Three Ways to Make the Most of the Charrette

  • Jun 14, 2016

What does a French word for “little cart” have to do with designing buildings? A lot if you’re an architect.

The Charrette, an interactive session held with a client at the early stages of a project, is one of the best ways to get agreement on a building design. The word was coined during the 19th century at the Ecole de Beaux Arts in Paris where professors circulated with little carts to collect final drawings from their students. Students would jump on the “charrette” to put finishing touches on their presentations minutes before the deadline.

From the 19th century to today, the Charrette remains an important step in an architect’s work. It provides a forum for architects to meet with project stakeholders and translate their ideas into a design plan. The process allows everyone involved to have a say in the design process and ultimately in the final building.

We asked Michael Kaiser and Tom Greenwood, both Principals on Beck’s Architecture Team, to get their insight on how they approach the Charrette. Here are their thoughts:

A separate physical space helps the process. At Beck we’ve created a dedicated room where we hold Charrettes. It provides a large enough space to present our ideas in a variety of ways, plus it gives clients the opportunity to move around and immerse themselves in the design process. Post-it notes and panels all over the walls means the room becomes a giant storyboard.  A dedicated space allows for the Charrette to be the iterative process that it is intended to be.

Participants can easily see what will happen if they make a design change and we can rapidly overlay different pieces of information to show them the anticipated results. And a separate space, for practical purposes, means we can leave our work in the room and come back to it for later review. The result is a more comprehensive process and a more complete graphic representation of the resulting project.

Wall of pictures


Create an experience for all types of thinkers, learners and decision makers. Because people process information in different ways we include elements in a Charrette that would appeal to all types of decision-making styles. A creative person may resonate with a building model, images or finish samples. A more analytical person may be more comfortable with pricing on a spreadsheet. Appealing to different personalities ensures stakeholders ask the right questions that allow us to translate their ideas into a plan and ultimately into a building that mirrors their organization’s identity.

Charrette 1 pic


Be nimble. One of the key parts of a Charrette is refining the design. Any project can be viewed as a three-legged stool with cost, quality and quantity as the three legs. At any point during the Charrette a client may have a question or concern about one of these three aspects. And the Charrette is the best time to be nimble in our thinking and resolve this. Model buildings can be moved on a site, design elements can be changed to fit into budgets and different finishes can be chosen to align better with the client’s brand.

Designing a building is inherently a visual process. The Charrette allows us to translate that visual into words and numbers in order to then come full circle and create the best design.