US Army Corps of Engineers
Albuquerque District

Charrettes Help Ensure Projects Come to Fruition

Public Affairs
Published Sept. 1, 2012
In January, representatives from the District’s El Paso Resident Office, Border Patrol and Mirador Enterprises (and subs) met for an important design charrette on a Border Patrol project.

In January, representatives from the District’s El Paso Resident Office, Border Patrol and Mirador Enterprises (and subs) met for an important design charrette on a Border Patrol project.

It’s not a party game or a new type of cigarette; the technical term charrette (pronounced shuh-ret) can often be heard in the District’s Design Branch and in Military and Interagency and International Services (IIS).  

The modern use of the word charrette most likely has French origins in the word charrette, (“cart” or “chariot”). Student architects would commonly continue to work furiously, at the last minute, on their design presentations, even while riding in the school cart (en charrette) through the streets of Paris en route to submit projects to their professors. Thus, the term came to mean working up to deadline.

It might also derive from a second meaning. Centuries ago, when travel took long periods, a charrette referred to long carriage rides in which politicians and policy makers would be sequestered together in order to collaborate in solving problems over the duration of the trip.

The Corps most often uses charrettes at the beginning of the design process, not at the end, to meet with the customer and explore design options for a particular project. Or, according to Jim Marshall, an architect in the District’s Design Branch, it’s an intensive, hands-on meeting where “everything related to the project is laid-out for analysis, interpretation and scrutiny.”

There are two main formats a charrette can take – the programming or planning charrette and the design charrette. They can be held in a single session or spread out among multiple sessions. The goal of both formats is to capture the vision, values and ideas of the customer.

“At the conclusion of a charrette, the participants should feel like they have a vision and a clear direction forward,” Marshall said.

According to George Sims, a mechanical  engineer in the District’s Facilities Design 

Section, “the programming or planning charrette is done before the project’s justification documents are sent forward for congressional authorization and are very high level and focus on ensuring the overall scope is accurate and that the cost is correct in terms of the project scope.”

Sims said that a design charrette is done when a facility design is just starting.  At this point, the Corps meets with the customer because this is when the functional and operational needs of the facility are worked out to meet the customer’s expectations. 

The District’s Engineering and Construction Division Chief, John Moreno, said that, “at the end of the charrette process, a presentation is made that demonstrates the Corps’ initial understanding to the owner.”

Moreno added that in the Military and IIS programs, the District is actively involved in planning charrettes and design charrettes.  Two were held in April at Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., with a regional Corps team from both Albuquerque and Sacramento districts meeting with the Air Force customers. 

“In terms of success and keeping a project on task, this is typically the most important meeting conducted,” Sims said.