Peter Ker Walker designs beautiful outdoor spaces

PHYL NEWBECK

Peter Ker Walker
Peter Ker Walker

After graduating in 1960 from Edinburgh College of Art with a degree in architecture, Peter Ker Walker wanted to come to the U.S. The chair of the landscape architecture program at the University of Pennsylvania, Ian McHarg, encouraged British students to apply. The Scotland-born Walker took the opportunity to obtain his master’s in the field.

“Before that I had no knowledge of, or interest in, landscape architecture,” Walker said. “It changed to the extent that I began to see the two disciplines as one and the same. Both are art forms and are related to each other.”

In 1962, Walker moved to Charlotte and although visa issues required him to briefly return to the U.K., he was able to come back in 1964 and began working with landscape architect Dan Kiley, also of Charlotte. The two formed a partnership in 1967 which continued until 1986 when Walker opened his own firm. “I kept my interest in both architecture and landscape architecture,” Walker said “but since Kiley did landscape architecture, I did more of that.”

Walker has been commissioned for projects across the globe including Egypt, Singapore, the Netherlands, Japan, France, Great Britain and South Korea. A number of his designs include water in a variety of forms including pools, cascading features, and fountains.

“It’s a very useful tool to develop the mirror image,” Walker said. “and you can also be very playful with water.”

Walker’s projects include private residences, cultural establishments, municipal structures and commercial buildings, but one of his specialties is aquariums.

“When Kiley and I separated, one of the first projects I got was the aquarium in Osaka, Japan,” Walker said. “I knew Peter Chermayeff who had done the Boston Aquarium and he and I have done a number of aquariums all over the place.”

Walker noted that this form of collaboration is characteristic of his field.

“Once you’ve established a rapport and an understanding of what each of you want to do, architects will often choose to work with you,” he said.

Walker prefers to start his projects with a pencil and paper.

“When I was a little boy, I didn’t have babysitters,” he said. “My parents would take me to my grandparents and I had a tin of colored pencils and a pad of paper. Drawing is a way of looking, recording and communicating.”

Walker said many architects are concerned that the new generation doesn’t know how to draw freehand.

“The days of drafting the first sketch on a napkin may be gone,” he said, “but I would suggest that learning to look and draw should be the beginning of any project.”

Although these days the 83-year-old Walker has more time between projects, he is not ready to call it a career.

“I said I would never retire,” he said, “and I think the banks agree with that.”

Walker said there is an element of “satisfaction and mission accomplished” in his work but he worries that many of his designs will be changed or even eliminated. One of his projects, Fountain Place in Dallas, is being altered and a small block of trees which were part of a Wisconsin-based collaboration with Kiley has been cut down.

“Landscape is the most susceptible to neglect, change or destruction,” Walker said. “I think one of the key elements of being a landscape architect is that we should be concerned about the environment and preservation.”

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