Monumental sculpture and architecture: a confluence of scales and spaces

In this article, we will explore how monumental sculpture and contemporary architecture intersect to create spaces and works that have both aesthetic and functional impact.

Common characteristics of monumental sculpture and contemporary architecture

Monumental sculpture and contemporary architecture share several main characteristics. Both art forms are characterised by their size and striking presence, as well as their ability to capture the viewer’s attention. Both monumental sculptures and contemporary buildings often stand out in the urban landscape.

In terms of style, both monumental sculpture and contemporary architecture tend to be abstract or minimalist, focusing on simple geometric forms and clean lines. These works of art also often use modern materials and advanced technology in their construction. In addition, they serve functions beyond the aesthetic, serving as cultural or political symbols, commemorating historical events or important people, or functioning as public spaces that encourage social interaction.

Notable examples of monumental sculptures that maintain an interlocution with the contemporary architecture that surrounds them include Anish Kapoor’s “Cloud Gate” in Chicago’s Millennium Park, which has become an icon of the city; and Alexander Calder’s “The Wind” at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), which combines kinetic elements with a massive metal structure.

“Cloud Gate” by Anish Kapoor

Origins of the trend towards monumental sculpture in contemporary architecture

The trend of incorporating monumental sculptures into contemporary architecture has its roots in 20th century art movements such as constructivism and public art. These movements emphasised the integration of art into the urban environment and sought to break with traditional conventions.

As architects began to explore new forms and materials in their work, they also opened up to collaborations with artists to add sculptural elements to their designs. This collaboration between architects and sculptors allowed for the creation of works that fused art and architecture, challenging traditional notions of what a building or sculpture looks like.

Technological advances and the availability of new materials have facilitated the creation of larger and bolder monumental sculptures. The ability to use CAD and BIM software to model and visualise designs has allowed artists and architects to experiment with more complex and detailed forms.

Key factors

  • Collaboration between architects and sculptors
  • Technological advances and new materials

Influences from Ancient and Modern Art

Monumental sculpture and contemporary architecture have been strongly influenced by ancient art. In sculpture, elements borrowed from ancient civilisations such as the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans can be observed. For example, many contemporary monumental sculptures adopt the high relief technique used in Egyptian works of art, where the figures stand out significantly from the background. In addition, the aesthetics of Greek sculpture have influenced the use of harmonious and naturalistic proportions in the representation of the human body in contemporary sculpture.

Great Sphinx of Giza

Modern art has also left its mark on monumental sculpture and contemporary architecture. Artists such as Auguste Rodin and Henry Moore introduced new ways of representing the human body. Their works challenge traditional conventions by showing fragmented or distorted figures, which has led to experimentation and the search for new expressions in contemporary sculpture.

“Arch” by Henry Moore

In architecture, the modernist movement of the 20th century influenced the design of monumental buildings. Modernist architects such as Le Corbusier and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe advocated a minimalist and functional aesthetic, using industrial materials such as steel and glass. These ideas have been carried over into contemporary architecture, where one can find monumental buildings with clean lines and abstract geometries that reflect the principles of modernism.

Influences from non-Western cultures

Monumental sculpture and contemporary architecture have also been influenced by non-Western cultures. For example, African sculpture features stylised and abstract forms that have inspired many contemporary artists. In architecture, the architectural traditions of Asia and the Middle East have influenced the design of contemporary monumental buildings. For example, Japanese Buddhist temples have inspired structures with curved roofs and organic forms, while Islamic mosques have influenced the use of complex geometric patterns on facades and domes. These cultural influences have enriched monumental sculpture and contemporary architecture, bringing new perspectives and styles to these artistic disciplines.

Abu Dhabi’s Al Bahar Towers

Purposes of monumental sculptures in contemporary architecture

1. Beautifying and decorating buildings

One of the main purposes of monumental sculptures in contemporary buildings is to beautify and decorate the architectural environment. These sculptures are used to add interesting and attractive visual elements to the façade or interior of buildings, creating an aesthetic and pleasing environment for viewers. Monumental sculptures can be designed in different styles and materials, from abstract to realistic, providing a wide variety of options to complement architectural design.


  • Abstract sculptures in stainless steel that reflect the sunlight and create dynamic visual effects.
  • Sculptures in concrete or corten steel that virtualise the space as a preamble to the encounter with the surrounding architecture.
  • Figurative sculptures carved in stone that represent human figures or animals related to the theme of the building.
  • Kinetic sculptures that move with the wind, adding movement and life to the environment.

2. Representing cultural values and identity

Another important purpose of monumental sculptures in contemporary buildings is to represent cultural values and identity. These works of art can be used as visual symbols that convey important messages about the history, culture or beliefs of a community or institution. Through their design and strategic placement, monumental sculptures can create a sense of belonging and pride in those who interact with them, strengthening the identity of a place or group.


