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Design Charrette

A charrette is an intensive, multi-disciplinary design workshop designed to facilitate open discussion between major stakeholders of a development project. A team of design experts meets with community groups, developers and neighbors over a period from three or four days to two weeks long, gathering information on the issues a community is facing.

'En charrette' was a term used by architecture students in Paris to mean 'to draw at the last moment'. In recent years, the term has come to describe a design workshop in which designers work intensively on an issue and present their findings in a public forum. (Illman, see References).

'The charrette team then works together to find design solutions that will result in a clear, detailed, realistic vision for future development. The charrette process is an exercise of transparency, where information is shared between the design professionals and the stakeholders of a project area. In this way, trust is built between the parlties involved and the resulting vision can be based predominantly upon the issues that stakeholders feel are most crucial to them.' (Charrette Center). Charrettes are popular with architects, planners, designers and developers as the intensive nature of the process means results are achieved quickly (Sarkissian, page 143).

Charrettes are increasingly used by public and private sector groups and agencies as the chief design event in the urban design or town planning process. There are three stages in the Charrette Timetable (from Charrette Center):

  1. Information gathering, in which the design team listens to the views of the stakeholders and citizens.
  2. Design & review, a collaborative process engaging the design team.
  3. Presentation: The charrette ends with a final presentation of designs and findings.


  • The charrette process aims to develop a vision for a geographic region on planning process which is based predominantly upon the issues that stakeholders have said are a priority.


  • The design charrette process aims to be transparent, allowing information to be shared between the design professionals and the stakeholders of a project area. The information shared and the understanding gained by the participants is the most important product.The trust that is built between the parties ensures that the resulting vision is based predominantly upon the issues that stakeholders feel are most crucial to them.


  • A design charrette is a good idea when people need to cut across boundaries and work on a large, collaborative project.
  • Because participants are encouraged to offer design ideas and solutions to problems that are outside their areas of expertise, charrettes are particularly helpful in complex situations calling for new ways of looking at things.
  • Can save money where many many drawings are needed in a short time. Rather than commissioning expensive drawings without input from the community, a charrette offers an inclusive, less expensive process.
  • A highly specialised participatory tool, usually applied in planning and design projects.
  • Attempts to bring together project stakeholders to facilitate fast and interactive decision making.
  • Provides joint problem solving and creative thinking.
  • Effective for creating partnerships and positive working relationships with the public. Sarkissian et al (1999?!) have identified the following uses/strengths:
    – Can open up horizons for local people to imagine and visualise possibilities.
    – Allows a problem to be analysed holistically, attempting to resolve community problems and encourage ((consensus)) building
    – enable the initiating agency to understand how a proposal appears to a community.
    – Allows the desires, attitudes and preferences of special interest groups to be tabled so that conflicting issues can be resolved by consensus.
    – Can energise community participation by introducing new perspectives through introducing multidisciplinary teams
    – With expert facilitation, can provide a transparent and accessible process, giving voice to all participants, including those that may not be as self assured and confident as others
    – can stimulate community momentum through the intensity of the process;
    – Encourages people to become actively involved because the process promises immediate feedback.
    – Properly facilitated and with extensive community contact, can function as a community education process.
    – Provides an opportunity for the community to have input at a number of points in the process.
  • Can save money by being an effective use of time and resources

Special considerations/weaknesses:

  • This specialised tool is only applicable to certain scenarios, for example, where a short-term resolution is needed, or where a high level of public awareness and input is needed and welcomed.
  • The process is intensive, and usually lasts 5-14 days.
  • As specialists are required, the process is costly.
  • Ideally, the break-out groups should contain a cross-section of people in the various disciplines represented in the design team.
  • A compressed time period means a number of stakeholders may miss out.
  • Inadequate time provided for reflection and refinement.
  • The process can be 'railroaded' by vocal stakeholders if not run by a trained design charrette facilitator.
  • The process limits the input of children.
  • Participants may not be seen as representative of the larger public.
  • The effects may not last if this is seen as a 'one shot' technique, rather than part of a large planning and decision-making process.

