Do you suffer from Charrette Syndrome?  You can determine the degree of your ailment simply by counting the number of times you use the word “charrette” in an interview.

1-2 times – Early onset and you should be monitored
3-6 times – You have the syndrome and you should seek therapy
6 or more times – You should be institutionalized and no longer attend interviews

After interviewing architects with clients, they often ask, “what is a charrette and why do I need one?”  We don’t give them the institutional answer, but for this blog, we will provide some detailed information. The word charrette refers to any collaborative session in which a group of designers drafts a solution to a design problem; it is born out of working up to the last minute of the deadline.  According to Wikipedia, the word charrette is French for “cart” or “chariot”. In the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in 19th century Paris, it was not unusual for student architects to continue team collaboration at the end of the allotted term, up until a deadline, when a “cart” would be wheeled among the students to pick up their work for review.

Charrette is a great strategy when marketing to a new client as it fits the bill of collaborative design.  The problem is most of our clients have never been through the design process; they are often intimidated by the time commitment of a three-day charrette and how they can contribute.  When using this tact in an interview consider a few strategies.

  1. Explain what it is and how it adds value
  2. Show the client samples of successful charrettes
  3. Tell them how you operate; drawing, models, clay, silly putty. Is it fun or serious problem solving?
  4. Don’t scare them with the time commitment. You and your team may work for a solid three days but perhaps the owner pulls in strategic members at just the right time.

Charrettes can serve as valuable exercise benefiting the design team and client; just remember your audience and their level of experience related to the design process.

Paul Wember ~ Owner’s Representative