire career with the firm McKenzie, Voorhees and Gmelin. When he first started with the firm, he used his Beaux-Arts training to provide support for the firm’s ongoing commissions for projects including the Brooklyn Municipal Building and the Brooklyn Edison Company Building.

However, it was Walker’s commission from the New York Telephone Company to elevate the public’s image of the telephone, which ushered in the gilded age of communications technology that pushed Walker to his peak. His design for the Barclay-Vesey Telephone Building put him on the map as a groundbreaking designer and was hailed as “the first skyscraper of the modern age.”

Walker went on to design Salvation Army Headquarters on West 14th Street, the Irving Trust Bank at 1 Wall Street and several other telephone buildings throughout New York City.

Walker’s contributions to the city continued beyond the buildings he designed. He served as the president of the Architectural League of New York, the Municipal Art Society and the New York chapter of the American Institute of Architects. He also served on committees that guided the designs for the United Nations building.

However, Walker and his architectural career were plagued frequent criticisms against his aesthetic.  In the early 1960s, the American Institute of Architects, the organization which had awarded him the Centennial Medal of Honor in 1957, publicly censured Walker and his firm.

Despite his innovative work, today Walker’s name has been largely forgotten by the general public and even some design experts. Yet, many are beginning to appreciate Walker’s contributions by giving his buildings a rebirth and new purpose.

Treasures of New York: Ralph Walker features interviews with Andrew Dolkart of the Columbia Graduate School of Architecture, prolific design expert Steven Heller and real estate branding expert Richard Pandiscio, among others.

After the initial broadcast, the full episode will be available for online streaming at thirteen.org/treasures.  The Treasures of New York website also offers past episodes about some of New York’s greatest institutions.

Treasures of New York: Ralph Walker is a production of WLIW LLC in association with WNET. WNET is the parent company of THIRTEEN and WLIW21, New York’s public television stations and operator of NJTV.

Julie Cohen is producer. Saskia Chanoine is associate producer. Diane Masciale is general manager of WLIW21 and executive producer of local production, including the Treasures of New York series.  Executive-in-Charge is John Servidio.

Treasures of New York: Ralph Walker funding is provided by Starwood Capital Group, Property Markets Group and JDS Development Group.

 

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About WNET

As New York’s flagship public media provider and the parent company of THIRTEEN and WLIW21 and operator of NJTV, WNET brings quality arts, education and public affairs programming to over 5 million viewers each week. WNET produces and presents such acclaimed PBS series as Nature, Great Performances, American Masters, PBS NewsHour Weekend, Charlie Rose and a range of documentaries, children’s programs, and local news and cultural offerings available on air and online. Pioneers in educational programming, WNET has created such groundbreaking series as Get the Math, Oh Noah! and Cyberchase and provides tools for educators that bring compelling content to life in the classroom and at home. WNET highlights the tri-state’s unique culture and diverse communities through NYC-ARTS, Reel 13, NJTV News with Mary Alice Williams and MetroFocus, the multi-platform news magazine focusing on the New York region. WNET is also a leader in connecting with viewers on emerging platforms, including the THIRTEEN Explore iPad App where users can stream PBS content for free.

 

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