Charrette is French for a "small cart"; a charrette was used to transport people to the guillotine during the French Revolution; later in the 19th century, architecture students at famed L'École des Beaux-Arts in Paris rode in horse-drawn charrettes to their final examinations, clutching their drawings, all finished at the last minute. From this inauspicious beginning, architects began to treat a charrette as an intensive design exercise, in which project participants work together for a day or more until a design has been worked out or at least until areas for further study are clearly assigned to each participant.
To my knowledge, the so-called eco-charrette was first named in the late 1990s by Nathan Good, an architect in Salem, Oregon, to denote a focus on the sustainable design aspects of a project. Charrettes are facilitated sessions that utilize the skills of all participants to arrive quickly at major design decisions, with full recognition of all the potential interactions of green building measures with building requirements. The purpose of an eco-charrette is to explore the key green building and green development aspects of a project before any important design decisions are set in stone. Typically it occurs early in the schematic design process (see the section on Integrated Design).
In my own experience, eco-charrettes can help discover unexpected synergies between disparate design items. In one project, the engineers decided to ask if they could put a radiant heating system in the concrete floor slab of a large atrium. As a result, they were able to provide both supple-
mental heating and cooling from the tubing placed in the floor near the top of the concrete. The additional cost of added concrete and tubing was minor, far less than the money saved by reducing the HVAC system size.
Along with an eco-charrette, which often involves fairly detailed and technical discussions of design alternatives, I have often found it useful to have a visioning or goal-setting session with key decision-makers who will not be involved with the more technical aspects of the project. These sessions should involve representatives from the occupants of the building, along with "C-level" executives (CEO, COO and CFO) who will have to approve the expenditures for the green building certification.
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