Construction in Aluminium by Kenneth Martin, Department of Engineering, University of Cambridge


Heritage Category:
Listed Building
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Statutory Address:
Construction in Aluminium, Department of Engineering, University of Cambridge, Trumpington Street, Cambridge, CB2 1PZ


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Statutory Address:
Construction in Aluminium, Department of Engineering, University of Cambridge, Trumpington Street, Cambridge, CB2 1PZ

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Cambridge (District Authority)
Non Civil Parish
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Construction in Aluminium, sculpture, 1967, by Kenneth Martin (1905–1984).

Reasons for Designation

Construction in Aluminium, a sculpture of 1967, designed by Kenneth Martin for the University of Cambridge's Department of Engineering, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:

* Historic interest: as a bold and confident work by accomplished artist Kenneth Martin, a British sculptor of international acclaim in the post-war period; * Artistic interest: as a striking sculpture in the Constructionist tradition, and the culmination of Martin’s ‘Oscillation’ series, which explored the visual representation of mathematical permutations and sequences; * Contribution to the public realm: as an example of the pioneering commissioning and purchase of art works by universities and education authorities for exhibition in the public realm in the post-war era.


The period after 1945 saw a shift from commemorative sculpture and architectural enrichment to the idea of public sculpture as a primarily aesthetic contribution to the public realm. Sculpture was commissioned for new housing, schools, universities and civic set pieces, with the counties of Hertfordshire, London and Leicestershire leading the way in public patronage. Thus public sculpture could be an emblem of civic renewal and social progress. By the late C20 however, patronage was more diverse and included corporate commissions and Arts Council-funded community art. The ideology of enhancing the public realm through art continued, but with divergent means and motivation.

Visual languages ranged from the abstraction of Victor Pasmore and Phillip King to the figurative approach of Elisabeth Frink and Peter Laszlo Peri, via those such as Lynn Chadwick and Barbara Hepworth who bridged the abstract/representational divide. The post-war decades are characterised by the exploitation of new – often industrial – materials and techniques including new welding and casting techniques, plastics and concrete, while kinetic sculpture and ‘ready mades’ (using found objects) demonstrate an interest in composite forms.

Kenneth Martin (1905–1984) was an English painter and sculptor, who together Mary Martin (his wife) and Victor Pasmore, was a leading figure in the new wave of constructed abstract art in Britain in the post-war period, which derived its inspiration from Russian Constructivism. Kenneth Martin was born in Sheffield in 1905, and studied part-time at the Sheffield School of Art (1927-9) before winning a scholarship to study at the Royal College of Art, London (1929-32), where he met his wife Mary Balmford (1907-69). Kenneth exhibited with his wife Mary and Victor Pasmore in a number of group exhibitions during the 1950s, including the renowned ‘This is Tomorrow’ exhibition at the Whitechapel Art Gallery in 1956. He exhibited with his wife in a joint exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA), London in 1960, and later presented solo exhibitions at the Lords Gallery, London (1962), ICA (1970-71), Tate London (1975), and Yale Centre for British Art, New Haven, USA (1979). He was awarded an OBE in 1971, and an Honorary Doctorate from the Royal College of Art in 1976. An exhibition of Kenneth and Mary Martin’s work was held at the Tate in St Ives, Cornwall in 2007.

Kenneth Martin made his first abstract paintings in the late 1940s and his first three-dimensional construction in 1951. As his art evolved he discovered new means of inventing and manipulating basic structural elements, employing mathematical permutations and sequences such as the Fibonacci sequence to create his screw mobile sculptures of the early 1950s. Martin worked primarily in three-dimensions making kinetic mobiles, constructions and public commissions until the late 1970s. He made a series of Oscillation sculptures, five of which were shown at his solo exhibition in 1962, and twelve at his 1975 retrospective. Martin described his work as a ‘reduction of principle of oscillation to simple tangible steps (events)'. Martin commented that the Oscillation series was inspired by a conversation with physicist David Bohm, whose research into pendulum permutations and sequential change, combined with ‘jazz rhythms and other rhythmic conventions’ provided mathematical patterns for the arrangement of Martin’s sculptural forms. The oscillation is seen in the graduated shifting of the bars in relation to one another vertically.

The culmination of the Oscillation series came with the monumental Construction in Aluminium (1967), which was selected as the winning entry for a limited competition for the University of Cambridge's Faculty of Engineering. The competition also included submissions from fellow Constructivists Anthony Hill and Robert Adams. The helical form of Construction in Aluminium is a visual depiction of the mathematical formula of jet propulsion, and was constructed with the aid of the Engineering Department’s workshop. Kenneth Martin’s other sculptural works include a kinetic stainless steel fountain (1961, listed at Grade II) for Brixton College of Further Education (now Lambeth College), and Kinetic Monument (1977) for Swansea Leisure Centre.


Construction in Aluminium, sculpture, 1967, by Kenneth Martin.

MATERIALS: Aluminium-coated steel sculpture on an ashlar Portland stone plinth. DESCRIPTION: Construction in Aluminium is an abstract Constructionist sculpture, and comprises 51 aluminium-coated steel bars of regular length, radiating horizontally from a central axis to form a helical shape. It is believed that the helical form depicts the mathematical formula of jet propulsion. The sculpture stands on an ashlar Portland stone plinth, which is roughly oblong in plan and constructed in the shape of three interlocking cylinders. The sculpture measures approximately 360cm in height, of which the stone plinth measures approximately 130cm in height. The metal sculpture is signed with stippled lettering by the artist ‘KENNETH MARTIN 1967’ at the east side of the metal sculpture facing north. The plinth bears an inscribed metal plaque to its south elevation with the inscription: ‘Construction in Aluminium 1967 / By / Kenneth Martin (1905-1984)’. Construction in Aluminium stands at the west side of Trumpington Street at the entrance to the University of Cambridge's Department of Engineering.


Books and journals
Bradley, Simon, Pevsner, Nikolaus, The Buildings of England: Cambridgeshire, (2014), 315
Strachan, W G, Open Air Sculpture in Britain: a Comprehensive Guide, (1984), 114-5, 266
Cambridge Sculpture Trails, accessed 14 September 2015 from
Christies, Oscillation by Kenneth Martin, accessed 14 September 2015 from
Frieze, Issue 110, October 2007, accessed 14 September 2015 from
Tate Britain, Kenneth Martin & Mary Martin: Constructed Works, Winter 2007, Notes for teachers, accessed 14 September 2015 from
Tate, Oscillation by Kenneth Martin (1962), Catalogue Entry, accessed 14 September 2015 from
Beacon Planning, Heritage Assessment: Cambridge University Engineering Department Kenneth Martin Sculpture 'Construction in Aluminium', October 2015


This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.


The listed building(s) is/are shown coloured blue on the attached map. Pursuant to s.1 (5A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 (‘the Act’), structures attached to or within the curtilage of the listed building (save those coloured blue on the map) are not to be treated as part of the listed building for the purposes of the Act.

End of official listing

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