|The Electronic Charrette
A Paper by William George
Mankato State Univeristy
will the computer replace face-to-face interaction?
did the automobile replace the bicyle?
The idea for the ec began over two years ago at a steering committee
meeting of the Minnesota Design Team (MDT), a group of volunteers
that assist small Minnesota towns in their efforts to create community
and new designs for their future. Similarly, the ec was designed to
be a low-tech and inclusive process that invited all citizens, students,
and professionals with the minimun equipment and connections to participate.
In addition, The University of Sydney's Key Centre for Design Computing
contributed important electronic design principals through their research
in the virtual design studio.
[ A ] The MDT Process
In brief, the principles of MDT follow three fundamental principles.
First is the belief that purposeful grassroots planning is the most
effective tool for community development. Without grassroots involvement,
numerous problems emerge: no control over large development interests,
burn-out for those individuals who always take the lead, and citizen
apathy. Grassroots planning involves the whole community, and the
Design Team emphasizes the need for comprehensive participation by
The second principle of the Design Team's work is volunteerism. Since
the beginning of the organization, the MDT has functioned as a group
of volunteers. Professionals from architecture, landscape architecture,
planning, education, historic preservation, tourism, community development
and a wide range of other fields donate their time and talents to
planning a particular community's future.
Similarly, representatives of the community must volunteer their time
and skills in organizing the MDT visit and in implementing the strategies
developed during the visit. For many communities, a visit from the
Design Team is an uncommon opportunity to work cooperatively with
neighbors and colleagues.
Finally, the Design Team is committed to the value of quality design
in community development. Part of the Team's goal is to demonstrate
the benefit of thoughtful design through the drawings and plans that
are presented at the conclusion of each visit. By thinking and talking
about design issues, communities begin to realize that they have considerable
control over what does or does not happen in their town. The "big
box" retail developments that may be economically crucial do
not inevitably have to be ugly.
The following points define the MDT process:
The Design Team process begins when a community requests an application
for a visit. A review committee then conducts a screening visit with
the community to determine whether or not a Design Team visit would
be appropriate. Once accepted, community representatives begin organizing
the logistics of the long weekend visit. Community representatives
agree to find host families with whom team members will stay during
the visit, develop publicity to include the entire community in the
process, and plan the details involved in arranging meals, bus tours
and town meetings.
Each Design Team is unique. Team leaders invite professionals to participate
on a team based on the specific needs of the community. For example,
one town might need a specialist in pollution control while another
may need an architectural historian to evaluate l9th century structures.
The visit begins on Thursday evening when team members arrive. Generally,
the community plans a small reception to introduce team members to
their host families. Early Friday morning, the Team gathers with community
representatives to learn about the history, economics and culture
of the area. These formal presentations are followed by a tour of
the community by bus or on foot. This allows team members to develop
a physical context for the information they have heard in the morning.
On Friday evening, usually after a potluck supper, the MDT conducts
a town meeting. Everyone is asked to participate by discussing the
issues that most concern them about their town.
Saturday is a day of intense work for team members. All of the information
and intuitions gleaned on Friday are filtered through lively discussion
among team members. As the day evolves, small groups begin to work
together on specific issues, designing responses that are then articulated
in large graphic plans and renderings. By Saturday night, the Team
is both excited and exhausted. At the second town meeting, team members
present their drawings and invite questions from the community. The
presentation always includes at least two sections: design ideas and
strategies for implementation. The community then has the opportunity
to view the drawings first hand and discuss specific recommendations
with the team. On Sunday, the team members and their host families
breakfast together and say their good-byes. Without exception, the
Sunday morning atmosphere is hopeful and enthusiastic as the community
embarks on a new road into the future. A small group of Design Team
members returns to the community six months later. Team members offer
suggestions for overcoming obstacles and research new resources as
[B] Key Centre for Design Computing, University
The second key source of research support for the electronic charrette
is from the The Key Centre's exploration of the virtual design studio
(VDS)--see "The Potential and
Current Limitations in a Virtual Design Studio". This work
helped to form the ec process but is targeted at a more technical
audience. VDS is important to the ec process because it builds the
technological bridges and terminology necessary to construct a mediated
(i.e.- internet driven) collaborative process.
