Nov 16, 2010

The Charrette as a Sustainable Design Tool

The charrette is not new. It is a problem solving tool that can be used to address many different types of problems, including but certainly not limited to design. It could perhaps be exactly what Jean Piaget had in mind when discussing how to approach complex issues: one needs to approach them from multiple perspectives in order to start describing complex issues completely, let alone understand them, let alone to actually craft a viable solution to them. It is striving for holism.

It is this holistic characteristic that sets the charrette apart from other problem solving tools. Although it can be used for other types of problems, it is what makes the charrette such a powerful tool for “sustainability” (understood as more than just energy efficiency) and what makes it essential for sustainable design. A problem is not sufficiently understood unless it is approached holistically, and sustainable design is defined by this notion.

This semester, Fall 2010, the MSSD students have participated in and/or ran a total of three separate charrettes. I know of no other university or program providing such a high level of opportunity for its students to get real world experience with this foundational tool. It also benefited the clients of each charrette, too. Below is a video where participants (not MSSD students, but rather clients) discuss their experience:

Photos from the charrettes this semester:

The impact on students provided by learning the tool and seeing firsthand the effect it has on the participants and clients is often personally transformational for the student. One is empowered by discovering with others opportunities that were previously unseen. It is a skill that can be used again and again.

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