Strategic Decarb 101

The Role of Design Charrettes in Building Decarbonization Planning


As the world grapples with the urgent need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the built environment has become a critical focus area to deliver progress. Buildings are significant contributors to global carbon emissions, and transitioning to more sustainable, low-carbon operations is essential for meeting climate goals. Planning for that transition now, through a thoughtful and rational approach, is key to achieving success over time.  

Design charrettes are an important tool project teams can use to support their decarbonization planning work. These collaborative design review workshops bring together diverse stakeholders to develop and refine strategies for reducing carbon emissions from buildings over time.  

What is a Design Charrette?

A design charrette is an intensive, multi-disciplinary workshop aimed at finding and refining solutions to complex problems. The term originated in 19th century Paris and refers to the practice of design students working intensely on their projects until the last minute, when a cart or “charrette” would be wheeled around to collect their final designs. The term has evolved to describe collaborative sessions that bring together developers, designers, domain experts, community members, and an array of other stakeholders to reach mutually beneficial outcomes. In the context of building decarbonization, design charrettes facilitate the rapid development of actionable (and at times substantially more innovative) strategies to reduce emissions from buildings, with alignment among multiple interested parties.  

Why Use Design Charrettes to Achieve Resource Efficient Decarbonization?

  1. Collaborative Problem-Solving: Building decarbonization requires input from a wide range of experts, including architects, engineers, asset managers, environmental scientists, and community leaders. A design charrette brings these diverse voices together in a collaborative setting, ensuring that all perspectives are considered. 
  2. Intensive Focus: The concentrated nature of a charrette allows participants to delve deeply into the problem at hand. Over several hours (or days), stakeholders can explore various scenarios, analyze data, and develop detailed plans that might otherwise take months to create using traditional methods. 
  3. Iterative Process: Charrettes are designed to be iterative, with multiple rounds of feedback and refinement as needed. This approach ensures that the final outcomes are well-vetted and robust, with broad support from all stakeholders. 
  4. Creative Solutions: The collaborative and open nature of charrettes fosters creativity and challenges deeply held assumptions about how to approach a problem by the charrette participants.  Participants are encouraged to think outside the box and develop innovative solutions that might not emerge in a more conventional planning process. 
  5.  Achieving Resource Efficient Decarbonization (RED): Charrettes enable stakeholders to develop highly strategic plans to transition a building away from on-site fossil fuel over time in a way that does not diminish high-performance operations, contains operating and capital expenses, and maintains a complex urban systems perspective including considerations relating to infrastructure and natural resources.

The Design Charrette Process

Charrettes are conducted just after a decarbonization concept plan is created and initial decarbonization measures are framed. A successful charrette requires being prepared to discuss the existing conditions of the building in detail, various decarbonization measures and approaches considered, and an understanding of the social and market conditions influencing the building owner’s decision making. The charrette process includes: 

  1. Preparation: Successful charrettes require careful preparation. This includes identifying key stakeholders and inviting them to join, gathering relevant data, and setting clear objectives for the workshop.  
  2. Workshop Session: During the charrette, the project team presents their building existing conditions and decarbonization approaches and engage in brainstorming, design review, and business discussions with a team of technical experts and industry leaders.
  3. Iteration and Feedback: Ideas generated during the sessions can be reviewed and refined through multiple rounds of feedback and additional charrettes as needed. This iterative process helps to improve and perfect the proposed solutions. 
  4. Implementation and Follow-Up: The final step is to translate the charrette outcomes into a formal strategic decarbonization plan and business case that leads to real-world actions. This may involve further planning, securing funding, and ongoing community engagement. 

Design charrettes are a powerful tool for addressing complex decarbonization challenges, especially in the planning and early implementation phase. With collaboration, creativity, and iteration, charrettes enable the development of effective and sustainable strategies to reduce carbon emissions from buildings.

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