The Potential and Current Limitations in a Virtual Design Studio
A Virtual Design Studio is distributed across space and time and information
is represented electronically. This paper presents the experience
of virtual design studios for teaching students about computer-mediated
collaborative design. The technology available for the studios includes
CAD, image processing, World Wide Web, video conferencing, email,
shared file and file transfer, and shared whiteboards. The potential
for this technology in a design environment is to reduce the need
to physically meet when collaboration is needed. The limitations in
the current technology lie in the lack of structure in sharing information
and CAD files across the Web.
The Virtual Design Studio concept
The concept of a Virtual Design Studio (VDS) refers to a networked
design studio. A conventional design studio is a place in which designers
work on drawing boards and/or CAD. The VDS takes this notion and distributes
it across space and time. In a VDS:
-- the design group is composed of people in various locations
-- the design process and designers' communications are computer-mediated
-- the information "inside" the studio is handled in electronic
-- the final design documentation is also in electronic form
Thus the networked VDS allows designers who are geographically dispersed
to generate, communicate and implement design ideas through their
desktop computer. The physical location of designers becomes irrelevant
to the design process because the workspace of the studio is distributed
across the net. Designers are able to enter the studio for interactive
and non-interactive sessions connecting to the World Wide Web, multimedia
mailers and/or connecting to a video conferencing session. The information
in the design studio is stored in a variety of file and presentation
formats, primarily available through the use of Internet access tools.
The use of intranet or proprietary network protocols would change
the specific tools used, but the nature of the Virtual Design Studio
is the same regardless of the particular technology used.
Real design projects require joint efforts of individuals and synchronisation
of the information streams between them. Virtual design studios supply
data and implement the results of the research in the field of Computer-Mediated
Collaborative Design (CMCD). The term "collaborative design"
is used in the most general sense to denote design activity when more
then one person works on a single design problem. This can be restated
as collaboration occurs when two or more people have a common goal
or intent. Collaboration is possible when the collaborators share
activities and information to achieve the common goal. The researchers
at the Key Centre propose that effective collaboration occurs when
the collaborators share:
1. design tasks
3. representation and
[C] Forming the EC principles and process:
Based on the MDT and Key Center for Design Computing templates, the
following EC Principles and Processes will be tested:
1.Grass roots planning via the Internet will facilitate shared
communication and design between key stakeholders.
2. The ec connects people on a local and / or global levels creating
various role(s) and definition(s) of the internet charrette volunteer.
3. Individuals and design groups will submit solutions in an electronic
4. Along with web conferencing technology, there are other
electronic means to collaborate / design on the internet.
II. The ec event process
and the sequential web sites
[ A ] The Pre-Event Site: advertising, judges, and
The ec pre-event site was installed on the Mankato State University
Unix server in late October 1996 and advertised the coming event and
the draft ec process until late December 1996. Potential ec judges
were "approached, invited and sent" to this site in an invitation
process that was delivered exclusively via electronic mail and various
listservs. The ec Director never met the judges in person. The pre-event
web site was created first as a marketing tool, and second as an evolving
depository for the many resources that would later be included on
the completed event site version. The ec Director sent-out approximentally
250-300 ec Memos in the pre-event phase and attracted over 60 return
The method that was used to advertise the ec is now called "farming."
The ec Director searched for University Departments in architecture
or urban design and sent each faculty member or organization head
a short "ec Memo" as a teaser, being sure to include the
ec web site iternet address for quick return access. The other dominant
strategy was to have groups link the ec site to their homepage and
at least ten organizations did this.
Constructing the web sites: DPAD / html / graphics
Many ec graphic creations were made with MacDraft, a very early and
"low-tech" architectural software application. Additional
icons were created with Adobe Photoshop. Digital images were created
and / or converted using a Kodak Digial Camera and an Apple Scanner.
ec software and hardware components were often early versions and
are therefore likely available at university labs or public libraries.
