Nice thread. I graduated from A&M in '01.
Part of the reason for a "lack of place" in College Station is that it originally existed soley to provide support services for the university.
Bryan was several miles away (it has since grown to the south and is now growing somewhat to the east and to the west), so professors and associated staff lived on or near campus. Just to the north of campus for a few blocks (where you saw a buildings at the street) there is old housing stock, to the south about 8 or so blocks, and to the east there is some as well. The campus extends to the west (all the way to the Bush Library and Easterwood Airport).
Up until the mid 60's A&M was all male and all military. Since then the university has grown in size (from probably 10,000 students to 50,000 today) and prestige. As a result, most growth within the city limits of College Station has been in a suburban manner.
The historic part of the campus has architectural detail, however, the brick is the tan brick that appeared in so many photos (and yes, it's not very attractive). As stated above, much of A&M's growth has been since the 60's, and let's be honest, "they" don't build buildings today like they used to (churches are another example of this).
I was a freshman in '97 and I believe it was a couple of years prior that an effort to redevelop downtown Bryan was made; it's still on-going. Since graduating the streets have been redone (which has helped a lot). The northern end of downtown Bryan consisted of warehouses, several of which have been torn down; this stretch of 2-3 blocks represents a new opportunity for development. Bryan has some historic housing stock, and if my memory is correct a lot of it has not deteriorated (unless you go into the areas that were never architecturally attractive to begin with).
The area has a good economy (A&M is promoting research, and with it, associated spin-off companies). As of a few years ago the average A&M student came from a household with an avg. $90,000 income, so the students have some disposable income, as do the parents (for Class A housing). Former Students like to come back to town and retire or work from home (90 mins to Houston and Austin).
My senior year, and in grad school (master's in '02) several people commented that B-CS reminded them of Austin in the 1960's. The community has changed quite a bit in the 10 years that I've been gone, and I expect in 2022 it will have changed even more.
Thanks again for the photos!