by Nathan Good

What, exactly, is an eco-charrette? It's an intense meeting, half a day or more, in which all participants in a building design project focus on ideas for efficient use of energy and resources in the new building. The group generates goals and then develops strategies for accomplishing those goals. Eco-charrettes, also called sustainable design or environmental design charrettes, are becoming a common element in the design of high performance buildings and have been used successfully on some of the most progressive buildings in the Pacific Northwest.

A Brief History
The word charrette is derived from the French word for cart. At the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris in the 19th century, proctors would circulate with charrettes at the deadline hour, collecting the drawings of the student apprentices for delivery to the master artist for critique. Apprentices would jump onto the carts with their drawings, often still frantically making last-minute changes. Thus, the word conveys a sense of the intensive, concentrated effort.

These days, the charrette is a tool for moving a development project through phases of design quickly and efficiently. It is a carefully orchestrated event in which the participants, the schedule, and the location are chosen to encourage focused creativity within a structured framework.

A well-conducted charrette pulls the right people with the necessary skills together to make decisions within a short period, thus saving substantial time and money. The final result is a concrete plan that helps key decision makers understand the practical implications of a concept for a project.

Description of an Eco-Charrette
The concept might sound familiar, but the eco-charrette differs from a project team kick-off meeting because it generally focuses on sustainable development goals, strategies, and integrated design solutions.

The eco-charrette process begins when a new project is launched, sometimes before architects and engineers have been hired. The facilitator may interview the client before the eco-charrette to determine the client's environmental and energy efficiency goals for the project and the desired outcomes for the work session. It is also common for sustainability goals and objectives to be developed during the eco-charrette.

Once the design team for the project has been selected, the entire team-architect, engineers, contractor, building user representatives, and owner-meets in the eco-charrette for at least a day, sometimes two or more, to devise strategies for attaining the project's goals for sustainability and energy efficiency. Multi-day charrettes can also be used to launch the architectural design of a project.

To achieve greatest success in an eco-charrette, it should involve everyone-that is, anyone who might build, approve, use, sell, or even attempt to block the project. We all know that when people are involved from the outset, they are more likely to feel ownership of, and work for, the success of the project.

The time spent in the eco-charrette is designed to be highly productive, and profound change can result. Each participant brings specialized expertise or knowledge that may contribute to achieving the goals. The eco-charrette enables a group of people to discover solutions themselves, which creates a sense of ownership and consensus. For a sustainable building project, this is a formula for success.

A Successful Eco-Charrette (a true story)

THE CLIENT wanted to optimize use of natural light in his new office building and contain costs. THE ARCHITECT proposed high-performance glazing for the windows to maximize light coming into the building and to control heat loss. THE ELECTRICAL ENGINEERTHE CONTRACTOR surmised that the glazing and the lights with sensors would substantially increase the project budget. In response, THE MECHANICAL ENGINEERTHE CONTRACTOR determined that this integrated solution would reduce total project cost. Furthermore, THE ELECTRIC UTILITY REPRESENTATIVE offered substantial rebates for the high-performance glass, energy-efficient light fixtures, and daylight sensors. THE OWNER was delighted with this collaborative problem solving.suggested using fluorescent lamps with light sensors to modulate the electric light in proportion to available natural light, and then proceeded to calculate the annual savings. suggested smaller mechanical units because the building would be in a cooling mode most of the year and the electric light fixtures would be a source of heat. Quickly calculating the cost of the smaller mechanical units,

THE RESULT: a high-performance building for less cost, annual energy savings, and naturally lit interior spaces for the building's users.

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