The Charrette


Sharing ideas stimulates the growth of a designer.

The charrette is a unique phenomenon that fascinates and intrigues me because I have been engaged in it on many occasion and felt the energy which surrounds the marvel, then I have witnessed and participated in the results of the occurrence.

Technically speaking, charrette (ie, charet, charette) is an intense period of design activity prior to completion of a project, usually among a group of designers though it can occur independently. Metaphysically, it is a period of intensified creative connections between people. Charrette is a magical part of the creative process that invigorates the creative mind, pushing it beyond its preconceived limitations through the process of collaboration. The sharing of ideas, particularly when under the pressure of time, can be a flurry of frantic brainstorming and problem solving that inspires a designer to link several previously distant ideas together thus building cohesive connections. These interactions can be emotionally charged, which can heighten the astuteness of creative connectivity in ways a solitary process cannot.

A charrette session with an Oregon extension of ASLA

A charrette session with an Oregon extension of ASLA

One might perceive charrette as a form of mania; it is an enticing aspect of working within groups. Group work makes things possible that seem daunting alone because the list of solutions expands exponentially. A designer might have a wild idea that seems intimidating because of their own inability to resolve a few select obstacles. However, once the issues are recognized and approached by other minds, a series of solutions may appear that would never have been reached alone. This can make the impossible seem possible, and the boundaries of the group as a whole are expanded beyond that of the individual.

This involves an exploration of ideas: ones that seem insignificant as well as the ones that seem grandiose are presented and options are discussed. Goals are examined and routes to achieve those goals are shared. Solutions may be connected with portions of other pathways, creating a network of consciousness that pervades the group, evoking a sense of unity that can fuel the creative fire.

Charrette at and Alaska town square.

Charrette at and Alaska town square.

It is that exaltation that gives charrette an addictive quality that I seek out, and I know I’m not alone. My cohorts in shared design sessions have also felt the energy of the phenomena, and after experiencing it, we look for its potential when meeting other designers. I dare say it is one of the most highly sought after qualities in a coworker or creative friend: that ability to connect with them and produce waves of highly inspired team designs is quite fulfilling. Charrette can happen on many different levels, but the best are fundamentally enlightening and  truly spiritual shared connections that become manifested into a transcendent composition.


Guest Speaker: Deborah Ogden

Deborah Ogden

Deborah Ogden

In mid-March, Deborah Ogden, interior designer, spoke to our class about her experience in the field. Her talk centered on the ethical and legal boundaries of the trade as well as the exams and groups that ensure that those boundaries are adhered to. Ms. Ogden’s presentation was humorous and invigorating,  personal anecdotes woven into her examples of possible situations and scenarios, but her humor that had us laughing aloud didn’t negate the importance of the message she delivered.

Interior designers can seek certification through the CCIDC (Califonia Counsel For Interior Design), where they can find information about requirements and opportunities to take the IDEX exam and pursue continuing education. The goals of these exams are to increase professionalism and achieve compliance with regulations. A certified designer is a competent design professional who is qualified to submit, prepare, and design any type of mono-seismic  mono-structural interior construction plans. Certification allows a designer to stay abreast of building codes, space planning, safety, and flammability of materials, and provide a reference point for clients.



Design and Engineering in the Golden Gate Bridge


Open in 1937, the Golden Gate bridge is an art deco icon to the city of San Francisco. Weighing nearly 900,000 tons with a main span of 4,200′, it is an extraordinary example of a steel suspension bridge. The elements that create the structural integrity of the bridge are also the elements that define its rhythm of design.


The components of the design together create the intricate phenomenon that exists for a bridge of this scale. From south to north, the bridge is comprised of deck plate girder spans, Warren deck truss spans, a braced ribbed deck arch span, three suspended spans, and finally, more Warren deck truss spans. Each of these elements contributes a level of strength which works in a partnership with the others.

Warren truss design.

Warren truss design.


