The Charrette Process

The Design Charrette process has a bad name in some areas of the country. It is also misunderstood and misused. The typical; design Charrette practiced in many communities and taught by the National Charrette Institiute involves many people of the community (Sometimes hundreds), takes at least a week or two, involves many consultants and government staff. It is also very expensive. But, you get a lot of good participation in a relatively short period of time for grand community planning efforts. Sometime people do not participate because they are not sure of the meaning of the word. Many times, it may be called a planning workshop, to make people more at ease. We have even seen some designers come to charrettes with preconceived designs, in a so-called neighborhood meeting, only to receive loud opposition, because the people were not part of the process.

We have been told that our version is more…charette-lite.

These design charrettes are very project oriented, and only involve 10-20 people maximum. The goal is to have leading representatives of all major stakeholders; private developer(s), Government officials,  Community activists, NIMBY’s, key consultants and representatives of the local real estate community (Appraiser, Realtor, Contractor, etc.)

Like in Malcom Gladwell’s book, The Tipping Point, the key is to have creative and intelligent influencers and mavens that can make decisions, while representing their respective constituincies. This intimacy brings fast, collaborative solutions, in 2-3 days. At a very low cost.

Charrette-Lite

It is faster, better and more cost effective

For a bit of history, the term charrette is  Thought to originate from the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris in the 19th century, the word charrette is from the French for “cart” or “chariot.”

It was not unusual for student architects to continue working furiously, at the last minute, on the illustrations for their design presentations, even while riding in the school cart (en charrette) through the streets of Paris en route to submit the projects to their professors.  Hence, the term metamorphosed into the current design-related usage in conjunction with working right up until a deadline. Spelling it as charette, with one r,  is also correct.

An alternative explanation is that at the end of a class in the studio, a charrette would be wheeled among the student artists to pick up their work for review while they, each working furiously to apply the finishing touch, were said to be working en charrette.

Lastly, in the 16th, 17th, and 18th century when travel took long periods, a Charrette referred to long carriage rides in which politicians and policy makers would be sequestered together in order to collaborate in solving a set problem over the duration of their journey. This origin is most similar to the current usage of the word in the design world. (From Wikipidia)