Charette Week: The Premise
During our first week of MA Urban Design, we began (as all design courses do at the Newcastle University School of APL) with the Charette. The Charette is a one week long group project which combines students of different disciplines and stages together at the beginning of each year to work on a short but ambitious design project. Each Charette is divided into about twelve different design projects which (allegedly) relate to one single over arching theme. As somebody who has worked on four Charette projects now, I can tell you that nobody can recall what the overarching theme is supposed to be after the first day of work and honestly I couldn’t tell you what this year’s was.
Theme aside, the project I took part in this year was called “Don’t fluff you lines”, referring in a literal sense to the performance element of the project but also the design task, creating a space which ‘represents a mistake’. In my opinion the most fascinating element of Charette is what happens on the Monday afternoon, after each team has met together and the project introduction has been given. The short time frame (about four days) for each project means that the final outcome (which must be ready for Friday afternoon) has to be decided on within a few hours of getting the brief, often by a group of 10-20 design students (not that the initial vision doesn’t change throughout the week).
Our brief was to design a space which ‘represents a mistake’, which we would then use in some sort of performance. This was quite open to interpretation. As a group of twelve design and architecture students we sat down around a square table with three big sheets of A2 paper and some coloured pens and then for the next twenty minutes, each proceeded to write and draw ideas in our personal sketchbooks, cards held tight to our chest. Funny thing about us design students, we aren’t always brilliant at group work.
When eventually we did start a proper group discussion, we began by thinking about mistakes that we had each made, particularly mistakes we’ve made as architecture students. A number of ‘classic’ errors made by architecture students which came up included: “forgetting wall thicknesses on drawings”, “forgetting to put a staircase in the building” and “not putting doors on drawings (or otherwise designing rooms with no access or egress)”.
One theme which seemed particularly poignant however was the awkward and error-prone approach of architecture students to group work. Ultimately this was the theme that we decided to take forward. Our outcome would be a crit space, with incoherent drawings on the walls and a dysfunctional group model in the centre of a table, whilst the performance would be a representation of a group design project in which none of us could agree on anything. I’m going to be honest, the line between representation and reality got blurry on this one.
For the next two days our Charette project became labour intensive. Three main elements needed to be built. Firstly, the wall of the crit space (which was designed to include three rotating crit boards which could be used as both a wall for the space but also as a door or window in). Secondly, a rotating table which would sit in the centre of the space and was integral to our performance. Thirdly, a dysfunctional model with a ‘block’ created by each one of us which would be assembled in the final performance.
The finished product: Our ‘crit wall’
Me working on the rotating table in its early stages
The blocks for our dysfunctional model, pre-personalisation
As with anything in design however, the outcome made a dramatic change when we began, on Thursday to work more specifically on the performance element. Up until now, the performance had been planned out quite specifically but we were encouraged to make it much more fluid by visiting artist Dave Sherry. The outcome shifted in a new direction: “inside the mind of an architecture student” and with this, the necessary element of ‘chaos’ was added to the mix. The physical elements we built remained the same but the performance, well, it’s best to see for yourself:
I hope this post has given you an insight into the fast paced and sometime chaotic nature of Charette Week. This is the final Charette based blog post by our Urban Design group but check out some of the others for a wider insight. Linked below is the post by Tommy who also worked on the same Charette project as me and gives a slightly different insight. Also below, a link to Dave Sherry’s website, if you have any interest (or indeed no interest) in performance art, you’re bound to find something that intrigues you:
Thanks for reading 🙂