Design Charrette


The design charrette is an alternative to the traditional planning meeting that brings together a wide range of stakeholders along with a team of architects and designers to translate community ideas into workable plans in a very short time period.  In a cycle of meetings over a couple of days (or sometimes weeks or months), participants brainstorm ideas for a project, designers sketch up plans that incorporate those ideas, participants review the sketches and provide additional guidance, designers revise the drawings based on participant comments, and so on until a satisfactory product is created.  The end products of this process consist of sketches and accompanying written guidance that help to ensure that stakeholders' ideas are translated faithfully into a finished project.  A design charrette is a great way to increase public engagement and signal to participants that their ideas are wanted and useful.


It can often be difficult to get community members to participate meaningfully in planning for project if the process is spread out over a long period of time.  If  community members can only attend meetings sporadically, they may find that the issues important to them has already been discussed, and is no longer under consideration.  The resulting frustration can cause citizens to feel that their input is not valued and can ultimately cause disengagement from the process. 

Design charrettes are most useful for creating a clear and detailed plan for a location-specific project, particularly in cases where drawings and maps are an integral part of the project.  This can include private development projects as well as place-specific community visions (such as a village infill plan, a waterfront redevelopment plan, or the like).  The charrette can help to build consensus by helping people focus on specifics that they can agree on rather than getting stuck on broad philosophical differences.

A group of citizens in an Addison County town discuss plans for a proposed new neighborhood in their community.

A charrette design team will typically include designers, landscape architects, and planners.  However, for large and complex projects, a multi-disciplinary team that includes lawyers, financers, and engineers can help ensure that each step of design is realistic, and the final plan feasible.  The same principles that produce effective participation for other types of planning meetings, such as broad-based publicity and making attendance easy and convenient, apply to the charrette as well.

The first step to organizing a successful charrette is to gather all the stakeholders.  Stakeholders include anyone who will be affected by the changes that the project or plan will bring, from residents and business owners to neighborhood groups and local officials.  It is especially important to include both parties in support and those in opposition from the start, as early engagement can be key to ensuring that the project is redesigned in a way that builds broad consensus in favor of the project.

Once stakeholders are gathered, it is important to ensure that everyone has the same expectations regarding the process and focus of the charrette.  A charrette requires several rounds of drafting and commenting that generally (though not always) occur over a relatively short period of time.  This is an intensive process that works best if ground rules and expectations are clearly articulated and agreed to up front.

A charrette requires at least three cycles of community input and subsequent drawing by a design team, all of which typically occur over the course of a few days or a week (or in some cases, over several months).  First, community members break out into small groups to participate in hands-on community visioning and drawing with a designer.  The groups help the designer sketch a series of ideas that show how the project or area ought to look.  The design team then recesses and works intensively to integrate input from all the groups into a first unified draft design.

Participants then review the design at the next meeting, where the design team leads them through a series of questions intended to draw out key unresolved issues.  After this first round of review, the design team revises the drawings to move the design closer to a consensus vision.  This revised version is presented to participants for another cycle of community review and professional design, after which the team should have a conceptual design that can be translated readily into a buildable project or a clear design plan.

At the end of the design charrette process, a community can expect to have created a work product with both tangible and intangible value.  The community should be able to hold in their hand a completed concept plan that incorporates site layout, design characteristics, and other important features of the project.  In addition, the community should have developed a solid basis for moving forward, with broad community investment in the project and a clear understanding among charrette participants of the key features of the project.

Related Issues


An Introduction to Charrettes
Provides an introduction to charrettes and concise step by step guide to organizing them.
A more detailed guide to organizing, hosting, and implementing the results of a charrette.