Resources required:

  • Publicity
  • Venue rental for final presentation
  • Catering
  • Staffing
  • Engagement of experts for design process and expert panel
  • Trained green charrette facilitator
  • Recorders
  • Gophers
  • Photographer
  • Audio and visual recording and amplification
  • Overhead projectors
  • Data projectors
  • Video
  • Slide projector
  • Projection screen
  • Data projectors
  • Props for working in groups (pens, paper, pins, etc.)
  • Children's requirements

Can be used for:

  • Showcase product, plan, policy
  • Engage community
  • Discover community issues
  • Develop community capacity
  • Develop action plan
  • Communicate an issue
  • Build alliances, consensus

Number of people required to help organise:

  • Large (> 12 people)
  • Medium (2-12 people)
  • Individual

Audience size:

  • Large (> 30)
  • Medium (11-30)

Time required:

  • Short (< 6 weeks)

Skill level/support required:

  • Medium (Computer & other expertise)


  • Medium (AUD$1,000-AUD$10,000)
  • Low (< AUD$1,000)

Participation level:

  • Medium (Opinions noted)

Innovation level:

  • High (Innovative)


  • Identify an architectural, urban design, or planning policy issue of community and/or environmental importance.
  • Select a suitably cross-disciplinary team or teams (e.g. architects/landscape architects/urban designers/engineers/biologists and/or students in these fields).
  • Elect an Expert Panel who can help assess the designs at the end of the process.
  • Hire a trained design charrette facilitator, who can help form teams and small groups, obtain quick agreement on desired outcomes, and keep everyone involved in the process.
  • Brief the teams on the charrette process, which aims at delivering feasible and creative solutions for real clients within a short period of time.
  • Plan for a workshop that provides sufficient time for the designers to work intensively on a problem and then present their findings (often five days).
  • Book a venue (indoor or outdoor) with room for the design team as a whole to work, as well as areas for smaller, break-out groups.
  • Encourage the team to begin each day with a whole-group discussion of issues, goals, findings, and approaches; these help to define subsequent goals and issues for break-out groups to discuss and analyze.
  • Encourage break-out groups to join the larger group regularly to present ideas and approaches; these can then be integrated or adapted into the overall design concept.
  • Record ideas using on-site graphic recording in a somewhat standard format that can easily be compiled in a report. Examples include 'fill-in-the-blanks' flip charts that can be scanned into booklets or files for Internet distribution.
  • At the conclusion of the charrette, allow each team to present its proposed solution to a large audience of the public, planning professionals, and business and civic leaders. The goal is not necessarily to prepare a final design but to explore and understand all the design issues. The information shared and the understanding gained by the participants is the most important product.
  • Invite questions from an Expert Panel and questions from the audience.


  • City of Seattle Website: Salmon Friendly Seattle Design Charrette. http://www.cityofseattle.net/util/charrette/
  • Illman, Deborah.L. 1997, UW Showcase 1985: Douglas Kelbaugh and the Seattle Community Design Charrettes. http://www.washington.edu/research/showcase/1985c.html
  • InternationalAssociationForPublicParticipation (2000).IAP2 Public Participation Toolbox. (accessed 17/12/02) http://www.iap2.org/practitionertools/
  • NorthwestRegionalFacilitators. (1999). Public Participation Resource Guide. September, Chapter One Public Participation Methods & Techniques. http://www.nrf.org/cpguide/index.html#tablecontents [accessed 20 Dec 2002].
  • Sarkissian, W., Perlgut, D & Ballard, E. (eds.) (1986) Community Participation in Practice in The Community Participation Handbook: resources for public involvement in the planning process. Roseville, NSW. Impacts Press.
  • Charrette Center Inc. (2003) The Charrette Center, http://www.charrettecenter.com (accessed 20 Feb 2004)
  • US Dept of Energy. Federal Greening Toolkit: Conducting a Greening Exercise, the Design Charette. http://www.eren.doe.gov/femp/techassist/greening_toolkit/charrette.html (accessed 5/12/2002)
  • Victorian Planning and Law Association, Inc (1992) The Charrette Process – An Analysis of the Process and Its Future Use. Papers presented in a public seminar, 13 August. Melbourne: The Association.
  • Wates, N. (1999) The Community Planning Handbook. Earthscan Publications Ltd, London.

Many of the resources in the “Participatory Practices” category originated in Coastal CRC's Citizen Science Toolbox (www.coastal.crc.org/au/toolbox/). With permission, NCDD included the resource on our wiki so practitioners could expand upon the listing.

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