“Uncovering the unexplored starts with an unbridled creative freedom – that initial blue sky phase where no ideas are off the table – that’s what a successful charrette feels like.” – John Allyn, Vice President
By definition, a charrette is an intense collaborative session in which designers, stakeholders, citizens, and clients draft a vision and direction for development. This collective sense of understanding and investment amongst the group then carries through to project implementation, making the early stages more than lines on paper, but an adventure in which all participate. Here are the 10 steps for a successful charrette.
1. Pre-Charrette Team Assembly – A multi-disciplinary, cross-functional team is assembled based on experience and ability to study and resolve the planning and design issues at hand.
2. Pre-Charrette Inventory Mapping and Research – Prior to the workshop, the team reviews aerial photographs, regional conditions, topography, existing infrastructure, cultural context, as well as any environmental reports and applicable market studies. A physical analysis of the site’s existing conditions is also evaluated using GIS for slope and elevation references that serve as a working base.
3. Kick-Off – The on-site session commences with team members working directly with client groups to comprehensively assess project feasibility, generate initial concepts and define a vision for development. With all the players in place, cost and time constraints are explored and the need for the any additional allied professionals is defined.
4. Site Reconnaissance – Measurements are taken to locate unique site details, inventory of existing flora and fauna, along with establishing a familiarity with topography, adjacent land uses and an overall sense of place. This is also an opportunity to field truth assumptions against researched data and test the information against observed conditions.
5. Analysis – Building on the foundational research, direct observation and development feasibility are synthesized into a conceptual program that identifies opportunities and constraints of the site. The combining of early expectations and quantifiable metrics allows for the evaluation of alternative design strategies.
6. Strategy – Balancing client needs, consumer preferences and market demand discussions center on project vision, design character and program elements.
7. Ideation – Design strategies that align with the client’s philosophy and ‘fit’ the site from an environmental, social and economic perspective are proposed in this highly creative phase through a series of drawings and vignettes.
8. Presentation – This stage consists of the explanation, evolution, and evaluation of progressing ideas and alternatives. There may be multiple presentations and reviews at key intervals during the charette process in order to keep the design process fluid.
9. Refinement – Upon review of the various design solutions, consensus for a preferred concept (or concepts) is selected for refinement and will serve as the creative basis for the design work to follow.
10. Post Charrette – Once the charrette is complete, a packaged booklet of plans, diagrams, supporting sketches, sections and elevations serve as reference for all future development phases.
The charrette process is effective not only because it marries local knowledge, concerns, and values with outside expertise, but because it provides a deeper understanding of the people for whom we design, the atmospheres they seek, and the experiences they crave.