I have now taken part in two design charrettes: the first look! St Albans charrette in conjunction with the Prince’s Foundation for Building Community to develop ‘draft design codes’ for St Albans City Centre, and the smaller scale one for the MOSTA (old St Albans Museum) site. In both cases, I took part in all three stages: the preliminary ‘feed-in’ meeting, the design workshop itself and the presentation of outcome and feedback. I went in with no knowledge of planning, design or architecture, so pretty much as the average person.
So what are the things that most struck me about the process, and what was the experience like?
To answer the second first: I found the whole experience, but especially the design workshop, to be stimulating and uplifting, and a real learning experience. It is really empowering to see a wide range of disparate but motivated people (they have given up their time) come together for something they care about.
Other remarkable elements: it is fascinating on the first open evening to see how, using Post-it Notes, key themes start to emerge from what seems a very random input.
Then, in the design workshop, what made the greatest impression on me was, firstly, how, when walking around a site as a group, you begin to notice things you have completely missed for many years! And, secondly, how quickly the groups come together to embrace the elements of agreement rather than difference, and therefore how positive is that working as a team. The professional facilitators help with expert input to avoid wasting time on what is not practical or realistic.
Then at the feedback stage it was particularly fascinating for the MOSTA site where 5 ideas initially emerged to see how public response quickly identified a clear favourite, which perhaps was not so obvious to those deeply involved. The feedback session is again interactive, and in this case enabled one clearly preferred design to be put forward, but it is also an opportunity to register any additional points of note. So both the feed in and the feedback are equally important parts of the process.
Not everyone can put in the time to take part in the whole process, but I found all of the elements exhilarating, and especially the many hours put into the design workshops I found very rewarding and uplifting on many levels.
For a view of someone who took part in a design charrette for the first time please read Dan Fletcher’s personal account here http://www.lookstalbans.org/1/post/2015/05/if-you-care-about-the-future-of-your-city-then-get-involved-it-is-your-look-st-albans-and-you-can-make-a-difference-a-personal-account-why-dan-fletcher-one-of-our-newest-colleagues-on-the-representatives-group-became-involved.html