What's a Charrette?
2 min read
Have you attended a charrette before? Wondering what a charrette even is?
A charrette is a dynamic and often intense explosion of creativity focused on the shaping of a development project. A group of architects, planners, and specialists come together to dream and scheme land plans based on the ambitions of the developer.
Oui! You guessed right, the word 'charrette' is French in origin and means ‘cart’ and refers to a cart used in 19th-century Paris to collect architecture students’ work on the day of an exhibition. In the same sense, the deliverables of a modern charrette process are several conceptual master plans for the developer to consider. A modern day exhibition of sorts.
At Vista Growth, we employ our "One Place Charrette" process to help combine vision, placemaking, and place-branding. It's different.
The One Place Charrette process begins with the Vista team working closely with key stakeholders to gain a 360 view of the team’s aspirations, expectations, and assumptions. We refine the charrette goals and identify ideal participants.
After the pre-work, it's time for the main event.
Depending on the size of the ambition, we engage multiple groups of architects and planners to create conceptual master plans. We believe that "design thinking" fundamentals are best in this early stage event—suspend judgement so creativity and innovative thinking flourish. Once the creatives are armed with the local, site-specific knowledge, they begin to discuss, debate, and illustrate their ideas. We look broadly at prosperity (jobs), mobility (transportation and walkability), livability (housing and lifestyle), and community. The plans can be big picture or focused at street level, and include phasing of the proposed plan.
No two charrettes are alike. In some cases, the first round of drawing can take up to a day, concluding with group presentations describing their thinking. This allows for an important feedback loop. The planners then work toward final conceptual sketches, which they present again before the conclusion of the charrette. From there, leadership can make decisions about what ideas get implemented.
One key difference and advantage of our "One Place Charrette" is that it goes far beyond the typical placemaking and includes significant place-branding.
In many ways, we treat place like a product, a brand. We capture the initial vision, set a brand position, define potential narratives, document the history, and start to craft the identity, voice, and story of the place brand. In film and in photos. Our belief is that when people buy into a community, they buy into the narrative. These are branding fundamentals. No story, no buyers.
Charrettes are the first inning of a long ball game. It's very important to make sure the creative compass heading is properly directed, so that long-term implementation is well-served and successful.
Charrettes, like brand strategy, make sure teams have their ladders on the right walls before sending teams climbing up and down. And once spaces are created, buildings are built, places become lovable and livable and sustainable. Irresistible places warrant exceptional premiums and lead to better cities, better neighborhoods, and better communities.