A truss is a structure made up of many smaller parts, which is used in the same way as a beam but can be made longer and deeper because of its assembly. The Warren truss is a specific type of truss, patented in 1848 by James Warren and Willoughby Monzoni of  Great Britan. This type of truss is recognized by its composition of equilateral or isosceles triangles that connect the top and bottom chords. A deck truss is a truss in which traffic travels on top of the structure.

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The engineering of the bridge serves structural purpose, but equally defines the organizational properties of the design. The triangular geometry articulated within the truss continues the length of the span, a unifying element of the rhythmic sort that accentuates the hierarchical nature of the composition. The vertical cables of the suspension spans also work as a repetitive element, ascending symmetrically and peaking at the two towers that emerge  from the channel which connects the Pacific and the Bay.

The elements of the Golden Gate bridge illustrate a purity of form and its proportions create its dramatic presence,  using the simplest possible design that safely realizes the bridge’s intent.  A monumental and iconic feat, it is a defining landmark  that displays architectural and engineering prowess, highlighting the landscape of San Francisco.

Guest Speaker: Michael Heacock

Michael Heacock, Architect

Michael Heacock, Architect

Early in the semester, Michael Heacock, a LEED certified Architect hailing from Mill Valley, California, spoke to our class about his meandering path into architecture and his strategies and focus within the field. Mr. Heacock is an eco-designer focusing on sustainability and energy efficiency use within his designs. He works in a broad scale, from  designing residential homes, schools, and business oriented structures, consulting on LEED certified building, retrofitting, and  coaching, even dabbling in furniture design. While he operates from his own firm now, it wasn’t always so, and his course to arrive in his position was experimental and roving.

Weekend retreat featuring solar panels and green building materials.

Weekend retreat featuring solar panels and green building materials.

Mr. Heacock explored various career options before he settled on architecture, unsure if the field was the right fit. Comparing himself to what he knew as a “standard” in architecture, he felt a bit like an outsider until he found his niche. In the course of his visit, he expressed the importance of diversifying one’s skill set; a young designer should broaden their knowledge base by experimenting with many  fields of design. From lighting to framing and construction, to interiors, a well versed designer makes him or herself irreplaceable as an asset within a firm.

Pool facility: green building and micro-turbine afford super efficiency.

Pool facility: green building and micro-turbine afford super efficiency.

The message that was most emphasized to me by Michael Heacock is that a designer sets himself up for success by maintaining diversity of thought and concept during the design process and also in knowledge of aspects of design. The benefits of keeping an open mind when seeking solutions and having experiences within the field is irrefutable. Pigeon holing oneself  into a bounded design style limits ones ability to exercise creativity. As designers, we are hired to bring ideas to the table and work through the options to find the best solution. A multitude of possible solutions allows for a well rounded design result that is truly the best that it can be.

Inspirations: Basket Weaving

The ancient art of basket weaving is a practice that dates back to prehistoric times. Indigenous peoples wove vessels for utilitarian reasons as well as ceremonial. Baskets were used to store and transport goods, for trading, and later on, for furniture. Baskets are made from a wide variety of pliable materials such as rattan core, willow, grasses, hide, hair, and vines.

This Anasazi basket, 900-1400 AD, is made from yucca leaves.

This Anasazi basket, dated 900-1400 AD, is made from yucca leaves.

Because the material is degradable, we cannot know when basket weaving appeared in human history, the oldest known weaving date back  27,000 years though it is likely baskets were being produced prior to then.

The technique of basket weaving can be used in many, and larger, applications and when used architecturally, draws together the use of natural materials , a prehistoric technique, and modern applications. On  varying scales, the tradition can be applied to construct sculptural work or alter environments.

Andrea von Chrismar applies traditional Chilean techniques of willow weaving  to create woven membranes which transform the space.

