This Charette is Not A Tumbril

By Maeve Maddox

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The high school in my community is about to undergo a major redesign. I opened the morning paper and read the following headline:

Details of tonight’s high school design charette revealed Wednesday

I was puzzled because the only meaning for charette/charrette I was acquainted with was “wheeled cart,” like the one that hauled Sidney Carton to the guillotine in A Tale of Two Cities.

Come to find out, charette, also spelled charet, is a term much used in urban planning. Here’s the new definition as added to the OED in 2007

charet, n. Chiefly N. Amer. (orig. Archit.). A period of intense (group) work, typically undertaken in order to meet a deadline. Also: a collaborative workshop focusing on a particular problem or project; (Town Planning) a public meeting or conference devoted to discussion of a proposed community building project. [Probably originally with reference to the former custom among French architecture students of using a cart to carry their work on the day of an exhibition: see Trésor de la Langue Française s.v. charrette.]

Now I understand when I read something like the following:

Herbert said that during the charette, boards will be provided with outlines of the campus.

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1 Response to “This Charette is Not A Tumbril”

  • PreciseEdit

    From the Carnegie Mellon Libraries:

    What is a Charette?
    The term “charette” evolved from a pre-1900 exercise at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in France. Architectural students were given a design problem to solve within an allotted time. When that time was up, the students would rush their drawings from the studio to the Ecole in a cart called a charrette. Students often jumped in the cart to finish drawings on the way. The term evolved to refer to the intense design exercise itself. Today it refers to a creative process akin to visual brainstorming that is used by design professionals to develop solutions to a design problem within a limited timeframe.

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