What is a Charrette?

 

Origins of the term “charrette” (Wikipedia):
The word charrette is French for “cart” or “chariot”. In the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris in the 19th century, it was not unusual for student architects to continue working furiously in teams at the end of the allotted term, up until a deadline, when a charrette would be wheeled among the students to pick up their scale models and other work for review while they, each working furiously to apply the finishing touches, were said to be working en charrette, in the cart. Émile Zoladepicted such a scene of feverish activity, a nuit de charrette or charrette night, in L’Œuvre (serialized 1885, published 1886), his fictionalized account of his friendship with Paul Cézanne. The term evolved into the current design-related usage in conjunction with working right up until a deadline.

The following description of the word ‘charrette’ pertaining to the urban planning processes is from Wikipedia:

The word charrette may refer to any collaborative session in which a group of designers (plus stakeholders and the public) drafts a solution to a design problem.

While the structure of a charrette varies, depending on the design problem and the individuals in the group, charrettes often take place in multiple sessions in which the group divides into sub-groups. Each sub-group then presents its work to the full group as material for further dialogue. Such charrettes serve as a way of quickly generating a design solution while integrating the aptitudes and interests of a diverse group of people.

Charrettes take place in many disciplines, including land use planning, or urban planning. In planning, the charrette has become a technique for consulting with all stakeholders. This type of charrette typically involves intense and possibly multi-day meetings, involving municipal officials, developers, and residents.

A successful charrette promotes joint ownership of solutions and attempts to defuse typical confrontational attitudes between residents and developers. Charrettes tend to involve small groups, however the residents participating may not represent all the residents nor have the moral authority to represent them. Residents who do participate get early input into the planning process. For developers and municipal officials charrettes achieve community involvement, may satisfy consultation criteria, with the objective of avoiding costly legal battles. Other uses of the term “charrette” occur within an academic or professional setting, whereas urban planners invite the general public to their planning charrettes. Thus most people encounter the term “charrette” in an urban-planning context.


The following description of a charrette event and process is from the National Charrette Institute, with edits and additions by the Oxnard Community Planning Group, and describes in general the process and goals of the CNU-CA charrette for Downtown Oxnard:

(More on the CNU-CA CNU-By-Design Annual Charrette can be found below.)

“A charrette is a multiple-day, collaborative design workshop. It harnesses the talents and energies of stakeholders and all interested parties to create and support a feasible plan that represents transformative community change.

  • A five consecutive days, with three design feedback loops
  • An open process that includes stakeholders and all interested parties
  • Focused on producing a feasible plan with minimal rework

A charrette is a holistic, collaborative planning process during which a multiple-day charrette is held as the central transformative event.

Compared to conventional planning processes that take years of endless meetings, a charrette can:

Save time and money through

  • Reduced rework via short design feedback loops
  • Time-compressed work sessions
  • Creation of broad support from community members, professionals, and staff

Increases probability for implementation through

  • An integrated team design process
  • Early focus on engineering and finance
  • Bringing all decision makers together for a compressed period of time

Promotes trust between citizens and government through

  • Meaningful public involvement and education in which input may effect the outcome
  • The building of long-term community goodwill
  • Broad stakeholder involvement – no one takes over

Results in the best sustainable design through

  • Integrating all viewpoints throughout design
  • Uninterrupted, focused team design sessions
  • Design based on shared guiding principles

The CNU charrette is a collaborative design event spanning 5-days. The goal of the charrette is to produce a feasible plan with minimal rework that benefits from the support of all stakeholders through its implementation. This support is facilitated by the ability of the charrette to transform the mindsets of the stakeholders.

A multidisciplinary charrette team, consisting of CNU consultants and sponsor (City of Oxnard) staff, produces the plan. Stakeholders – those being anyone who can approve, promote or block the project as well as anyone directly affected by the outcomes – are involved through a series of short feedback loops or meetings. Most stakeholders attend two or three feedback meetings at critical decision-making points during the charrette. Note that stakeholders are not at the charrette all the time. These feedback loops provide the charrette team with the information necessary to create a feasible plan. Just as importantly, they allow the stakeholders to become co-authors of the plan so that they are more likely to support and implement it.

