Over the past five years the American Institute of Architects London/ UKChapter has held a Design Charrette for students and professionals.
While organising and publicising the event last year, I found that a lot of people didn't know what a 'charrette' was. I described it as a brainstorming session on a design problem or a sketch problem, or 'esquisse'. A term that I took for granted studying in Vancouver, was not, I found, widely known in London. Beaux Arts terminology is far more engrained in North American architectural education.
The French term, meaning 'cart' or 'wagon', originates from the 'Ecole des Beaux Arts', in nineteenth-century Paris. A charrette signified the intense, final period of work before a deadline. At the Beaux Arts, the cart or wagon was used to collect the students' drawings and models at the time of submission deadlines. The students, as always desperately working until the very last minute, would at times attempt to add finishing touches to their work even as it was being wheeled away on the cart.
Hence the term 'en charrette', later translated into English 'on charrette'.
Today, the term is used to describe the trauma of a rushed deadline, but it is also about design discourse, and the process of initialising ideas.
This year's theme of High Dense + City Living is inspired by the current discourse on the urban regeneration and sustainability of our cities (see page 18). The Charrette is open to students and professionals from all design-related disciplines and, as last year, promises to be intense, heated, and inspiring.
Yasin Visram, AIA board member, Koetter, Kim & Associates, London WC2