UCL News


Spotlight on... Dr Pushpa Arabindoo

21 October 2021

This week we chat to Dr Pushpa Arabindoo, Associate Professor at the Department of Geography and co-director of the UCL Urban Laboratory. Here, Pushpa speaks to us about architecture jokes and her research into urban transformation in Chennai, India.

Dr Pushpa Arabindoo

What is your role and what does it involve?

As an Associate Professor in Geography and Urban Design, I am involved in teaching, research and enabling activities. I am a co-convenor of the MSc Urban Studies programme, in addition to teaching undergraduate geography. In terms of research, I am a member of the Global Urbanism research cluster in the department as my research interest is in broadly understanding urban transformation in the Indian city of Chennai, and how this speaks back to wider debates within urban studies. I am also a co-director of the UCL Urban Laboratory, where I lead the priority area theme on Wasteland.

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

I have been at UCL since 2008, when I completed my PhD in planning from LSE Geography. I trained in architecture and urban design and worked as a practising planner in the UK’s urban regeneration agenda for several years. In fact, I consider myself as an academic-practitioner, a hyphenated role that is not easy to inhabit but is enriching nevertheless.

What working achievement or initiative are you most proud of?

I am not an academic who frequently wins awards or grants. My research style is pretty low-key so it was a great achievement for me when I held the EURIAS (European Institutes for Advanced Study) Fellowship at the Paris Institute for Advanced Studies in 2017–18. As a result, I am currently experimenting with the way I write, drawing from creative and curatorial practices. It gave me the confidence to seek collaborations outside my disciplinary realm as in the UCL Creative Fellowship with Nicola Baldwin, a playwright.

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

It is not on the top of my to-do list but needs to be – I started working on a monograph on Chennai a couple of years ago but it’s a project that has developed a mind of its own. It’s frustrating as it is more often on the backburner than I would like it to be.

What is your favourite album, film and novel?

Album: anything by Talvin Singh or Moby;
Films: In the Mood for Love and Dirty Pretty Things;
Novel: Jane Eyre.

What is your favourite joke (pre-watershed)?

I like the ‘light bulb’ jokes and as I studied architecture, anything that takes a dig at architects is funny. For example, Q: how long does it take an architect to change a light bulb? A: Don’t know as it has never happened. The architect is still drawing up the options.

Who would be your dream dinner guests?

I generally don’t eat dinners so a bit difficult to have a line up. But if I am going to be a sentimental mush about this, I would love to have had a dinner party for my father’s 80th birthday with all our family and friends. It was something he looked forward to but died at 79.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Start your day early and start saving now!

What would it surprise people to know about you?

I changed over the last few years from being a night owl to a morning lark.

What is your favourite place?

Chennai for homecoming and Corsica for some uninterrupted ‘grasse matinées’.