Wicker Membranes by Andrea von Chrismar

Wicker Membranes by Andrea von Chrismar


Woven Membranes by Andrea von Chrismar

Woven Membranes by Andrea von Chrismar

Anne Marie O’Sullivan uses basket weaving to manipulate locally sourced ash and willow to mimic the undulating hills of South Downs in Great Britan in her installation, Cluster from 2012. Her sculptural approach encourages the public to walk around  and experience the form from all sides, to stand within it also and explore it as an enclosure.



Anne Marie O'Sullivan's woven installation, Cluster, 2012.

Anne Marie O’Sullivan’s woven installation, Cluster, 2012.

On a larger scale, basket weaving can inspire structure and form of structures. The concept of the Pompidou-Metz museum was birthed  from a Chinese hat that Shigeru Ban came across  in Paris. The caning technique used in this type of hat was translated into glued laminated timber which intersects in a hexogonal form to create the roof structure of the museum.


The caning of this Chinese hat is a traditional weaving pattern.


The caning pattern is applied on a larger scale  by Shigeru Ban to produce the roof form of Pompidou-Metz in France.

I respond to basket weaving for many reasons. Basket weaving is beautiful. It is purposeful, it is also sustainable. The material, while at one time an alive and growing plant, has an existential duality in a purposeful static form. The transformation of the shape  of the structure  as the weave progresses, the repetition of the weave throughout, and the strength of form that is created by uniting  the materials  all impress upon me a crescendo of rhythmic construction. We all likely  have an ancestral connection to  basket weaving,  it speaks to our common, historical nature.





Gensler: Materials and Inspirations





The Gensler Firm, with its home base in San Francisco, California’s Hills Brothers Coffee building, is the largest  architectural firm in the world. With offices in fourteen countries and 4500 employees, Gensler’s influence is wide spread. On a warm Friday afternoon in April, we toured  the  office alongside the Embarcadero, giving me a glimpse into its diverse operations.

The various nodes inside the space served  both specific and broad needs, and the resources within the space  provided endless ideas, textures, and colors. The areas for people to work together, sharing and developing plans and strategies, were many , and employ the most inventive and modern approaches in both an aesthetic and utilitarian sense.



An institution in the architectural field since 1965, M. Arthur Gensler Jr. & Associates, originally began with a focus on corporate interiors, but has branched out dramatically into many other buildings, facilities, and functions. While touring the offices, I noticed several areas devoted to materials and resources to give visual and textural representation to ideas. Samples were abound for everything a designer could imagine: flooring and wall options, tile and carpet, and a smell of newness permeated the air with the freshness of every notion. Ideas became storyboards and creative energy echoed from every corner.



I wish I could have had a few hours to look through the library at Gensler, what I could see  was inviting and enticing, especially because the library was surrounded by the abundance of material samples. With all of the factors available, I could imagine being able to piece together a solid design in a marginal amount of time, and subsequent ideas flowing as well.




Framing A View



Framing a view is a strategy that uses a window or opening to incorporate an exterior or adjunct space as visual asset to the area we view it from. It brings the outdoors in and allows us to appreciate our exterior surroundings from an interior space; it can draw us into the adjoining space; it provides us a window to something that is not immediately present in our vicinity.  Framing view can be used in multiple applications, in every area of architecture.


This use of a gateway at Levens Hall Gardens in Cumbria, England  pulls us into the separate garden areas, framing the view of the next garden.


Espalier in Levens Hill Gardens serves as a framework for the pathway leading to the fountain in the background.

tropical-home-garden-view2An open wall in a tropical environment uses modern simplicity  and the edges of the structure to frame the  green patio space outdoors inviting us to move into and out of the building both physically and visually.


 Architectural design can contribute interest to the frame itself, as seen above  where the transformation of the view adds a complexity that is unexpected.


 Shades in this seating area provide  relief from the sun, but also direct our view to one that is enjoyed from a seated position on the low, reclining chairs. Once seated, we become immersed in the interior/exterior relationship.