The charette (see pages 19-61) has a distinguished place in architectural history. The word is thought to originate from the École des BeauxArts, Paris, referring to the cart which was used to collect student work at the end of an intense design exercise. Students would often jump into the cart themselves to add finishing touches to their schemes as it went on its way. The London branch of the AIA (American Institute of Architects) still holds its annual charette, where teams of UK students and AIA architects are given eight hours to address a design problem before presenting to an expert jury. It is, according to the AIA, 'a rewarding experience for all involved'.
But away from the cosy sanctuary of institutions and academia, it's trickier to buy in to the notion of such wholesome fun. When the AJ teamed up with Argent, the developer responsible for the regeneration of King's Cross, to invite 20 young practices to demonstrate their talents in a one-day design charette, we knew it could be seen as either (a) an unseemly attempt to introduce X-Factor vulgarity to an industry which ought to know better; or (b) an unscrupulous ruse to persuade unsuspecting architects to part with their most-valuable commodity - their design expertise. It can only be a matter of time until one of our more erudite readers points out that the term 'charette' was also the name of the cart which carried the condemned to the guillotine.
Then again, it would have been far easier and cheaper for Argent to have divvied up its new commissions among its existing architects, with perhaps the occasional punt on a personal relative or friend. With predictable results.
The charette can also be seen as (c) an enlightened initiative to nurture new talent by a developer determined to break new ground.