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University of Cambridge’s King’s College applies again to install Alan Turing sculpture in its grounds

A renewed effort to install a statue of wartime codebreaker Alan Turing in the grounds of King’s College has been launched.

The college says the sculpture by Antony Gormley, recognising the mathematician who studied at the University of Cambridge, would be a benefit to the whole of the city.

Plans to build the steel memorial were shelved in 2020 after concerns Historic England argued the historic surroundings of the college would be “threatened”.

The Alan Turing sculpture from Antony Gormley proposed for King's College (56883468)
The Alan Turing sculpture from Antony Gormley proposed for King's College (56883468)

The sculpture would be placed next to the main path from the King’s Front Court to the bridge, in a small open area of space between the end of the William Wilkins hall range, and the 1822 library and lodge ranges.

The application says: “It combines both looking forward (the head turns out along the north-south axis of the Gibbs Building) and also a self-protective gesture (with an arm curving back around the body of the figure).

“There will be a simple inscription of the name Turing in the paving.”

The college explained: “King’s College is very keen to make some public acknowledgement of Alan Turing and his relationship with the College, the University, and the City of Cambridge.

“Given Turing’s huge intellectual importance and his influence on contemporary science and culture, it is very apt that this acknowledgement should be in the form of a sculpture by an internationally admired contemporary artist, whose work also often depends on the use of sophisticated computing software.

“Antony Gormley’s sculpture is designed to reflect both Turing’s brilliance and his vulnerability; but at the same time the sculpture also embodies the transformation of the industrial into the information age, a transformation in which Turing played such a crucial part.”

It said: “King’s has always been very proud that it offers university members and Cambridge residents a passage across the River Cam.

A view of the iconic chapel of King’s College.
A view of the iconic chapel of King’s College.

“The college recognises the importance of access to this path and the bridge for both the university and the Cambridge community, and, as soon as the pandemic allows, we will be reinstating this practice.

“We believe that the addition of the Alan Turing sculpture to this busy route will be a source of interest and pleasure to many, and a substantive public benefit to the whole of Cambridge.”

Turing was elected to a fellowship at King’s after graduation and then worked at Bletchley Park to create the code-breaking machine that cracked the Enigma code used by the Germans in the Second World War. He was awarded an OBE in 1945 for his contribution to the war effort.

In the early 1950s, Turing was prosecuted for being gay and he later died in 1954.

The government apologised for his treatment in 2009, and Turing eventually received a royal pardon in 2013.

But there were concerns over a previous application for a Turing sculpture in the college grounds.

Responding to an application in 2020, Historic England said: “The character of the college flows from its interplay of buildings and landscape.

“The simplicity of the landscape provides a foil to the buildings and together the whole is greater than the parts.

“In this context the addition of such an eye-catching sculpture in a prominent location would erode the character which contributes to the significance of the college.

“While the addition of the new sculpture would add a new dimension to the historic and artistic aspects of the college, it would also therefore detract from the architectural, landscape and aesthetic significance of the college, and result in some harm to its significance.”

The current application, submitted this month, is awaiting a decision by the city council.

A councillor suggested moving the sculpture to the front of King’s College, on King's Parade
A councillor suggested moving the sculpture to the front of King’s College, on King's Parade

The college said a suggestion had been made by a councillor to change the proposed location from within the college grounds, to the front on King’s Parade, which would still be of public benefit.

But the college said it feared placing the sculpture outside of its grounds would lose “the sense of integration within the life of the college”, and could risk the sculpture becoming an “isolated icon”.

It said this would not meet its aim to “honour” Turing’s position and influence within the college community.

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