I am an architect, lecturer and writer. My chief interest is in exploring the inner lives of cities, and my work has focused on developing a lateral approach to urban design that looks at the everyday routines that shape cities and the way we inhabit them. I have run design studios at the London School of Economics, London Metropolitan University and at Cambridge University, where my lecture course ‘Food and the City’ is an established part of the degree programme.
Perhaps because I was born and bred in central London, I have always been interested in buildings. But my interest was never limited to their physical form. More than anything else, I wanted to know how buildings were inhabited: where the food came in, how it got cooked, where the horses were stabled, what happened to the rubbish – these details fascinated me as much as the perfect proportions of their facades. I loved the public/private, upstairs/downstairs divisions within buildings, and the way they were subtly interwoven. I suppose I have always been drawn to the hidden relationships between things.
It was only years later that I realised that my twin passions for food and architecture were really two aspects of the same thing. It was architecture that I pursued as a career, first studying it at Cambridge, and then, two years after qualifying, returning there to teach. But I felt increasingly that in order to study architecture, one had to look away from it – only then could one see it for what it really was.
I began to look for ways of bringing life into architecture, and architecture to life. My search took me to Rome in the 1990s, where I studied the everyday habits of a local neighbourhood over the course of two thousand years; and to the London School of Economics, where I was studio director of the Cities, Architecture and Engineering programme. At the LSE there were architects, politicians, economists, developers, sociologists, housing experts and engineers all gathered together in one room, struggling to find a common language with which to discuss cities. It was then that I hit on the idea of using food as a common medium. How would it be, I wondered, if one tried to describe a city through food? I was confident that such a thing could be done, but had no idea how one might go about it, or where it would lead. Seven years later, Hungry City is the result.