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Tools from Our Experts: Design Charrettes in a Time of Social Distancing

RS&H's tips on using digital design charrettes in a time of social distancing

There are few days more important to an architecture project than bringing together the client and design team for a design charrette.

Design charrettes are a staple of our industry, a tradition that goes back a couple of centuries. These collaborations solve problems, push boundaries and engage clients on the latest coming out from our studios.

So, what can we do when we can’t come together under one roof to go through a design charrette in person? In this time where most of us are working from home, when connection doesn’t involve conference rooms, we are thankful there are solutions to help move this collaborative work forward.

Here are a few tools you can use to host a charrette while also social distancing.

 

The Power of Three

Whereas more than a handful of architects may be on hand for an in-person charrette, a team of three can lead a virtual charrette.

  • Start with your subject matter expert (SME), who will be making the lead sketches, manipulating variables that change the form and moving digital components around on screen.
  • Having a moderator on hand helps keep the video call moving forward, ensuring that everyone is participating. They draw out comments from participants and help them express themselves in these new mediums. The moderator can also capture notes and questions.
  • To complete your team, have a software expert on the call who can make changes and renders to any virtual forms via computer modeling.

As a result, you’ll have an engaging, diverse, and inclusive exercise. Technology and planning not only keeps people from traveling, but also creates a quality experience.

 

Use Your Camera with Purpose

You want a camera that can capture what you’re working on, so the little one built into your laptop may not be best. Ideally, use a camera that you can mount over your desk.

I use a Logitech camera mounted high over the planning documents I am working on, giving those in my video conference a bird’s eye view of the project at hand. This view comes in handy when I start sketching.

The overhead view also gives you the flexibility to showcase a project like a canvas. You can physically move cut-outs of facility components around and keep sketching as ideas flow into the chat.

 

Crowdsource-Driven Design

At RS&H, we’ve developed a digital design driver that can help dial in the design aesthetics our clients are looking for. We use sliders with design opposites on each side, and we share the sliders with members of a client team to make their selections.

Design-Charrette-Digital-Options-RS&H

The sliding scales include polar opposites from traditional to progressive, from serious to playful, from rural to urban, from simple to colorful. The sliders and resulting images change for each client and subject matter. Feedback is collected and sorted electronically. This exercise creates a new, meaningful way for clients to visualize what they’re looking for in a project.

 

The Right SketchUp Setup

There are a few great programs that can deliver big results in a virtual charrette. I have found SketchUp to be the best program to integrate with our video conferencing software, so we can sketch out a facility in real time.

Real time animation with SketchUp by RS&H

By using different color codes, a team can flesh out several design ideas – or present good-better-best design possibilities. By adding a program like Enscape to our SketchUp suite, we can render these new ideas and even fly through the designs.

For example, each person in the charrette could get their own color for sketching. The SME can keep sketching new ideas and changes that incorporates the live feedback coming in. When everyone agrees, the software expert can grab a screen shot and start making changes while the moderator moves the group onto the next task.

Augmented reality can also be incorporated to SketchUp, which gives our clients the chance to go through a building floor by floor, room by room, or even system by system. The building can come together and break apart in the palm of your hand, all in 3D.

 

Choose the Exercise Right for Your Team

To recap, there are several paths your remote design charrette can take.

  • Traditional: Accomplished by mounting a camera over a table where the SME can sketch out concepts and move physical pieces around.
  • Digital: Use a program like SketchUp to digitally move building parts and components around. Digital edits and renders are made on the fly. Attendees can then take a virtual fly-through of the building with a program like Enscape.
  • Augmented: Augmented reality can be used to unpack more detailed, complicated building features.
  • Dynamic: Visual scripting programs like Dynamo or Grasshopper allow for computation and an iterative design process. Use HTML-based utilities to crowdsource more aspirational and notional aspects.

 

Keep Collaborating

The technology exists to bring architects and clients together in these trying times. It is up for us – all of us – to lean into these technologies, so that we can keep working on projects that will better the communities around us.

Even when we’re forced to stay physically distant, we can still come together to create beautiful, meaningful work. Here’s a look at some of our latest projects.

 

Topics: Aviation, Health, Buildings, Corporate Facilities, Science & Laboratory, Aerospace & Defense, COVID-19, Virtual Communications, Health & Science

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About the Author

Philip has 30 years of international experience in all areas of architectural practice. These services include master planning, programming, space planning, interior design and architectural design. He has specialized in the collaborative process and is a graphics facilitator. Developing internal studios, mentoring staff, facilitating design charrettes, along with public presentations of major commissions are frequent responsibilities. His work has gained recognition in the profession through numerous AIA design awards, and Philip has served as a visiting guest lecturer, TEDx speaker and author of work featured in professional publications. Philip can be reached at philip.robbie@rsandh.com.

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