10 March 2015

NCI Charrettes: Collaborative Design Thinking

For over 40 years, charrette practitioners have been using design thinking to solve the most challenging and complex problems, from community-wide design to net zero energy buildings. Design thinking is the way designers and artists innovate to create elegant solutions. A charrette is the process experienced designers use to tackle complex problems with a large set of disparate stakeholders. Design-based public involvement integrates people into the design process through three short feedback loops over multiple, contiguous days. This is the most effective way for participants to learn about the benefits and trade-offs of design decisions.

Architects have known for centuries that the most creative way to work is to immerse themselves in a problem for an uninterrupted period- often several days. Rather than chipping away at a problem one meeting at a time over a period of weeks, the charrette brings specialists, stakeholders and end-users together for an uninterrupted period of time, allowing them to break through to a creative solution. What normally takes months is accomplished in a fraction of the time.

Over 40 year ago, innovative designers started using the charrette process to bring entire communities into the design thinking process. The Charrette Handbook includes a concise history of the charrette process with descriptions of the following early urban design charrette projects.

Charrette Projects Timeline
Excerpted from The Charrette Handbook

1850
École des Beaux-Arts, Paris, France
“Charrette” is used to describe the cart on which completed student architectural drawings are placed at the deadline for critique

1947
Urban Land Institute (ULI) Advisory Services Panel in Louisville, Kentucky

1948
Caudill Rowlett Scott (CRS) Squatters in Blackwell, Oklahoma

1960s–1970s
W.L. Riddick Community Problem Charrettes

1963
Carnegie Institute of Technology Master’s
of Urban Design Program

1967
Urban Design Associates (UDA) Charrettes in Pontiac, Michigan

1967
American Institute of Architects (AIA) Regional/Urban Design Assistance Team
(R/UDAT) in Rapid City, South Dakota

1969
Community Based Projects (CBP) Program of the College of Architecture and Planning at Ball State University student charrette in Indianapolis, Indiana

1970
Interaction, Inc.’s collaborative, multiple-day workshop in San Francisco

1976
Centerbrook Architects and Planners series of “design-a-thons” in Dayton, Ohio

1980
Solar Cities Design Workshop/Charrette at Westerbeke Ranch, Sonoma County, California

1980
Muncie Urban Design Studio’s Muncie Urban Design Charrettes, Muncie, Indiana

1985
University of Washington Department of Architecture student charrette, Seattle

1987
Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company Friday Mountain Charrette in Austin, Texas

2005
Mississippi Renewal Forum, organized by the Congress for the New Urbanism and Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company in Biloxi, Mississippi