With 365,000 followers and counting, Ana Sampaio Barros is one of Austria’s most successful Instagramers. In our interview, the talented architect with Portuguese roots discusses her chosen hometown Vienna, metropolitan life, social media, and the smart urban pioneers competition – where she also sits on the jury.

Ms Barros, back in 2007 you swapped a global metropolis for a German medium-sized town. What prompted this unusual move?
Ana Sampaio Barros: At first glance, moving from Lisbon to Darmstadt might sound like a step back. But I immediately felt more at home leaving behind this crazy big city life where you need to rise early to get anywhere– and get home late for the same reason. All of a sudden, I found myself walking more. Distances were shorter, the city more focused, and everything was a lot more thought-through. Afterwards, I found it hard to live in Lisbon again – and be happy. So, I opted for something in-between.

And you ended up in Vienna?
Ana Sampaio Barros: That’s right. And although Vienna is larger (by area) than Lisbon, it triggers this rare smalltown feeling inside me. Every time I travel, I feel this urge to return home. For example,  Tokyo has always been my dream city. But when I got there, the sheer dimensions of the city overwhelmed me to the point where I simply didn’t feel good anymore. All these people running from one side to the other. In Vienna, everything is a lot calmer.

Vienna from above
Ana Sampaio Barros was born in Lisbon and now lives in Vienna where she works as an architect.

Sounds like you have a secret yearning for rural life. Is this something you could imagine doing?
Ana Sampaio Barros: No, I need to live in a city. I need to be able to go to a museum and meet people. I am a city girl! And always have been. I was born in Lisbon and couldn’t imagine moving to the countryside.

Your Instagram account is filled with landscapes, old architecture, and urban scenes. Is this what defines a modern city for you?
Ana Sampaio Barros: This balance is very important. As people, we need it. Living in Vienna, I can reach the mountains within an hour. And still enjoy contemporary architecture and old buildings – a little bit of everything.

Sounds like modern metropolises are the perfect habitat for you. Is there anything you miss?
Ana Sampaio Barros: When I think of modern cities, Tokyo and London always spring to mind. Yet whenever I’m there, I notice that people are less connected. They lose this sense of neighborhood, of simply talking to others on the street. Nobody takes the time to pause for a moment.

How could we change this? Can we influence the cities we live in?
Ana Sampaio Barros: Of course. I have seen many ideas over the past few years – even really simple ones – with the potential to change a lot.

For example?
Ana Sampaio Barros: Right here in Vienna, there’s this group of architects who turn empty shops into hotel rooms. The results are beautiful spaces and façades instead of abandoned buildings. It’s simple, effective, and fun.

Ana Barros and dog
Ana Sampaio Barros is one of Austria’s most successful Instagramers.

So, how can a contest like smart urban pioneers  make a difference?
Ana Sampaio Barros: At the least, this competition gets people thinking. And that’s important. We quickly adjust to new things and then accept them as self-evident.

What does it mean to you to be on the jury of such an award?
Ana Sampaio Barros: It’s a great honor. Really. And inspiring. Because I believe that it offers great opportunity for change. And I’m really looking forward to the results of this contest.

Is there anything participants could learn from your own social media expertise?
Ana Sampaio Barros: Nowadays, it’s no longer enough to have some good ideas. These ideas also need to be seen. Social media make it easy to spread your own message. You need a blend of both, really. So, I’d advise participants to invest some time in social media, too.

Anything that’s particularly relevant to urban projects? Would you reveal some of your tips?
Ana Sampaio Barros: To me, it’s a very natural process. I guess my tip would be to tell your own story! Without keeping an eye on your overall reach or number of followers. Stay true to yourself and do it because it’s what you love to do – then success will follow naturally.

Any final words or other advice you would like to share with participants of the smart urban pioneers competition?
Ana Sampaio Barros: Generally speaking, it’s really important to think about life in urban areas. Not only in your own city or because there’s this prize awarded by smart. Even if just a single person observes what you do, it can inspire others. We should consider this every single day. And never stop doing it.