Anatomy of a “Charrette”

FSB Charrette Images for Chickasaw Nation Visitor Center

Charrette; architects love this word, but you can’t find it in the typical dictionary.

It’s used in the academic teaching environment as a cool vernacular term we are introduced to as students.  It is sometimes associated with a rite of passage known to students as pulling all nighters. I have vivid college memories of my third year design lab and grueling hours dedicated to searching for the lofty meaning of life embodied in my design only to be put back into a humbling place on critique day.

(new post each Tuesday, coming next; The Paso Doble of Programming, Charrette Day)

The word is used in the practice of architecture to describe a focused design activity. The origin is actually French; at least that’s what I’m hanging my hat on. For FSB, a charrette means “an extended period of intense collaboration that involves stakeholders defining and exploring design criteria and concepts in a creative, open setting.” The end product is a definition of the project needs and conceptual design ideas that jump start the project. The period of time is relative to the scale and complexity of the project and the activity is led by the FSB design team.

So here’s what we do:

  • Identify all key stakeholders to be involved in the charrette.
  • Define agendas, timelines and create information packets for the players.
  • Schedule all the players; often times the charrette is a combination of group sessions and breakout sessions with subgroups that can last multiple days.
  • Find a room that will accommodate the number of people, work tables, easels, smart equipment and wall surfaces for pin up that can be accosted for the duration of the charrette. You want to be able to leave your stuff there along with the growing number of sketches, graphics and notes that will populate the walls. We like camping out at the owner’s place or a space near the project location.
  • Pack your charrette kit; writing pads, large flip chart pads and easels, pencils, markers large and small of every color, tracing paper, tape and a sundry of electronic equipment; laptops, printers, scanners projectors, etc.
  • Set up shop then, get after it…

The Team needs to finish preparing ourselves and the client for the workshop. We have research to complete and materials to prepare. Everyone is anxious with anticipation.

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