The AEC Lens
founding partner | architect @ WORKSHOP8
Confessions of a Charrette Junkie
February 11th, 2013 by JV DeSousa
I’ll come right out and admit it. . . . . I’m a charrette-aholic.
What’s a charrette you ask? Well, the word really means “cart” in French and its relationship to architecture stems from the use of a cart to collect final projects in the design studios at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris, but if you look it up on Wikipedia it says:
A charrette (pronounced [shuh-ret]), is often Anglicized to charette and sometimes called a design charrette. . . . In fields of design such as architecture, landscape architecture, industrial design, interior design, interaction 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 both focused and sustained effort. 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.
Much to the dismay of many people around me—starting with my wife and kids and ending with my business partners—I love working all sorts of weird hours of the night. I find that my most creative period of the day is between 1 a.m. and 3 a.m. And I love the craziness, intensity—and yes, stress—of having a very short period of time to complete a lot of design work. I can’t say exactly why I like this—it’s just the way I’m wired. So there it is—I’m an admitted charrette-aholic.
Last October I got a big fix at the Housing Colorado Now! Conference. I was given the opportunity to lead a great group of people through a charrette to design a project for the Estes Park Housing Authority. The team consisted of co-leader Paul Brady of Godden | Sudik Architects, Ulla Lange of WORKSHOP8, Elena Scott of Norris Design, Matt Heiser and Steve Lane of Basis Architecture, Matt Seewald of Palace Construction, Rita Kurelja of the Estes Park Housing Authority, Elicia Ratajczyk of Housing Colorado, several other design and development professionals and six amazing students from UC Denver.
The charrette was two days and two nights of non-stop designing, drawing, discussing, thinking and laughing (there may have been some crying and complaining too). In the end the design concept was distilled to “everyone wants their own little cabin in the woods.” I’ve never worked on any other project where large ungulates (aka elk) and how they walk across the site received more design discussion than cars and parking. And by the middle of the second night things got a little strange when one of the students took it upon himself to make up names for all of the team members. Swale Sister and Berm Bot make sense for landscape architects, but why one young female architecture student was named Tebow was lost on me.
In forty-eight mostly sleepless hours we went from a blank page to this:
And then to this:
As a confessed junkie I loved every minute of it—seriously—even searching for a cup of coffee or tea at 3:00 a.m. I hope that everyone else that was on the team loved it too. And most of all—I hope that Rita and the people of Estes Park got something of value out of it.