03 April 2006

A Piece of Charrette History: The CRS “Squatters”

The following piece of charrette history was excerpted from the National Charrette Institute’s publication, The Charrette Handbook, available this summer from the APA Planners Press. It represents a small portion of a chapter on the history and evolution of the charrette and the NCI Charrette System processes that contains numerous such case examples.

The evolution of the collaborative, multiple-day, inclusive, on-site charrette is not a linear one but its roots can be found in a variety of projects and processes, some of which were related to land use and some of which were not. It is hard to pinpoint just when design firms first began to involve stakeholders in the design process. One of the most sited processes are the CRS “squatters.”

Caudill Rowlett Scott (CRS) Squatters in Blackwell, Oklahoma

In 1948, CRS held the first “squatters” in Blackwell, Oklahoma on an elementary school project. The Austin, Texas firm had a long commute to the project site that they found wasted a lot of time, money, energy and creative ideas. The partners set up a temporary office and “squatted” at the school site until all of the design issues with the school board were resolved.

The process was effective enough that CRS incorporated the three- to ten-day squatters into their future projects for both programming and design to involve client and user groups in decision making. Stakeholders included clients, end users, and a multidisciplinary team of professionals that resulted in the client/user’s approval of the current phase of the project.

“The squatters came about very accidentally. We were trying to get the preliminary plans approved for these two schools in Blackwell. Wally and I were going back and forth trying to get their approval. We were running out of money, we were running out of time, and we were losing good ideas because we were having a real communication problem and we needed to solve it. How do you practice architecture five hundred and twenty-five miles from home? We were about to lose this job by default because we could not get it approved. I don’t know if I thought of the idea or not; maybe it was Wallie. But one of us said, ‘By gosh, let’s just get in the car, put our drafting boards in the car, and go to Blackwell. Let’s set up office right in the board room and not come back to Texas until we get the damn project approved.’ We drove one Sunday night to Blackwell and set up office early Monday morning; we just squatted, as we say, right in the boardroom. By Friday night we had complete approval on this project by the Board. In fact, it was unanimous enthusiastic approval. While we were trying to solve a communication problem, we discovered something that we should have known all along–to involve the users in the planning process.” **

** Bill Caudill, interviewed by Larry Meyer for an Oral Business History Project, University of Texas, 1971. Sponsored by The Moody Foundation. Source: CRS Archives, CRS Center, Texas A&M University, College Station, TX.