Towards the ‘virtual charrette’

Last year, I wrote an ExtranetEvolution post about charrettes (collaborative planning workshops) and wondered if traditional charrettes, usually undertaken as face-to-face events, might be combined using technology to create virtual events. This idea has gathered pace over the past 12 months.

It was the subject of some discussion at Be2camp 2008 in London last October when my friend Andrew Carmichael (of Creative Process) described the Deptford Creek experience (presentation above and video here) and sought help from Web 2.0 practitioners in extending the consultation process to groups unable (physically or logistically) to attend real-life events. And another Be2camp participant, Birmingham-based architect Rob Annable has similar aspirations to expand community involvement in the planning and design processes.

So, today, I was particularly interested to read about design firm HOK conducting a virtual charrette (see Onward to Zero (Emissions)!). At this stage of the project, the aim is to bring together a client and various professional participants to design a zero emissions building (in this case, a proposed office building in St Louis), and the team is using building information modelling (BIM) to create a conceptual design.

For the first charrette workshop session, held last month, the team assembled virtually in Advanced Collaboration Rooms in HOK’s St Louis, San Francisco, Toronto and London offices, with other participants joining via WebEx. The ACR rooms allow team members to see and talk to each other in real time and to sketch together on virtual white boards.

(Interestingly, the article doesn’t mention that the team is responding to the challenge of creating a zero emissions building by working in a way that reduces travel-related carbon emissions usually expended in getting a team of people together for face-to-face meetings.)

Of course, this charrette process is mainly focused on the professional designers involved at the conceptual stage of a project. It would be interesting to see how this idea of a virtual charrette could be carried through to later stages of planning and design, perhaps for a scheme where there needed to be significant consultation with local communities, elected representatives, etc. Such scenarios may not embrace ACR rooms, but – as I pointed out a year ago – there are existing and emerging Web 2.0 technologies that could make a contribution to such processes.

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