At a glance

Policy stage: 
Level of involvement: 
Cost: 
Medium - High
Length of process: 
3 - 5 sessions
Number of participants: 
25-500 people
Participant selection: 
Self-selecting members of the public, representatives of interest groups, decision makers.
Online / Offline: 
Offline

A Design Charrette is an intensive, hands-on workshop that brings people from different disciplines and backgrounds together with members of the community to explore design options for a particular area. It differs from a traditional community consultation process in that it is design based.

Description

A Design Charrette is a type of participatory planning process that assembles an interdisciplinary team - typically consisting of planners, citizens, city officials, architects, landscape architects, transportation engineers, parks and recreation officials, and other stakeholders - to create a design and implementation plan for a specific area.

The goal of the Charrette process is to capture the vision, values, and ideas of the community - with designers sketching these on to the Charette to create ideas about the future as fast as they can be generated by the participants. Typically therefore they are a fun and innovative way to engage the public, especially in projects where there is a significant landscape, streetscape, or other interesting design element.

A key component of a design Charrette is time compression. For 4 - 7 days, participants work together in brainstorming sessions, sketching workshops and other exercises, informed by a series of feedback loops. Meetings take place with participants coming together as a group at set times or breaking off into smaller working groups. Behind the scenes, the core design team is working constantly.

Used for

Charrettes are best used for projects focused on community regenerataion: including master plans within a city’s comprehensive plan, town center plans, transit-oriented development plans, affordable housing development plans, and wide-scale redevelopment projects. 

Charrettes can be a good way to build positive enthusiasm and energy for your project and, at the same time, be responsive to the creativity of the community.

Participants

  • Anyone from the community can participate, although the process also relies on working with professional designers, planners or architects.
  • It is vital that local decsion makers, as well as professionals from planning, roads and infrastructure services are part of the process.

Costs

Medium: The cost will depend on how many meetings take place and whether the professional designers and local experts charge for their time.

Approximate time expense

Low: The workshops can be completed in three to five sessions. It may however take substantially longer for final reccomendations and plans to be drawn up.

Strengths

  • It is a creative and dynamic process.
  • Encourages collaboration between groups that would not traditionally work together in a planning process.
  • Allows a number of different options and scenarios to be explored - Gives designers insights into a community's needs and values they may not otherwise get.
  • Gives citizens the opportunity to be directly involved in designing solutions for their local area.

Weaknesses

  • Can raise unrealistic expectations about what will happen when the process finishes. Facilitators and organisers must take care to explain what they are committing to and what the scope for change is.
  • May be dominated by experts.

Origin

According to the US National Charrette Institute, 'the French word, "charrette" means "cart" and is often used to describe the final, intense work effort expended by art and architecture students to meet a project deadline. This use of the term is said to originate from the cole des Beaux Arts in Paris during the 19th century, where proctors circulated a cart, or "charrette", to collect final drawings while students frantically put finishing touches on their work.'

More Information

More information about the practice of community Design Charrettes in the UK can be found here.

Examples

What Floats Your Boat?’ Charrette Firhill Basin Canal Corridor

International case studies of Charrettes in practice can be found here.

Photo by Scott Bonjukian (CC0)