A table summarizng tools for the ec technology process follows:
|Kodak DC40 Digital Camera -
||Color Digital Photographs of CAC - Converted
|ANSCO Panoramic Camera -
||Black and White CAC Photographs -
Scanned / Converted
|Apple Color OneScanner 600/27-
||Maps and B/W Photo Digitization
|Graphic Converter -
||Image File Conversion
|Adobe Photoshop 4.0 -
||Image File Conversion
|Macintosh Power PC 6100/60-
|Mac Draft -
||EC Icons Generation
||HTML (the Long Way!)
|Netscape 3.0 -
|GV Teleport Platinum -
||Internet File Access
||DEC 5000/260 4.4 ULTRIX
[ B ] the ec event site: competition rules
and data for 2/22/97
The ec event web site was launched on December 25, 1996. The
components included the following:
[A] ec Process // Submission Formats // Downloading FirstClass
Client 3.5 Software. This link discussed the overall vision
for the ec, the competition rules, submission formats, and instructions
for connecting on 2/22/97 with FirstClass.
[B] Live Internet Schedule for February 22, 1997. Start
times for the virtual library tour, town meeting, and lunch
chat with the ec Director.
[C] Event Theory Base. Links to the Minnesota Design
Team, local and regional web sites were listed.
[D] Carnegie Art Center: Then and Now. History of the
[E] Historic Landmark and ADA Guidelines
[F] Existing Floor Plans of the Carnegie Library
[G] CAC Building Section
[H] Two Street Plans for the CAC
[I] The Six EC Projects for the Carnegie Art Center &
[J]: Technological Processes for the EC (To Date) See
[K] The Forum Discussion Script from 10/15/97 - 12/20/97.
Archived messages from the electronic bulletin board.
[L] EC Discussion Forum (BBS)
[M] Mail to EC Director
[N] EC Poster for Downloading
[O] EC Sponsors
[P] EC Advisory Committee
[Q] EC Panel of Judges
Regarding the time and resources that were required to construct
and advertise the electronic charrette, people hours could be
broken down as follows:
1. Design / Site Updates: 70 hrs.
2. Advertising: 70 hrs.
3. Surfing / farming: 35 hrs.
4. Live Day Set up / Take down: 20 hrs.
5. Evaluation: 30 hrs.
Many people, from sponsors and students, to the faculty advisors,
were consulted during the course of the 6 month project. The
ec design system is illustrated below. In addition to the electronic
charrette, approximentally ten people represented an "in-house"
or traditional charrette team (the URSI Home Team). The graphic
represents how the live day connections were linked in the URSI
classroom at Mankato State:
The live day event began at 8:30 AM and finished at 4:30PM.
Approximately ten people participated on the URSI Home Team.
Because of the multitude access and platform issues involved
in connecting to the chats, three mechanisms were to established
to communicate with the home team on 2.22.97. They were:
I. E-mail - One dedicated machine is our e-mail site
for quick responses, with participant access for the entire
II. EC Forum ( Bulletin Board ) - One dedicated machine
will serve as the Bulletin Board processor, with participant
access for the entire day.
III. Live Event & Discussion Sessions - Via FirstClass
The day began with introductions, some last minute technical
issues with FirstClass, and coffee! The gallery director from
the CAC dictated the building tour to multiple volunteers until
11:30 AM. Over the lunch over, we went off-line. Then from 1:00
PM until 2:30, we all participated in the internet Town Meeting,
which included technical feedback and support for the Six EC
Throughout the day, the URSI Home Team In-House Charrette took
place which focused primarily on the ADA elevator design issue.
The submission period to send in electronically formatted designs
lasted one week, and ended with no such submissions on March
[ C ] evaluation site-- critique and education
The final, or third, phase of the ec web site contains the following
[ A ] EC II Web Site: 4/4/97 - 5/15/97
[ B ] EC Competiton Web Site: 12/96 - 3/97
[ C ] MSU REPORTER Article on the EC, 2.25.97. Page 1.
[ D ] Mankato Free Press Article, Local, Page 1. 3.18.97.
