As Rochester, MN continues to grow, and we endeavor to increase the diversity of attractions and support of arts and culture, there is an ever-increasing need to get people involved in making change happen. Cities are complex environments teeming with latent potential and sometimes all that is required is a little spark and a vision to make people excited and explode into action.
Charette Happens is a mobile design studio that seeks out opportunities to bring people together in a collaborative design process. Design requires putting people first and responding to human needs. A charette is rapid collaboration--intended to be equally fun, hectic and exciting. It brings people together and gets them talking, sketching, brainstorming, ideating, and contemplating. While it doesn't have the music of an ice cream truck, when Charette Happens shows up I envision the public eager to hang out and spend a day participating in the design process, or just hanging out to enjoy the activity. Time constraints are imposed to limit the analyzing of ideas and censoring of concepts; it is about free-associative design. Ideas can be provocative, unusual, or fantastical, and every idea has merit. The charette is a transparent design process that spawns creative endeavors. And at the end of the day, the images that are produced are simply given to the people who requested them--true democracy in action.
With the aid of Charette Happens, these small scale attempts to transform the built environment are made manifest in projects such as pocket parks, "complete streets" designs, parklets, pop-up cafes, guerrilla gardening, free libraries, etc. They aim to create an architecture of place through a neighborhood or community event. I strongly believe that it embodies the spirit of the lighter, quicker, cheaper movement: rapid prototyping of creative ideas. Charette Happens is a metaphorical (and literal) vehicle to translate these ideas into visual illustrations. They provide a vision of a future that people can believe in, be inspired by, and work toward.
Risks and challenges
Once this project is funded, there will be two distinct challenges. The first is creating the mobile design studio. There is a 14' box truck that would be perfect, but that is only a shell. After purchasing that truck, it needs to be outfitted inside with the materials and tools necessary to perform multiple design charettes. There will need to be a heat source and some power accommodations and there are several design challenges incorporated in that. Then there is all of the street furniture that should be compact and portable allowing for quick set up on design day, but then also easy to store back inside the truck. On the exterior we will need to place large graphics to identify Charette Happens and any pledge providers names.
The second distinct challenge is sparking the momentum for performing these impromptu charettes. One way to do that is to have pledge providers assist in the requests and direction of where to start. This ensures some interest and stewardship. In the absence of this, we will have to begin proactive, unsolicited, pro bono design services. The key to this will be picking the obvious design challenges that many people agree are problematic. We have to get the word out and publicize when and where the Charette Happens truck will appear. Because of this challenge, YOU are the greatest advocate for Charette Happens. YOU can make sure that it is successful. And YOU will be the greatest beneficiary of Charette Happens making a difference in our community.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
The talent behind the official Charette Happens Kickstarter video is a pair of local videographers that comprise Full Frame Films. Crist Dahl and Chris Delisle are the individuals who take all of the video clips, audio, lighting, and editing responsibilities. They are the team responsible for the amazing About You video produced earlier this year for the Community Asset Inventory in Rochester, MN. You can check that out at www.aboutu.org
Charette Happens is unique, and as a result I don't have any examples of work that is exactly what this project might produce. However, over the course of my career I have used the charette model as an integral part of my design process. I first started using it in a strictly architectural setting for designing buildings, then I learned how the process could be easily translated into communities through work with the Minnesota Design Team, and finally with non-profits and neighborhoods I found the charette process to be an amazing engagement tool for gathering consensus on broad design issues. My portfolio of work as a practitioner is all that I have to prove that I can perform this work, there are no concrete examples of the work that I anticipate Charette Happens would create.
Obviously I want the project to be as open ended as possible to not be prescriptive about projects or even design solutions. But I have envisioned some scenarios where people could request Charette Happens to solve a problem:
a) A group of neighbors who live on a street in a newer development built during the 1990's or 2000's with wide streets and no trees or even sidewalks could request Charette Happens to visit their block and perform a charette to create a vision of a more pedestrian-friendly and charming street. This could be used to provide either the association or neighborhood leaders with some support to lobby the City of Rochester for improvements.
b) A person who walks to work past a vacant storefront downtown every day and wishes that there was something in that location that would serve the public's needs could have Charette Happens open up dialogue with neighboring businesses and the public to determine some interim use or even simply a dressed up visual appearance.
c) Residents on the edges of town who feel that commercial development is quickly approaching and don't like the aesthetic of big box retailers and parking lots could request Charette Happens to design a more compatible style of development or more suitable locations that would give them some evidence when in front of the various review bodies that exist.
d) An empty lot in one of the downtown neighborhoods could be re-designed as a community garden or pocket park with the help of Charette Happens.
e) A neighborhood that is upset over a development project they feel doesn't fit with the character of the neighborhood could request Charette Happens to assist in translating their desires and interpret their grievances into some drawings that can be more helpful than bickering and finger-pointing.
The budget for the project was developed after adding up all of the real costs necessary to create a safe and functional mobile studio. Here is a breakdown of what some of the hard costs for the project are:
- Kickstarter takes a percentage fee right off the top for successfully funded projects.
- Most of the funds are to actually purchase the vehicle (box truck) to house the studio.
- Materials necessary to perform a series of charettes (paper, poster board, tracing paper, markers, post-it notes, flip charts, desk space, pin-up boards, etc.)
- Decals and paint for the exterior of the truck to make it identifiable as the Charette Happens truck.
- Money to satisfy (and mail in some cases) all of the rewards such as vinyl decals for the Founding Fathers, and Grand Poobahs, and Government Handouts).
- License plates, registration, insurance, gas, and interior heating to operate Charette Happens.
- Demountable, collapsible, and/or flexible outdoor furniture that can be packed into the Charette Happens truck.
I have had broad experience facilitating and leading design charettes ranging from 5-10 people all the way up to large community gatherings of more than 100 people. As a volunteer with the Minnesota Design Team I have participated in five weekend long visits to small communities in Minnesota, three of them as team co-leader. During my time with the Rochester Area Foundation, I was responsible for leading the Imagine processes in several downtown neighborhoods which included large and small charettes to gather input for crafting an overall vision plan. Also, as a member of an architectural and engineering firm, I was involved in charettes with public and private clients to design campus spaces, wellness centers, lab science facilities, libraries, and classroom buildings.
My experience in working with individuals with disparate viewpoints to develop consensus-based, community-driven solutions gives me the confidence to take on projects of all scopes and scale in the Rochester community with the help of the public as an integral partner in the design process.
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