What is a Charrette?

A charrette is a term that, in the architecture industry, describes an important meeting or meetings intended to set goals for a building project including scope, schedule, and budget. This meeting is often a good chance for the project team to get to know the details of each other’s involvement in the project and begin to cover the most pressing topics regarding the project. This meeting may be the only time that all major project stakeholders are in the room together, but it is very important that they are. The charrette establishes a preliminary project direction and goals that all stakeholders can agree upon. The next phases of the project will take care of the detailed steps necessary to achieve those goals.

Sustainability-Focused Charrette

Now that you know what a charrette is, we can explore the idea of a sustainability charrette. The meeting or meetings would be set up to involve all major stakeholders’ participation and input as well as set sustainability goals. This could be achieved with an in-person and/or virtual meeting that helps the project owner and the design professionals understand the 

High level topics to discuss around the time of the charrette are site selection, type of building, schedule, energy sources and budget. These will help set up possibilities for sustainability goals. During the charrette, it will be helpful to focus on sustainability goals on a large scale, then use the next project meetings and phases to hone in on the exact solutions and processes required. 

Project owners often wish to lower their operational costs, and sustainability is an excellent way to do just that. Effective and properly installed insulation and an air-tight building envelope can lower utility bills as well as provide better indoor air quality. Renewable energy sources can provide free energy via photovoltaic panels, wind turbines, etc. The initial costs of many sustainability measures such as renewable energy sources are usually covered several times over throughout the life of the project. 

Sustainably designed buildings often capitalize on the building’s orientation in a way that solar heat gain is optimized for the changing seasons, resulting in less cooling and heating required from the ventilation systems. Along those same lines, natural light can be optimized via building orientation and window placement. This results in a lower need for artificial lighting while providing building occupants with sunlight and views to the outdoors. These benefits should sound great to any building owner and even to potential employees. If a building has lower operational costs, those savings can go towards future repairs and upgrades. Also, if an employee enjoys ample natural light and a constant comfortable temperature in their workplace, they could potentially be a more productive and happier employee. This results in less employee turnover which equals lower hiring and firing costs.

The “Why” Behind Sustainability

In addition to considering the bottom line, the project owner should consider their “why” for their project’s sustainability goals. It could be to provide a safer, healthier workplace for their building’s occupants. The “why” could also be to create a regenerative building project as opposed to a building project that consumes more energy than it creates. These are just examples that can compel a project team to stay focused on sustainability throughout the life of the project even if shortcuts present themselves along the way. These “why” examples may seem intangible, but in reality, they are measurable and can be improved upon over the building’s lifetime.

Sustainability Certifications

The charrette is also the time to consider which, if any, sustainability certifications are desired. Like we have discussed in my last few posts, sustainability certifications provide resources and guidelines for building projects seeking sustainability goals. Upon certification award, the project and its owner now have marketability based on their proven dedication to sustainability. Certifications do come with costs for registration, fees, and performance testing. These fees will vary depending on the certification, the project size, etc. So, these additional costs should be added to the overall project budget.

A sustainability charrette is an important part of attaining sustainability certifications that require an approach called integrative design. Integrative design is just what it sounds like in that the project’s design goals require collaboration and buy-in from the major project stakeholders. The design then becomes an integrative process in which no stakeholder is left alone to make design decisions that do not align with the goals established as a united design effort. 

Charrette Timing

The charrette is typically at the beginning of the project when most project funding has been secured and the project design or design-build team has been selected. So, to set the stage, the project is just an idea at this point. The charrette will result in a more fleshed out project scope. Next, the design team (architects, engineers, designers) can begin creating preliminary designs that encompass the direction and goals established at the charrette.

Valuable Stakeholders

The major stakeholders in building projects usually include the project owner, project manager, owner’s representative, architects, engineers, designers and contractors. It can also be beneficial to invite the future building’s facilities managers, program directors, or other individuals with potentially valuable input. 

Facilities managers have a wealth of knowledge about building systems, occupant needs and wishes, as well as what building products and materials work well and those that do not. Program directors or individuals with similar roles have input on specifics like number of daily visitors, parking needs, recurring employee complaints about existing building problems, etc. These examples of knowledge sources may go unnoticed and the problems unsolved without the presence of those who will spend the most time in the future building. As a result, they may feel valued for their hard-earned knowledge and become a valuable asset to the charrette process.

Keeping the Process Going

If you have been following my posts, you know that sustainability is not a one-time decision or thought. Similarly, a sustainability charrette is one meeting that will start a chain of processes and decisions that promote its resulting sustainability goals. Projects and project teams can benefit from checking in at predetermined points along the project timeline to ensure that sustainability goals are on track. If a period of value engineering is beginning, meaning that the project needs to cut costs, project owners and the design team should remind each other of the “why” established in the charrette. It may also be important at this point to calculate cost savings over a sustainable building’s lifetime vs. a standard building to illustrate the positive impact of a sustainable building approach. If the project is seeking sustainability certification, there will be documentation requirements and testing that help keep the process on track as well. 

Creating Common Goals

Sustainable building goals can face scrutiny as well as indifference from clients and design teams alike. This is often because sustainable building processes require a different approach than standard buildings. In certain areas, sustainable building products or systems have a higher initial cost than the standard alternative.

With all that said, there are several approaches project owners and design teams can take to weave sustainability into every decision. Even when a building project is just an idea or concept, project owners can begin to research possibilities for sustainability in their future building. If project owners are seeking funding for their building, marketing a more sustainable building approach could be the component that sways funders to invest. When seeking design professionals (architects, designers, and engineers), many project owners issue an RFP or request for proposals. This document outlines the initial project scope and requires a proposal from prospective professionals outlining their credentials. This document also has the power to require prospective design teams to show past performance on sustainable building projects. 

Now, the project owner and any owner’s representatives have the opportunity to choose a design team that has shown a commitment to sustainability. The project owner and the design professionals will now be more united on the sustainability front. This is a great beginning to the project and will increase the chances of the project meeting any sustainability goal set in the charrette. Similarly, project teams can choose a contractor and building team with their common goals in mind. The decision to hire professionals is also a major financial decision, so design teams and contractors should prove their value matches their bids.


This really isn’t the conclusion, since we are just at the beginning of the building process. You can see the importance of preliminary planning, consideration, and hiring are to the building process as a whole. Sustainability charrettes are major components to a successful building project that improves on today’s standard building practices. We are going to explore the top sustainability certifications over the next couple months, and I will keep trying to publish one post each week. Keep watching The Thread for new content!



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