[ E ] Minnesota Design Team Web Site
[ F ] EC Data and Evaluation Site
[ G ] Submissions for the CAC Projects
[ H ] List of Organizations that Linked the EC
[ I ] William Paul's EC Research Bookmarks
[ J ] Requests for EC Research Data To-Date
[ K ] Acknowledgments
The EC Data and Evaluation Site is constructed with the following
[ i ] Just the Data! ec Quick Fact Sheet; Final Installment
(in 3 Parts) of the Forum Discussion Script; 2.22.97 Virtual
Tour of the CAC; Technical Issues with First Class Client; 2.22.97
Virtual Town Meeting; 2.22.97 - Live Day Issues via BBS.
[ ii ] Passing the Grade...on the Internet?
Test One: The Minnesota Design Team Community Building Model.
Test Two: The Transactional Planning Theory? Analysis.
[ iii ] On Designing for the Web. Design Critique.
[ iv ] EC Manuscript
[ v ] Mail Us Your Comments and Criticism Please! Return
III. ec critique: points for discussion
This is where the "Internet mets the county highway!"
How well does the traditional community building and design
of MDT translate as a web site / chat box driven (i.e.- virtual)
As discussed in section one, four ec Principles and Processes
were tested in this event:
1. Did the EC promote local or grass roots planning via the
2. How much volunteerism resulted from the charrette-- via local
and or global locations?
3. How much collaboration via interactive / web conference technologies
occured from the ec process?
4. What electronic products were submitted?
1. Did the EC promote local or grass roots planning via the
Internet? and 2. How much volunteerism resulted from the charrette--
via local and or global locations?
The face-to-face spirit of MDT was mediated through a video
monitor, e-mail and the world wide web. Because no Registrants
submitted solutions to the CAC competition (see Tracking
Participants, below) or took part in the live day chats,
it is clear that we should have used every advertising vehicle
available to us-- like fax and regular mail -- which
would have simplied and extended the communication process.
There were no local participants except for a few people who
were invited to be on the URSI Home Team.
The very idea of community is very much in question here!
The EC stretched the CAC community world-wide, inviting students
and community developers to register and submit solutions. People
with no on-site contact with the CAC, or with the northern hemisphere
for that matter, were potentially surfing the Mankato site.
The point is that ownership (one result of successful
volunteerism and design collaboration) is a tricky matter on
the internet, and future electronic charrettes must do a better
job of gaining the support of the people and organizations that
must live with the results day in and day out! This same revision
process needs to focus on leadership building, as well.
Can e-mail do the job?
The Pre-Visit data gathering of the MDT is a classic
and successful vehicle for building community in the towns that
receive a visit. The ec web site, with its compliment of photos,
text and links, can never replace the town meetings and tours
that engineer a MDT event, but the ec data base represented
a solid effort to graphically describe the CAC and its history,
site, and issues. Architectural information (i.e.- floor plans,
site maps, etc.) could be an FTP source file-- or possibly saved
as an Acrobat file, for faster download times and cross-platform
3. How much collaboration via interactive / web conference
technologies occured from the ec process?
Chat confusion: even with the Internet overhead projection
of the First Class virtual tour and the town meeting (see ec
design system graphic above), the multiple "text voices"
of the participants was to say the least, confusing to watch,
and difficult to read and respond at the keyboard. One solution
could be to break off into subchat groups. Another might
be to have more than one chat station set up so that more than
more person can chat at any given time.
Another issue that we discovered was that participants didn't
know how to access the photographs that we were refering to
during the virtual tour of the CAC. Graphic links back to the
data base need to be clearly displayed (perhaps in a split
screen program) so participants can view images as they
The traditional charrette team, or URSI Home team, should
be used again, in conjunction with the electronic channnels.
