Baptist Brayé
founder Locatus and visiting scholar at
Harvard Graduate School of Design

door Christa van Vlodrop

1. Background

Studied chemistry and mathematics, graduated in human geography. Founder of the leading Dutch/Belgium/Spanish retail research institute Locatus. Currently based in Barcelona and working there on a new pan European retail research initiative. Since 2007 visiting scholar and ‘urban planner’ at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. And meanwhile preparing on the upcoming Amsterdam based not-for-profit cultural entrepreneurship known as ‘Sense of Place’.

2. Why are you fascinated with
architecture / urban development?

Keyword is ‘urban destinations’. All my life I’m obsessed how people find their way in urban (retail) environments and the way this environment responds to that. The moment you think you have a grip on it you run into a situation that denies all former rules. Endless lessons about human behavior.

3. Best city

Ultimately New York. Constant pressure. It just doesn’t matter how long you stay, you always end up leaving with the feeling that you ran short on time. Would love to live there for a while, only if I can have occasional time-outs to recharge in Amsterdam or Barcelona.

4. Most beautiful building

My focus is not so much on buildings but more what urban environment does to people. I’ve visited Bilbao recently and - not really a fan of Frank Gehry’s swirls myself - was ready for my verdict on Bilbao’s Guggenheim. But I’ll take it back. It’s a masterpiece, especially for what it did to this formerly grim city.

5. Most beautiful park or square

My favorite square is Place Stanislas in Nancy. It’s a more a personal choice because it feels like I discovered it myself many years ago. They’ve redone the square in 2005, which for now made it probably a little too clean and slick. For me it’s the fence. Normally fences keep people out, here they embrace you.

6. Best public facility / urban infill

It’s the grid and the zócalo (central square), now usually with one way traffic and rectangular blocks. Always scalable, always clear. Made up as a model for early Roman army settlements, survived centuries, never improved.

7. Best 20th and 21st century innovations

Remote ears and eyes. It all started with wired phones, now we see streaming video’s on our cell phones. To search, find, look and listen on any place on earth. But its counterforce is emerging. GPS and car navigation deprived us from our right to get lost and instant answers on every question leave little room for doubt or sense of wonder.

8. Next groundbreaking innovation

No need for written text anymore. Knowledge will not need conversion from thoughts into written text anymore and can be extracted from a digital cloud through endless means not being text. Communication will move into icons as a global sign language. Futuristic nonsense? I say it will happen in less than one hundred years.

9. About the future of cities

More and more things will happen in urban places…but only in places with sufficient scale. Urban activities cluster in an amazing pace and leave us with more activities in fewer places. I do not see too many people acknowledging that. And where the city dweller of days gone by controlled the hinterland, the city of the future will be dependent on its visitors.

10. Personal contribution to urban development

My contribution is hopefully a little broader than urban planning alone. We facilitate under the name ‘Sense of Place’ cultural encounters, our contemporary version of the 19th century salon. It’s about a subject, guests who otherwise would not likely to meet each other, a special place and good food and wine. A simple concept, very efficient and source for a permanent sense of wonder and inspiration. Meanwhile Locatus opened the world of retail to non-retailers.

11. Guerrilla in the city?

The battle between de visitor (the haves) and the urban elite (the have mores) leaves the ‘have nots’ with left over spaces. Make sure you check the back roads, new revolutions lay ahead there.