Friday, March 23

Returning to Imperial College

Tonight's Ummah Films event was being hosted by Imperial College's ISOC.

I've not returned to IC since I graduated way back in October 2001. In fact, if I'm totally honest, this thing tonight was just an excuse; I've been looking for a reason to go back for a visit for a while now (if not since I had left). I didn't really know about Ali and his work so if it turned out to be good on the day then that would have just been a bonus.

It's amazing how far away South Kensington seemed when I was studying there; it was like travelling to a whole new world each day. I now work relatively close to the campus, so the area is now kinda familiar. Despite this I left early in order to have a proper wander around before the show started.

I deliberately got off The Tube at South Kensington instead of my usual at that time, Gloucester Road. This was because I had yet to see the new literal face of IC: the Tanaka Business School, accessible easiest from the former station. For maximum effect I just had to take The Tunnel joining the station to Imperial - I remember being stunned by the depressing length of it the first time I took it over ten years ago. I was just as stunned again this time.

And yes, Imperial itself had changed. The Tanaka Business School is the obvious mark of this, but there were lots of other smaller cues too. We (or should that be they?) now have a reception of all things, as well as a foyer. There's now a "Faculty Building" (whatever that is) opposite the Royal School of Mines, itself now faced off with glass.

There were the constants - the walkway was still the spine of the campus, and the place that represented the university as a whole the best. The JCR and SCR both remained as they were six years ago. The Prayer Room (and I smirked when I heard it still being referred to as the PR) was still in the same place albeit with a new carpet(!) - although it still had the same sign hanging over the stairway down. And maybe my memory isn't that great, but I'm sure there was less mixing of the genders in my time...

There were also more subtle changes around: you now needed to scan in everywhere both internally and externally in order to get around. The ISOC now have a dresscode, with all the members visibly displaying their colours and logs on a uniform tee shirt (I'd also mention the somewhat matching gelled hairstyles and goatees if it was relevant here, but it isn't really). Everything also seemed so... small - especially the students, and there were definitely more girls around too.

Huxley was a major shock for me, and I'm not because of the new lick of paint it's obviously received. There is now a "Visualisation Studio" sandwiched between the two main lecture theatres, both of which have had a rather dramatic overhaul. I actually lost my breath when I saw what had been done to them - gone are the places I studied four years in a row in (and here's a sad fact: I never missed a single lecture in all my time there. Crazy eh?). In their stead are two plush, comfortable and - dare I say it - stylish lecture rooms. On some level it was quite upsetting, this change of character from nerdy to cool, but then I realised that old Huxley was probably just as geeky as it's always been once I looked past the leather jacket it had been bought. I didn't get to see the labs, which is a shame.

But most striking was the change in vibe of the place; it seemed to have more of a uni-like feel to it now. I had a mixed reaction when I realised that IC wasn't the same place where I had studied. It's all clearly positive, in that change is good and good change even better. But I don't think that the character needed to change too for this, but it seems that it has. I guess I'm just afraid that at this rate, when I come to visit in five years or so, it will be a totally different place altogether.