Down Your Way: Changing Campus Life Caught on Camera; A New Photographic Book Commemorates Aston University's History Spanning More Than a Century. Ross Reyburn Visits the Campus

Article excerpt

Byline: Ross Reyburn

If you want a career, go to Aston University. This could well be Aston's slogan, as it can lay claim to being one of the country's leading universities for producing employable graduates.

'We have got the highest graduate employment record in West Midlands with nearly 80 per cent of our 1999 graduates getting jobs within six months,' says Sally Hoban, the university's marketing officer.

'We are a real world university specialising in subjects that are relevant to industry and commerce. We teach subjects that are going to get students jobs.'

She and Jean Hasson, the head of marketing's personal assistant, have written and edited a new book containing several hundred photographs tracing the university's history.

Back in 1895 it began life as The Birmingham Municipal Technical School in Suffolk Street, becoming a college in the 1930s. The distinguished looking late Victorian building featured in the book was demolished in the 1960s.

By 1957, it became the College of Technology, Birmingham, the first College of Advanced Technology (CAT) in the country, and had moved to Gosta Green. Today the university campus dominates the site.

'A year ago, the university photographer, Nigel Haverly, retired and literally appeared with a trolleyful of photographs,' recalls Hoban. 'We said they should be saved and after showing them at an exhibition in the Central Library, we decided to put them into a book.'

The interesting result shows the changing face of the campus. The original front entrance of the main university building, with the foundation stone laid by Princess Margaret in 1951, has become the back wall inside the entrance foyer while a skylift breaks up the grim visual monotony of the building frontage.

A 1950s view of the Gosta Green Triangle looking towards the city centre offers a stark contrast to today's scene. The line of old shops and homes have been replaced by blocks of student quarters and landscaped grounds.

Looking the other way, The Sacks of Potatoes, a popular student pub, is clearly recognisable in the late 19th century shot showing the Gosta Green flea market. But the scene today in front of the pub is rather different with an attractive landscaped area where Angela Connor's striking Tipping Triangles sculpture is sited.

The elegant University of Aston Centre for the Arts with its classical design features next to the Sacks is also pictured. Today, the popular venue that became the Triangle Arts Centre in the 1980s is occupied by Waterstone's bookshop.

Generally the residential blocks and university buildings on what is also known as the Aston Triangle have a bleak utilitarian look with only the new Lakeside Residences by the ring road with its unusual curved symmetry and the skylift added to the university main building frontage offerings design features worth looking at twice.

But the site as a whole has a pleasing architectural cohesion with its neat landscaping, grassland areas, sculptures and praiseworthy preference given to the pedestrian over the car. …