No architect played a greater role in shaping the twentieth century Manhattan skyline than Ralph Thomas Walker, winner of the 1957 AIA Centennial Gold Medal and a man once dubbed “Architect of the Century” by the New York Times.  But a late-career ethics scandal involving allegations of stolen contracts by a member of his firm precipitated his retreat from the architecture establishment and his descent into relative obscurity. Only recently has his prolific career been popularly reexamined, spurred by a new monograph and a high-profile exhibit of his work at the eponymous Walker Tower in New York in 2012.
Walker’s emergence onto the architecture scene coincided with the coming-of-age of the skyscraper in the aftermath of World War I. Walker eagerly embraced the emerging presence of Art Deco, extolling its adaptability to the verticality of the skyscraper as well as its spiritually fulfilling humanism, and he remained obstinately opposed to the sterility of modernism even in his later years.  His buildings, which include among them One Wall Street, the AT&T Long Distance Building, and the Verizon Building, formerly known as the Barclay-Vesey Telephone Building, are among the finest and most influential examples of Art Deco architecture produced anywhere. Yet perhaps the most enduring contribution Walker made was the popularization of a setback-style architecture that was in fact necessitated by the New York “sunlight” zoning laws of 1916. His characteristic massing solutions to the challenges of compliance were widely emulated and continue to define the profile of Lower Manhattan.
In belated celebration of his 125th birthday, several of Walker’s most important projects are featured below:
The AT&T Long Distance Building (New York, New York)
Irving Trust Company Building (New York, New York)
Times Square Building (Rochester, New York)
The Barclay-Vesey Telephone Building (New York)
The New Jersey Bell Headquarters (Newark, New Jersey)
The Western Union Building (New York, New York)
The Walker Tower (New York, New York)
 For a complete biography of the architect, see, e.g., Holliday, Kathryn. Ralph Walker: Architect of the Century. Rizzoli: 2012.
 Labine, Clem. “Rescuing Ralph Walker from Oblivion.” Traditional Building, December 2012. Available at http://www.traditional-building.com/Previous-Issues-12/DecemberBR12RalphWalker.html.