Monday, 23 June 2008

Aspire on the horizon

This morning I joined the media at Nottingham University's Jubilee Campus to see the final piece of the 'Aspire' column put into place, but I began my walk to the campus by going into Lenton Recreation Ground and looking at its four horizons. To the north and the Derby Road there were trees. To the west and the railway line I could see the QMC and its tall chimney. To the south I could see Holy Trinity Church and a view much as it was when the park opened in 1888. To the east and beyond the Victorian houses on Devonshire Promenade I could see the Lenton flats. I wanted to see how the new Aspire column might change things, but without its top section in place it was not visible.

I got my first glimpse of Aspire from the Derby Road as I approached Triumph Road, but it was not until I was about half way down Triumph Road that I saw a topless Aspire. I knew from what I had read that Aspire is part architecture, highly engineered and was conceived much like a work of art. It is a description I can understand and appreciate, but my mind had already decided it was something else.

Little did I realise that minutes later I would be sharing my interpretation of what Aspire really was with Nottingham University's Vice-Chancellor, Professor Sir Colin Campbell, after I had stepped outside the reception area where they were serving tea and coffee to the media. I had gone outside to get a picture looking in only to find that I had been followed by a gentleman with a Scottish accent, who asked me what I thought of it, then saying 'I think it's stunning, don't you?', to which I replied 'It reminds me of one of those seaside lattice ice-cream cones… I can just imagine it full of ice-cream'. I then introduced myself and asked him who he was, little realising that I had been in conversation with the top man!

After a couple of speeches, the media folk present were asked to put on safety helmets and go outside so they they could see the final section of the Aspire column put in place. I'm not sure why we were given hard hats to wear as the action was a fair distance away and had Aspire come crashing down on you, having a hat on would have not stopped you from being smashed to pulp!

I took a few pictures of Aspire's top section being lifted into place. To summarise, Aspire, including its 10m concrete base, stands 60m high, which makes it taller than Nelson's Column (52m), the Statue of Liberty (46m) and Angel of the North (20m). Including its foundations, it weighs 854 tonnes. The name 'Aspire' was chosen after a competition among University staff and students and it is meant to reflect 'apiration, inspiration and ambition' on the part of Nottingham University and the City of Nottingham.
Aspire's top section was slowly lifted into place…

…whilst the media looked on and gathered on the side of a boulevard of water and Japonica trees, which will run across the campus and a diverted Triumph Road from east to west (or is it west to east?). For my part I was more taken with the water feature than Aspire, which I had thought, for some reason, was going to be located at one end of the landscaped boulevard and act as a huge sun dial, casting a long shadow over the water at a particular time of the day. Sad to say, this is not case, but there was an unexpected bonus in what stands at the east end of this new watery boulevard — the Lenton Flats. In my mind they stand for 'aspiration, inspiration and ambition' as well and are a tribute to Nottingham City Council and countless other councils, who all wanted to see ordinary working class people given decent homes to live in, so that they could live better lives and their children could live in surrounding conducive to learning and, yes, ambition and aspirations. Forty years on their future hangs in the balance, but seeing them along a boulevard of water I just hope that whatever happens to them and the land, it continues to make a statement on behalf of ordinary people as bold as Aspire endeavours to do for the University and learning.

Aspire's top section is finally put into place and the workmen make ready to join the sections together…
…and as I left to make my way home down Triumph Road I geo my first proper glimpse of Aspire complete and wondered what its nickname will be? I had already heard it being described as 'a wastepaper basket' and 'a torch' and, later, on the TV news as, yes, an 'ice-cream cone'. I am sure that when the students return from the summer vacation they will come up with much more imaginative names. Nicknames can be a sign of derision or affection and I am sure that in Aspire's case it will be the latter. As much as I would like to join Sir Colin in believing that it 'is stunning', I am afraid it is no Nelson's Column, Statue of Liberty or Angel of the North. I suspect that, at best, it will become a curiosity attracting the attention of passers-by, whilst earning a place in local affections. Time will be the judge.

When I got home I went into the park and, there, peeking just above the trees along the Derby Road side of Lenton Recreation Ground, was Aspire. It can be seen from the park. It has made its mark on the Lenton landscape I love the most and I am happy to see it there. I wish Aspire well and I will visit it again, but I await the completion of the watery boulevard with its Japonica trees even more!

The French president, Nicolas Sarkozy told Israel today to share sovereignty over Jerusalem with the Palestinians and to stop building settlements in the occupied territories.


Rosie said...

It is certainly very unusual and seems to have caused quite a lot of comment and controversy - like you I like the look of the rill or water feature and I look forward to seeing it some time when it is finished.

Anonymous said...

It's appeared - I saw it yesterday showing an Australian colleague around the Jubilee campus and today from atop the Prospect room at Wollaton.

It got me thinking and I feel that people tend to 'bond' most with those structures that have 'human characteristics'. I'm thinking: Angel of the North, Liberty, the Angels at the Hoover Dam.

Either way it's a confident and bold statement - but like Robert I'm more drawn to the water feature!!