Working as a Charrette Landscape Architect, Part 1

by Daniel Ashworth, Jr., PLA, ASLA, AICP

Landscape architect Daniel Ashworth working on street cross sections
The author working on street cross sections for a small area study in Memphis, TN. / image: Alexander Preudhomme, Opticos Design, Inc.

Working in design charrettes is a unique experience usually reserved for architects and planners working in firms aligned with the Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU), using the ideas and procedures codified by Bill Lennertz through the National Charrette Institute (NCI). However, in the last five to eight years I have noticed more landscape architecture services being pulled into the charrette process, and with increasing frequency, landscape architects are leading multidisciplinary charrettes.

A design charrette is a three- to five-day intensive, focused, and collaborative workshop usually held on the project site or as close to the site as possible within the project’s community. The setting and nature of the charrette gets the project’s team members out of the distracted design office environment and into the same room together. Being on site means the project team is designing in public and are able to get immediate feedback from the public and project stakeholders through open studio hours and presentations during charrette week. The charrette process allows team members to access the project site whenever necessary, and it allows for the in-person team collaboration that leads to a better and more coordinated project and higher quality places. From a project management standpoint, a charrette can also be a cheaper and more efficient way to get the majority of project work done, even in light of the travel and lodging costs.

An example of a quick, charrette-produced plan to make an existing roadway more bicycle and pedestrian friendly, and an existing parking lot more of a park-like place. / image: Daniel Ashworth
The author presenting a quickly done hand-sketched map diagram in West Palm Beach, FL. / image: Brad Davis, Alta Planning + Design

A typical design charrette usually involves the following:

  1. A site visit or tour with the client, project stakeholders, and the whole project team,
  2. A public meeting at the beginning to kick off the charrette week,
  3. Open studio hours for the public to drop in to see progress,
  4. Closed studio hours for intensive team design work and to pull together presentation materials,
  5. Technical committee and stakeholder meetings around topics such as transportation, historic properties, utilities, project neighborhoods, etc., and
  6. A closing public meeting with a works in progress presentation of the work done during the week.

This arrangement provides a great balance for intensive and creative work sessions along with having high-touch public and stakeholder engagement.

While I often work on hand-drawn plans and exhibits, we have other designers who translates those plans into photo renderings, both happening on site at the same time. Working in multiple media is helpful. / images: Daniel Ashworth

The charrette process is chosen by many design firms because charrettes can ultimately produce a better product. The biggest benefit of this process is the entire design team is together in one studio for a week designing with ongoing public and stakeholder input through the duration of the workshop.

In part two of this series, to be published here on The Field next week, I will talk about what a charrette studio looks like, the tools involved, and some advice about working well at charrettes.

Daniel Ashworth, Jr., PLA, ASLA, AICP, is a Senior Associate Landscape Architect in Alta Planning + Design’s Memphis office and Co-Chair of the ASLA Urban Design Professional Practice Network (PPN). He holds degrees in landscape architecture from Mississippi State University (B.L.A.) and the University of Pennsylvania (M.L.A.). He is a certified planner and licensed landscape architect in five states (AL, AR, FL, SC, and TN). Daniel’s 15 years of professional experience include comprehensive and master planning, site design, urban design, planting design, construction documents, and construction observation and administration. When away from work, he enjoys time with family, running and biking in parks and trails, and going to music concerts and festivals.

Daniel will be speaking at the 2019 ASLA Conference on Landscape Architecture in San Diego on the session FRI-A10 – Manassas Street, A Tactical and Artistic Urban Street Transformation in Memphis, taking place Friday, November 15, 1:30 – 3:00 PM.

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