Octo sculpture and reflecting pool


Heritage Category: Listed Building

Grade: II

List Entry Number: 1432576

Date first listed: 19-Jan-2016

Date of most recent amendment: 15-Feb-2016

Location Description: Square to east of Norfolk House, Saxon Gate, Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire


Ordnance survey map of Octo sculpture and reflecting pool
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Location Description: Square to east of Norfolk House, Saxon Gate, Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire

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

District: Milton Keynes (Unitary Authority)

Parish: Central Milton Keynes

National Grid Reference: SP8496538953


'Octo', a stainless steel sculpture of 1979-80 by Wendy Taylor, mounted on a reflecting pool.

Reasons for Designation

'Octo', a stainless steel sculpture of 1979-80 by Wendy Taylor, mounted on a reflecting pool, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons: * Artistic interest: the sculpture's formal clarity, equipoise and a sensitivity to its setting combine to create a striking yet harmonious work; * Sculptor: this is an important work within Taylor’s oeuvre; * Historic interest: 'Octo' is an early example of the Milton Keynes Development Corporation’s public art programme; * Historic association: for the 1983 commemoration of Richard Llewelyn-Davies (1912-81), planner of Milton Keynes.


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 and the new towns 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.

Milton Keynes was designated a new town in 1967 and planning control was delegated to the Milton Keynes Development Corporation (MKDC). Like earlier new towns it developed a policy of commissioning and acquiring outdoor works for public display, particularly outside buildings designed by MKDC. In this way a significant collection was developed, including works by Elisabeth Frink, Liliane Lijn, Bernard Schottlander and Wendy Taylor.

Wendy Taylor CBE (b 1945) studied at St Martin's School of Art, London (1962-67) and soon came to specialise in permanent, site-specific commissions. Her abstract sculptures explore themes of equilibrium, materiality and fabrication, presenting familiar materials such as brickwork, steel sections and chains in unfamiliar and sometimes paradoxical situations and juxtapositions. In 1988 Taylor was awarded a CBE and was the subject of a South Bank Show documentary, and in 1992 her work was profiled in a monograph by Edward Lucie-Smith. From 1986 to 1988 she was design consultant for the Commission for the New Towns.

'Octo' has origins in an aluminium maquette made for a full-scale work in stainless steel but with no specific commission in mind. Taylor then constructed a plywood model at full scale and had both maquette and model photographed by the architectural photographer John Donat. Derek Walker (architect to the MKDC) and Donald Ritson (assistant to the general manager Fred Lloyd Roche) noticed Octo in Donat’s portfolio and after visiting Taylor’s studio commissioned the work for Norfolk and Ashton House, an office development of 1978-79 designed by MKDC for a central site near Saxon Gate.

Taylor suggested mounting the sculpture on a reflecting pool, in order to bridge the gap in scale between passers-by and the large office blocks, whilst echoing their mirror-glass surfaces. To demonstrate the importance of the water feature the plywood model was sprayed silver and set up in Taylor’s studio yard, which was flooded to simulate a reflective setting.

'Octo' was one of the first public artworks to be installed in Milton Keynes. It was unveiled in 1980 and in 1983 chosen by Baroness Llewelyn-Davies to commemorate the role of her husband Richard Llewelyn-Davies (1912-81) in the design of Milton Keynes. Llewelyn-Davis was founding partner in Llewelyn-Davies, Weeks, Forestier-Walker and Bor, the practice which prepared the 1970 master plan of Milton Keynes.


'Octo', a stainless steel sculpture of 1979-80 by Wendy Taylor, mounted on a reflecting pool.

This stainless steel figure-of-eight, c4m in height, is mounted in the centre of a square reflective pool. An extruded hollow section is twisted into a Möbius strip (with a double rather than a single twist). It is placed, without visible means of support, on a shallow reflecting pool. This comprises a dark slate-like platform edged by a water channel and a granite surround. A play of shifting reflections is established between the polished surface of the sculpture, its reflections in the pool, and the mirror glass of the adjacent buildings. The surrounding landscaping was remodelled in the early 1990s by Quartet Design.


Books and journals
Lucie-Smith, E, Wendy Taylor, (1992), pp.69, 119
Milton Keynes Development Corporation, , Art at Work in Milton Keynes, (1992), p.17.
Pearson, L , Public Art Since 1950, (2006), p.37.
Pevsner, N, Williamson, E, The Buildings of England: Buckinghamshire, (1994), pp.489, 497.
Rosenberg, E., Architect's Choice: Art in Architecture in Great Britain Since 1945, (1992), p.58.
Strachan, W G, Open Air Sculpture in Britain: a Comprehensive Guide, (1984), p.144
Walker, D, The Architecture and Planning of Milton Keynes, (1982), pp.64-65
Walker, D. , New Towns, (1984), pp.31, 57

End of official listing