A major reason the charrette needs to last at least 5-days is to accommodate 3 feedback loops, the optimal number for gaining stakeholder understanding and support.

Charrettes take place in a charrette studio situated on or near the project site. While the event may vary the CNU charrette generally follows the following format. The charrette team first conducts an open public meeting to solicit the values, vision, and needs of the stakeholders. The team then breaks off to create alternative plans or scenarios, which are presented in a second public meeting usually a day or two later. The team then synthesizes the best aspects of the alternatives into a preferred plan that is developed in detail and tested for economic, design and political feasibility. The charrette concludes with a comprehensive presentation at a final public meeting.

After the charrette, the project enters into the document creation phase. During this phase the charrette team tests and refines the charrette plan. Communication with stakeholders also continues through e-mail, websites, blogs, and possibly social media. During a follow-up public meeting, held about 6-weeks after the charrette, the refined plan is presented for another feedback session. The results and process of all 3 charrette system phases are summarized in a final project report ready for agency approvals.

Work collaboratively

All interested parties must be involved from the beginning. Having contributed to the planning, participants are in a position both to understand and support a project’s rationale.

Design cross-functionally

A multi-disciplinary team method results in decisions that are realistic every step of the way. The cross-functional process eliminates the need for rework because the design work continually reflects the wisdom of each specialty.

Compress work sessions

The charrette itself, lasting five days, is a series of meetings and design sessions that would traditionally take months to complete. This time compression facilitates creative problem solving by accelerating decision making and reducing unconstructive negotiation tactics. It also encourages people to abandon their usual working patterns and “think outside of the box.”

Communicate in short feedback loops

During the charrette, design ideas are created based upon a public vision, and presented within hours for further review, critique, and refinement. Regular stakeholder input and reviews quickly build trust in the process and foster true understanding and support of the product. A feedback loop occurs when a design is proposed, reviewed, changed, and re-presented for further review.

Study the details and the whole

Lasting agreement is based on a fully informed dialogue, which can only be accomplished by looking at the details and the big picture concurrently. Studies at these two scales also inform each other and reduce the likelihood that a fatal flaw will be overlooked in the plan.

Produce a feasible plan

To create a feasible plan, every decision point must be fully informed, especially by the legal, financial, and engineering disciplines. The focus on feasibility brings a level of seriousness and rigor to the process for everyone involved.

Use design to achieve a shared vision and create holistic solutions

Design is a powerful tool for establishing a shared vision. Drawings illustrate the complexity of the problem and can be used to resolve conflict by proposing previously unexplored solutions that represent win/win outcomes.

Hold the charrette on or near the site

Working on site fosters the design team’s understanding of local values and traditions, and provides the necessary easy access to stakeholders and information. Therefore, the studio should be located in a place where it is easily accessible to all stakeholders and where the designers have quick access to the project site.”


More about the CNU Charrette (with edits and additions by the Oxnard Community Planning Group):

“Beginning in 2013, the CNU-CA started a program to host a CNU-By-Design Annual Charrette (“the Charrette”) as a Board led program that provides educational and membership outreach opportunities statewide.”

“The CNU-CA Charrette is designed to advise a city, with the benefit of the CNU-By-Design Annual Charrette, to envision mixed-use, walkable places for a city with CNU’s principles and processes, such as public Charrettes. Our board’s selection of an Annual Charrette project is based upon the request (Oxnard) relevance to CNU initiatives and expertise, such as Transit-Oriented Developments, Form-Based Codes, Sprawl Retrofits, and Tactical Urbanism.”

“A typical charrette week is organized as follows:

Day 1: Arrival, Orientation, Sponsor Briefing, Opening Public Event (Educational)
Day 2: Stakeholder Interviews, Design Interventions/Alternatives Produced
Day 3: Alternatives Vetting, Stakeholder Interviews, Public Workshop (Dialog)
Day 4: Preferred Design Interventions; Report Design/Illustration Production
Day 5: Draft Report Production, Final Public Presentation (Dialog/Education)”