Sunday 28 September 2014

Thoroughly Modern Murray

"Discover the secrets of the universe" the painting says. But get too close and it dissolves into meaningless coloured splodges - try clicking on the image to enlarge it and you may see what I mean. To make matters worse the work is displayed in a students' bar. But just where is our voyage of discovery leading us today?

This is the entrance to Murray Edwards College, part of the University of Cambridge, which specialises in 'the education of outstanding young women from all backgrounds'. It was founded as recently as 1954 as New Hall. In Cambridge things can go on being called "new" for centuries but in 2008 New Hall changed its name to Murray Edwards College to honour both the founding president of New Hall, Dame Rosemary Murray, and Ros Edwards, who donated £30 million to the college.

If your image of a Cambridge college is of medieval courtyards, Gothic halls and imposing gatehouses then think again. The main buildings were designed by the same architects who were responsible for the Barbican in London. 

Some Cambridge colleges let you look around if you pay them for the privilege. Others direct you on a very strict route through their buildings. But here I just said "Is it OK if I go and look at some of the sculptures and paintings?" and was just waved through with a smile. There were no signs to tell me where to go and very few to tell me where I couldn't go.

I saw on their college blog that one of the students said that life at Murray Edwards was all about concrete, calm and cakes! I didn't spot the cakes but there is certainly an air of calmness about the place, which makes it attractive despite all that concrete. 

But I'd better look for some of those sculptures. Ah, here's one called Improvisation by Naomi Press. It's made from stainless steel and sits nicely in this environment.

In a corridor I discovered many paintings and other works. Such as Summer by Vanessa Jackson (above). Yes, all the artists are female. And (below) is Models Triptych: Madonna Cascade by Rose Garrard.

Look closely - the frame and the cascade are made up of casts of the Madonna. Even the damp running down the wall looks as though it's part of this strangely unsettling picture!

All this concrete and abstraction is softened and embellished with some lovely flower beds, sweet scents and birdsong, making for a very pleasant stroll.

And the glass, steel and concrete create fascinating patterns and reflections for the photographer.

Here we have everything - plenty of stark concrete, leaves and flowers and, sitting amongst it all, an interesting steel construction. It's creator, Annie Collard, calls it Festive Feeling. She says that the coils were inspired by the tension of an athlete about to spring from the starting blocks. I couldn't have resisted calling it "Spring Colours"!

And all presided over by the Dome, which is the focal point of the whole site and sits over the dining hall.

And there are always those floral displays!

Take care.


  1. A dining hall? I thought it was an observatory! A bit too much concrete and glass for my tastes, but the flowers are pretty.

  2. I am totally and completely bowled over by thatMurray entrance John - wonderful flowers.

  3. I've a friend who was a student at New Hall, as it was then. But I've never seen the college before now. Not the prettiest, is it, but interesting nonetheless. I like the Madonna artwork very much.

  4. I thought it was an observatory at first too. It's certainly interesting, but too much concrete for me!

  5. These buildings are new to me too and I found a good online gallery of the college's collection of artworks via their website here
    Very enjoyable!

  6. Architecture and art are wonderful influences in communities -- nice post -- barbara

  7. I like it! You have captured it well but where are the people?

  8. What a beautiful and calming environment for learning, or strolling through in an afternoon. Your photos are, as always, are wonderful. I love the perspective you've given "Improvisation." Nice setting.


Thanks for taking the time to comment. I'll try to answer any questions via a comment or e-mail within the next day or two (no hard questions, please!).