Alan Turing sculpture wins green light amid location concerns

Vision of Alan Turing sculpture King's College Cambridge

A vision of what the Alan Turing sculpture at King's College in Cambridge could look like. - Credit: King's College Cambridge

A new sculpture commemorating the wartime codebreaker Alan Turing has been given the green light to be installed in the grounds of Cambridge University’s King’s College.

However, some concerns were raised by councillors over the planned location in the campus’ historic grounds and how many people would be able to see it.

The College said a commemoration of the mathematician, who attended the university, was “long overdue”.

Designed by Sir Antony Gormley, the planned steel sculpture is made up of 19 steel blocks and will stand at over 3.6metres tall.

The sculpture is due to be placed next to the Wilkins Building and will be a permanent fixture within the College grounds.

The plans for the sculpture were approved by Cambridge City Council’s Planning Committee yesterday (Wednesday, August 3).

Concerns had been raised by Historic England over the impact of the proposed sculpture on the surrounding historic buildings.

Most Read

The organisation said the sculpture would be “far more visible” than the proposals implied and could cause “some harm” to the significance of the historic College.

‘Alan Turing felt most at home here’

A representative of King’s College, highlighted the importance of Alan Turing’s life and work.

They explained that the location had been picked by the sculptor, so that the work was at “the heart of the College community”, where they said Mr Turing “felt most at home”.

They said: “We have provided a detailed heritage impact assessment of the site and scaled photo montages showing the intriguing yet gentle impact of the sculpture in these surroundings.

“This is an intimate location, here at the confluence of paths College members mingle with Cambridge residents and university members walking through Kings.

“Other more recently proposed sites were for the sculptor, either too picturesque and romanticising, by the river, or to isolating and monumentalising, on King’s Parade.”

They highlighted that around a million people pass through the College each year but said it would be “impossibly disruptive” for the College that “requires quiet conditions for study and research” to allow everyone in the grounds for free.

They said: “King’s has nevertheless always been proud to welcome visitors and provide a path across the backs.

“Last month the College opened its gates once again to the university members and holders of the Cambridge residents card, who will be able to pass directly by the sculpture.

“Paying visitors will also be able at allocated times to view from close up.

“It is hard to overestimate the public benefit of this major work of commemorative art for the College, university and the city.

“It will, we all believe, be a source of great pleasure and interest to many people.”

'I want to be able to see this statue, not have it hidden away'

Councillors were supportive of the sculpture to commemorate Alan Turing, but questions were raised about where it should be located and how easy it will be for people to see and appreciate it.

Councillor Dave Baigent argued the sculpture should be located outside the College on King’s Parade where the public would be able to easily see it.

He said: “I walk down Kings Parade with my granddaughter, I want her to say to me ‘who is that, what is that’, in the same way she might say about the statue out the front of [the Guildhall].

“I will say that is the man that cracked the German’s code, that is the man who helped to shorten the Second World War.

“That is the man who was challenged by our society, neutered, punished, and sunk into obscurity because of the treatment of homosexuals at that time.

“I want to be able to see this statue, not have it hidden away.”

He claimed that in the proposed courtyard location the sculpture would be “dwarfed” by the buildings, as Mr Turing was “dwarfed by our society”.

Councillor Naomi Bennett said she did not think the proposed location was the right place for the sculpture, saying she believed “no effort” had been made to fit it into the landscape, and said “both the statue and the landscape deserve better”.

She said the city was “not short” on places associated with Mr Turing, and that she felt a better place could be found.

Councillor Katie Porrer said she disagreed and that the proposed spot in the College grounds was an appropriate place.

However, she questioned the plans to allow people to be able to come and see it. Cllr Porrer said the College had highlighted the “substantial public benefit” for the city, but said the £10 access cost could be a “barrier” for some.

She said she understood the College would not want hundreds of people in the grounds disrupting the College, but said when having to weigh up the public benefit against the heritage harm she would have liked to see more access available.

Councillor Jenny Gawthrope Wood said not everyone in Cambridge had a residents card, and said she would like to see access offered for things such as school trips.

Councillor Katie Thornburrow said she supported the application, but said she would encourage the College to “improve appropriate public access” to the sculpture.

When put to a vote a majority of councillors voted in favour to approve the plans.