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The architectural metalwork of Albert Paley

conference contribution
posted on 2023-05-23, 09:14 authored by Bell, EK

Artworks play significant roles in the symbolism, narratives and ‘fabulations’ of architecture history. This paper reflects on the relationship between architecture, art and the public realm in the work of American artist Albert Paley, who in 1995 became the first metal sculptor to be awarded the American Institute of Architects’ AIA Lifetime Achievement Award, its highest honour to a non-architect. Paley’s work is a complex fusion of rigorous intellectual research and virtuoso technical accomplishment, building on a rich history of civic metal work. It is examined in the contexts of the works’ engagement with historic architecture and contemporary urban settings.

Since the mid-1970s, businesses, governments, museums, churches and universities have commissioned Paley to develop architectural elements such as doors, portals and screens, as well as discrete sculptures, to serve as signs or symbols, metaphorically embodying the aspirations, intellectual qualities, and inherent qualities of their organisations. These works are most frequently commissioned as additions or interventions for buildings of considerable architectural merit, including the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution, the New York State Senate Chambers in the Albany Capitol building (an 1870s H.H. Richardson Romanesque-style building) and the Washington National Cathedral. Paley’s civic work includes large-scale free-standing ceremonial entrance gates and portals, typologies which embody complex narratives in the fabulations of architecture history. Occasionally, Paley’s sculptures have been commissioned to stand in front of or within unremarkable buildings, where in part their task is to transform the ‘face’ of the respective enterprise and its unexceptional building, in effect, to ‘speak’ more eloquently for the commissioner.

The paper offers a case study of the development of Paley’s work, and examines the rhetorical power of his architectural works in the public realm. It makes reference to writing by Donald Kuspit, Edward Lucie-Smith, and Juhani Pallasmaa, and to the author’s conversations with Albert Paley.


Publication title

Fabulation: Myth, Nature, Heritage. Proceedings of the 29th Annual Conference of the Society of Architectural Historians Australian and New Zealand


S King, A Chatterjee, S Loo




978-1- 86295-658-2


School of Architecture and Design


Society of Architectural Historians of Australia &​ New Zealand

Place of publication


Event title

29th Annual Conference of the Society of Architectural Historians Australian and New Zealand

Event Venue

Launceston, Australia

Date of Event (Start Date)


Date of Event (End Date)


Rights statement

Copyright 2012 the Author

Repository Status

  • Restricted

Socio-economic Objectives

Expanding knowledge in built environment and design

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