Such hands-on support and real time backup gave the Internet
process critical expertise and, as it turned out, the two design
Design products (i.e.- the large graphic plans and renderings
refered to in the MDT process section above) from the MDT weekend
charrette hang in full view of all who take part in the process--
and remain with the town for implementation planning. The two
submissions produced by the ec are archived by URSI for citizens
4. What electronic products were submitted?
Electronic submissions? None of the 10 Registrants submitted
designs and/or text for the six ec projects. And only one of
these people tried to chat on the live day. We did not hound
these folks for their reasons but there are a few that come
to mind: One is that the First Class Client connection was too
complex. Another reason for the no-shows was that the event
itself was too "thick and complex" to elicit submissions.
A third possible reason is that people with some connection
to the CAC's issues were waiting for specific proposals to which
they could react and respond.
(a) Creating / viewing images: It is clear that each
participant's monitor and operating system creates a unique
electronic image and that the quality of photographs on the
Internet is uncontrolable. In response to early feedback, we
took off the ec wallpaper background design and replaced with
a standard white one for easier reading of graphics and text.
(b)Tracking participants: In January, we decided to add
a mail registration feature to the homepage to better guage
how many participants were interested in the event. A site counter
was also added at that time to track the number of "hits"
(or visitors) to the site. As it turned out, this datum as such
isn't very meaningful. However, a for-profit enterprise
would likely see any "hit counts" or preregistration
numbers as useful to their bottom line.
(c) Access to the machines, a service provider and the EC:
Who gets Internet access? Do you have a Pentium? A Power Mac?
Does your neighbor? Getting more folks on the net will facilitate
this kind of new age process, but for now technology is an elitist,
techie realm and no public library can hope to keep up. We must
work toward a solution together. Public libraries will catch
up with the technology, and children will teach their parents.
One possible low-tech solution to access problems is to share
your PC with your neighbor! Or buy a machine and service contract
for your local neighborhood center.
(d) Event windows: Or, how long in the pre-event/event/post-event
phases? I recall lamenting that I hoped I wasn't over-advertsing
the ec prior to the release of the complete web site just before
Christmas. Can one over-promote? Yup. But it is not clear how
much time should be donated to each phase. A one-day event window
is now a six week event window for the electronic charrette
II event. The evaluation site should be archived and made available
in both hard copy and on the web for the next community event
(e) Publicity as a measure of community: Four newspaper
articles-- one MSU
and three local Free Press articles
-- showed that while the press can be interested in the project,
a "trickle-down" education effect is largley unmeasurable.
It could be that the ec II, scheduled
from April 4, through May 15, 1997, could benefit from press
exposure by increased participation.
/ reinventing our buildings and ourselves!
IV. Implications for the Future:
In conclusion, three topics are presented to frame how the electronic
charrette might play a role in the emerging information-rich,
Clients: The need for stakeholders / neighborhoods
As the Carnegie ec event demonstrated, a lack of real players
reduced the involvment and impact of the ec process on the Art
Center situation. One key direction for this process is to work
with real neighborhoods, government and private groups and academics
in a multi-tier participant pool to bridge the gap between those
in need of planning and design services and those with the desire
to dial-in and add their voice. Real solutions require real
stake holders. The ec process, coupled with a traditional community
building program and a charrette component, could now have more
Technology: access / chat / video conferencing
Access to machines and service providers is a constant issue.
We see more assistance from public libraries coming on-line
soon. Chat technology, rightly viewed by many as exclusionary,
expensive, too complex and platform-dependent, will upgrade
and be easier to use, especially as academics and private players
build and maintain their own servers. Microsoft has upgraded
its netmeeting software since they launched their chat
/ conference/ white board techology last year. Video conferencing,
a tool of Kinko's and corporates alike, is an obvious next addition
to the ec process. It is hoped that this first ec will stimulate
advances in technology and coax designers and practicitioners
to find ways to make technology more humane and cost effective.
Academic Research: The URSI
Planning & Design Resource Center Project
URSI is taking the ec process into a new web context with the
Planning & Design Resource Center Project (PDRC). One of
the needs that we identified during the EC is to engineer a
more inclusive way to "seat" and "execute"
the charrette as we partner for added resources, technology
and learning opportunities through the Internet. The PDRC mission
is to develop new communication prototypes, interdisciplinary
partnerships and Internet policies for planners, architects