A charrette (pronounced [shuh-ret], often Anglicized to charette and sometimes called a design charrette) consists of an intense period of design activity.

Charrettes in general

The word charrette may refer to any collaborative session in which a group of designers 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 future 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. Compare this term with workshop.

Specific cases of charrette

Charrettes take place in many disciplines, including urban planning. In urban planning, the charrette has become a technique for consulting with all stakeholders. Such charrettes typically involve 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 (unless they happen to be design students) encounter the term "charrette" in an urban-planning context.

In fields of design such as architecture, landscape architecture, industrial design, interior design, or graphic design, the term charrette may refer to an intense period of work by one person or a group of people prior to a deadline. The period of a charrette typically involves not only a focused and sustained effort, but also "all-nighters" or sleepless nights of toil. The word "charrette" may also be used as a verb, as in, for example, "I am charretting" or "I am on charrette [or: en charrette]," simply meaning I am working long nights, intensively toward a deadline.

An example of the charrette, the University of Virginia's School of Architecture unofficially calls the last week before the end of classes Charrette. At the final deadline time (assigned by the school), all students must put their "pencils down" and stop working. Students then present their work to fellow-students and faculty in a critiqued presentation.

Another example, from New College of Florida, is their Master Plan Design Charrettes that took place over a week in 2005 involving students, alumni, administrators, professors, area residents, and local government staff members as well as architects, designers, and planners from Moule & Polyzoides, The Folsom Group, the Florida House Institute for Sustainable Development, Hall Planning & Engineering, and Biohabitats in a process to make long range suggestions for the campus layout, landscaping, architecture, and transportation corridors of the master plan for its campus.

Many municipalities around the world develop long term city plans or visions through multiple charrettes - both communal and professional. Notable successes include the city of Vancouver, British Columbia . See PATRICK M. CONDON, DESIGN CHARRETTES FOR SUSTAINABLE COMMUNITIES 1, Island Press (2008).

The term charette is used for planning a new shopping center in Delaware County, Pa.

Origins of the term "charrette"

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 unknown 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.

Historically, the term charrette also has been applied to the cart or tumbril used to carry the condemned to the guillotine. See: Trésor de la Langue Française informatisé For example: Une charrette (...) traînait lentement à la guillotine un homme dont personne ne savait le nom (Anatole France, Les Dieux ont soif, 1912, p. 44) [trans: "a charrette slowly brought to the guillotine a man whose name nobody knew".]See PATRICK M. CONDON, DESIGN CHARRETTES FOR SUSTAINABLE COMMUNITIES 1, Island Press (2008).

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