Why did you leave Catalonia?
It was 1995, three years after the Olympics in Barcelona. As a young architect I had a lot of ideas and was looking forward to working on interesting projects. However, the most important thing at that time was my lovely two year-old daughter I had to support and take care of. It wasn’t easy to get work as an architect in Barcelona, so I decided to try my luck in Switzerland.
During my studies, I got introduced to Swiss architecture. Since my mum was Swiss, I was already familiar with Swiss culture and the German language, and my older sister already lived in Basel. Now I’ve lived here for 25 years, almost half of my life.
Are you happy with the job opportunities you found in your adoptive country?
Now I’m very happy, but at the very beginning it was quite hard to find a job. I was very proud of my architecture studies in Barcelona and I had very good professors like Esteve Bonell, Enric Miralles, Joan Margarit and Pep Llinàs, but this was obviously not enough to earn the confidence of the Swiss people. They were very conservative and the architecture and construction sector at that time was dominated by men. Women had to choose between family or a professional career, which made it even more difficult to get a job due to my situation of having a small daughter. My first employment was in Zurich, in a small private architecture office where I gained a lot of experience over four years. Then I moved back to Basel and started a new job at the “Hochbauamt Basel-Stadt” where I’m still working. As a project manager architect I’m responsible for projects that represent the interests of Basel and its residents. Most of the projects have to be approved by the Basel parliament. Major investments are subject of a referendum. Direct democracy and consensus are characteristics of Switzerland’s culture.
What do you think is the best thing about living there?
It’s fascinating to live and work in such an international and dynamic city as Basel. Two of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies - Novartis and Roche - were founded and also have their headquarters here. A large number of innovative research companies have grown up around them. Highly skilled workers come to the city from all around the world. Basel offers outstanding museums and there is always an interesting exhibition to see on a cloudy weekend. We also enjoy excellent theatre, which includes opera and ballet and a multitude of different music festivals throughout the year. With thirteen thousand students, the University of Basel (the oldest in Switzerland) is also an important part of Basel’s life. The city is full of contrasts, with a well-preserved medieval town centre with narrow streets, historical buildings from the 19th century and a diversity of contemporary buildings designed by internationally renowned architects.
What would you most like to change?
I was the first woman to get a full time job as project manager in my department and I feel proud of that. The situation has improved over the last twenty years, but equal opportunities for men and women do not yet exist. I would like to see more women in leadership positions.
What do you miss most from home?
When I was a child, we used to go visit our grandparents over the weekend in Vila-Seca. My grandfather was a farmer and we used to spend the day with him in the countryside. I miss the taste of the fresh fruits from the orchard. And I also miss the calçotades and escalivades we used to have outdoors on the farm with family and friends. I miss walking in the gothic district of Barcelona. I miss shopping at the Gracia market. I miss eating seafood and good fish and I miss the blue of the sea... I miss my parents, my friends, my relatives and another very important thing: speaking Catalan. I often go to Barcelona and I’m very aware and worried about the current situation with the repression, the political prisoners and the Catalans in exile. I miss freedom and justice in my own country and this makes me very sad.
What characterises your neighbourhood?
I live with my family in an apartment in the St. Johann’s district very close to Kannenfeldpark. The park is always carefully maintained and has jogging paths, play facilities for children, a paddling pool, a garden-theatre and even a room with furniture and a kitchen that can be rented for private use. But the most beautiful parts are the centuries-old trees and the rose garden. A few minutes from home on the tram I reach my office beside the “Münster” in the city centre. My office is in a building that for hundreds of years was the residence of church representatives. It has a cloister inside that is covered by a beautiful vault made of glass tiles, with a nice courtyard where I meet and have coffee with my colleagues under the trees. That’s a real privilege.
What is the best experience you’ve had in your adoptive country?
I’ve had many good experiences in Switzerland, but I would like to mention my experience with the education of our two children. Like more than ninety percent of the children in Basel, they both went to the state-run school. They came into contact with children from different cultures and who spoke languages from all over the world. The school didn’t only focus on transferring knowledge but also on social and emotional aspects. The children learned to have their own opinion, take responsibility and respect each other from a very early age. Strong relations between the pupils were promoted through theatre and music, making trips to visit other European cities and going skiing together in the Alps. They both still have very good friends from that time.
Do you plan to go back to Catalonia?
Yes, I would like to go back to Catalonia with my husband when we both retire, but we don’t want to lose the direct contact with our two children. They have been to Catalonia many times and speak Catalan fluently, but their roots are in Switzerland. It will all depend on their professional careers and the opportunities they find. In a way, I feel that history is repeating itself, who knows what the future holds...
CATALANS ABROAD basel - switzerland