I grew up in the suburbs of Melbourne, which I considered pretty culturally desolate back then. Luckily, my father was a fan of classical music, opera, ballet and art, and dragged us to exhibitions and shows whenever he could.
I studied fashion and design at university, but never finished my degree. Instead, I took a job at a big fashion house. I was involved in the fashion scene for quite some time, but had an in-between period where I was very anti-establishment and went to far north Queensland to be a hippie. When I came back, I worked in fashion again, but by then I saw it all as a bit superficial.
I lived in New York and London before coming to Barcelona. I had always been particularly fascinated with Gaudí. I had books on architecture in which he appeared as this wacky architect out to change the face of Barcelona, and I wanted to see his work for myself. So I got my teaching degree in London, came here to teach English and just stayed. I moved here during the build up to the 1992 Olympic Games. Many local architects and designers were employed to revamp the city, and I couldn’t imagine being anywhere more exciting.
Since the mid-Nineties I’ve earned a living from writing. I first transitioned into the field by working as a correspondent for The European, which was the only pan-European newspaper ever to be published. I wrote a lot for them, focusing mainly on Barcelona culture, fashion and design. I also wrote for Metropolitan and worked in Italy for Benetton’s COLORS Magazine. My career grew from these early experiences.
Out of everything I’ve written, I think the social impact stories stand out most in my mind. I wrote one story on a huge squat that existed here, which was full of immigrants who didn’t have access to residency permits. Together they forged this mini-city, set up in old military barracks in Sant Andreu—in one corner you had the Romanians, in another were the Ghanaians. It was like a mini United Nations. They were eventually evicted, but for a time it felt like a utopian society where it didn’t matter so much that they were living in poverty.
I enjoy writing iconic architecture stories. I’ve done stories on Walden 7 (Ricardo Bofill’s apartment building), and on the social housing high-rises in Bellvitge. Residential projects often fly under the radar, but I like covering them because they have a human side to their story. I think Barcelona is particularly good for civil architecture. The fact that a lot of these buildings are funded publicly, rather than privately, humanises their intent.
I believe architecture shapes a city, but I’m actually more passionate about design. I currently give design tours with a partner, Brian Gallagher, and two independent art curators. I started something similar for a tour provider, but they weren’t very popular. When people come to Barcelona for only a few days, they want to see Gaudí’s architecture and eat. That’s the reality. I knew there was a market for what I was trying to do, though, so Brian and I took matters into our own hands.
We get a lot of people on the tours with a special interest in design. From architecture and design students, to couples who care about beautiful buildings and photographers who want to get one-of-a-kind shots for their portfolios. There are never more than four people per tour, so there’s always room to alter the itinerary to suit.
Our design tours steer clear of the city centre. We walk mostly around the Eixample. My favourite spot there is Nani Marquina’s shop. She’s an artisan rug maker and her work is astounding. Her showroom on Diagonal used to be a garage—you can see the ramps that once led down to the lower parking spaces—and all her beautiful work is hung on the walls like it would be in an upscale carpet bazaar.
We often go to the Raval, as well, where we focus on urbanism. Great changes have taken place in that neighbourhood since the early Nineties, when it became the model of gentrification that Barcelona is now so famous for. I think it’s still really interesting—it’s probably my favourite barrio at the moment.
And finally, we sometimes head to Poblenou for art and new architecture. I don’t know the area as well as I should, but I can see exciting things happening there. What really attracts me is the contrast between old and new. You might see a crumbling 19th-century house next to a cutting-edge office building. It’s an incredibly funky collage that allows you to read its history en la calle.
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