  • Sculptures depicting historical figures relevant to the locality or country.
  • Sculptures depicting traditional cultural symbols, such as tribal masks or indigenous musical instruments.
  • Sculptures that highlight values such as peace, diversity or sustainability, conveying a positive message to the community.

Materials used in monumental sculptures and contemporary buildings

Traditional materials

In contemporary architecture, some traditional materials continue to be used in the creation of monumental sculptures. Among them, marble stands out, which has been used since ancient times due to its beauty and durability. Granite is also a widely used material, especially because of its resistance to atmospheric agents and its ability to withstand heavy loads. Another traditional material is bronze, which is used both in freestanding sculptures and as decorative elements in buildings.

Examples of traditional materials:

  • Marble
  • Granite
  • Bronze

Contemporary materials

Contemporary architecture has incorporated new materials in the creation of monumental sculptures. One of these is stainless steel, which makes it possible to create complex forms that are resistant to the passage of time. Another material used is glass, which provides transparency and luminosity to the sculptures. In addition, composite materials such as fibre cement or glass fibre reinforced polymer (GRP) are used, which offer great strength and versatility.

Examples of contemporary materials:

  • Stainless steel
  • Corten steel
  • Glass
  • Concrete
  • Fibre cement
  • Reinforced polymers

Recycled materials

In the search for sustainable solutions, contemporary architecture has begun to use recycled materials in monumental sculptures. This includes the use of recycled wood from old structures or waste from the timber industry. Materials such as recycled plastic are also used and transformed into creative and original elements. The use of these materials not only contributes to reducing environmental impact, but also adds aesthetic and symbolic value to the sculptures.

Examples of recycled materials:

  • Recycled wood
  • Recycled plastic

Using technology in the design of monumental sculptures

Technology has revolutionised the way monumental sculptures are designed and created today. Previously, artists had to rely primarily on traditional hand tools and materials to shape their works. However, with technological advances, they now have access to a wide range of digital tools and specialised machinery.

3D printing

  • 3D printing has opened up new possibilities in the design of monumental sculptures. Artists can create detailed digital models of their sculptures and then 3D print them using a variety of materials, from plastics to metals. This allows for unparalleled precision and detail in the creation of complex forms.

CNC and laser cutting machines

  • Laser cutters and computer numerical control (CNC) machines allow artists to cut and sculpt materials with millimetre precision. These tools are especially useful for working with materials such as metal and stone, where precision is crucial.

Sculpture dedicated to Nelson Mandela

Augmented and virtual reality

  • Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are revolutionising the way artists conceptualise and design their sculptures. With VR, artists can create and manipulate 3D models in a virtual environment before making the physical work. AR allows artists to see what a sculpture will look like in its final environment before beginning the fabrication process.

Drones and robotics

  • Drones and robots are increasingly being used in the creation of monumental sculptures. Drones can capture images and data of the environment where the sculpture will be installed, helping artists to plan and adjust their designs. Robots can assist in the construction of large sculptures, performing repetitive or dangerous tasks with precision and safety.

Intersection of disciplines in the work of Chillida

Eduardo Chillida, one of the most important sculptors of the 20th century, left a monumental legacy through his large-scale sculptures that interact in a unique way with their surroundings.

Chillida’s sculptures are characterised by their ability to dialogue with the space that surrounds them. An outstanding example is “Peine del Viento”, located in San Sebastián. This work, made up of three steel structures embedded in the rocks of the Basque coast, integrates harmoniously with the natural environment, creating a fusion between nature and human intervention.

Chillida was a pioneer in the use of industrial materials in monumental sculpture, such as Corten steel and concrete. His work “In Praise of the Horizon”, located in Gijón, is an emblematic example of how he uses concrete to create a monumental structure that dialogues with the horizon and the sea. The curved shape of the sculpture frames the landscape, inviting the viewer to contemplate the surroundings in a new and meaningful way.

“In Praise of the Horizon” by Chillida

Architectural collaborations

In addition to his independent work, Chillida collaborated with several architects, integrating his sculptures into significant architectural projects. One such collaboration is the “Freedom Gate” at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris. Here, Chillida’s work not only complements the architecture of the building, but also brings a profound symbolism, representing freedom and peace in an international context.


The integration of monumental sculptures into contemporary architecture is a constantly evolving trend that combines art, technology and design to create striking and meaningful spaces. Through collaboration between architects and sculptors, the use of innovative and traditional materials, and the application of advanced technologies, works are being created that not only beautify our urban environment, but also convey cultural and social values. The fusion of these artistic disciplines offers unlimited potential for further exploration of new forms and concepts in the future.

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