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Spotlight on Philip Astley

3 April 2017

Philip Astley

This week the spotlight is on Philip Astley, Honorary Research Fellow and Course Director for ‘Planning for Biosafety Environments’ (a UCL Life Learning short course), UCL Bartlett School of Construction and Project Management.

What is your role and what does it involve?

I’m a course director and an honorary research fellow at UCL. I’m a chartered architect but I’ve worked in healthcare planning and design for a long time in industry and in my academic career. I’ve lead specialist postgraduate courses and I’ve been principle investigator on a number of UK Research Council projects.

How long have you been at UCL and what was your previous role? 

I was Course Director on a postgraduate Master’s that specialised in healthcare planning and design at the Medical Architecture Research Unit. But then, around 2010, I won a large research project and I brought that to UCL where I perceived there would be good support from colleagues at the UCL Bartlett School of Construction and Project Management, led at that time by Professor Peter Morris.

What working achievement or initiative are you most proud of? 

The project that I’m most proud of is also the one I’m working on now: the Biosafety Design Initiative (BSDI).

As the world has to face up to increasing antibiotic resistance, common infectious diseases are becoming a fundamental problem for our healthcare systems. Professor Tim McHugh (UCL Infection & Immunity) and I, together with my colleague Anne Symons, have created an interdisciplinary initiative that brings together design, facilities management and healthcare to create new, physical ways of combating the spread of infection. This important work has a truly global reach, as the learning and outcomes will be as applicable to tuberculosis (TB) in London as in South Africa, Tanzania or Romania. 

The initiative is underpinned by a blended online course we’re currently developing with the UCL Life Learning team, which starts in April.

What’s been really heartening is the network of support that we’ve had from UCL. Whether it’s our own departments, professional services or beyond. This has made the hard work of creating the initiative and its first course much easier.

Tell us about a project you are working on now which is top of you to-do list?

So with our BSDI colleagues, we’ve worked hard for the past two or three years to generate work around infection control. We are currently preparing a joint research bid for diagnostic environments in custodial environments, and I’m also the joint lead author of design guidance for the emergency departments for the Royal College of Emergency Care.

The connection is people turn up in emergency care departments with a tri-morbidity of disease; such as TB, HIV and substance abuse. So what we really want to do is develop new diagnostic systems that can go straight into reception spaces and create a much more robust environment for testing to protect officers, other prisoners and the wider community. Case studies will include the UK and our partners in Tanzania.

What is your favourite album, film and novel?

I couldn’t possibly pick one of each to be my favourite forever, but the most recent three that have touched me are:

Album: A Moon Shaped Pool by Radiohead, with the London Contemporary Orchestra. 

Film: Moonlight by Barry Jenkins.

Novel: I’ve just read The Regeneration Trilogy by Pat Barker.

What is your favourite joke (pre-watershed)?

Two motorways walk into a bar. In the corner a piece of tarmac is glowering and swearing.

“Is he with you?”, the barman asks them.
“No, he’s a cycle path.”

Who would be your dream dinner guests?

I think a good dinner party needs a variety of people from all sorts of backgrounds and professions – it helps make sure the conversation will be interesting. So, I’ve got musician, sportsmen, writers and artists all thrown in together. The other important feature is the food, so I’m definitely inviting a chef to cook for us all:

  • Jonny Greenwood, musician and composer
  • Heloise Letissier, singer (better known as Christine and the Queens)
  • Ed Smith, cricketer, journalist and writer
  • Tarrell Alvin McCraney, playwright and actor
  • Julie Mehretu, artist
  • Yotam Ottolenghi, chef and restaurateur

What advice would you give your younger self? 

Value your contribution, even at a young age.

What would it surprise people to know about you? 

I’m also a jazz musician and I am a co-founder of the London Contemporary Orchestra.

What is your favourite place?

My favourite places are London and Cape Town.