How community charettes revolutionize design and solve ‘real world’ problems – Sept. 17, 2014 CBC podcast

A Sept. 17, 2014 post at The Current (CBC) website notes:

“There is some truth in the old joke about a camel being a horse designed by a committee. But designers believe if you get the right people throwing enough ideas around, you can get a thoroughbred. Designers call that kind of committee a charrette, a kind of meeting with an eye to how design thinking can solve a range of real world problems.”

This is a most interesting podcast; I recommend it highly.

The relation between architecture and what occurs inside buildings

During the 1982-1983 school year, I took a year off from supply teaching and attended the B. Ed. program at the University of Toronto, in order to get my Teaching Certificate. In those days, at the Metropolitan Toronto School Board (MTSB), you could supply teach without having a Teaching Certificate, as long as you had an undergraduate degree. I had by that stage taught for two and a half years in schools across the Greater Toronto Area.

Sometimes I would walk into a class and have a day plan to follow. At other times, I had no day plan and learned to address such a novel situation. With practice, I learned that having a plan was optional. Years later, when I had a regular class of my own to teach, I became acquainted with the purpose of having a day plan.

In those years, teaching jobs were not quite as plentiful, from I could gather, as in the immediate postwar years, but it was easier to launch a career in the 1980s than is currently the case – again, from what I can gather.

I enjoyed that year back in school, at the University of Toronto in 1982-1983. Among the courses that truly have stayed in mind for me, these many years later (I retired from teaching in 2006), is an Independent Study Course that I took in Educational Psychology at the University of Toronto Faculty of Education.

Small high schools, big high schools

Rather than attending classes in the course, I researched and wrote a research paper on the influence that the architecture of school buildings has on the learning that occurs inside of them. As a supply teacher, visiting a large number of schools, I had noticed that the “feel” and atmosphere of a given school often appeared to have a connection to the layout, mass, and configuration of the school building.

I like to think – and I’m sure I could be wrong, as I’m not aware of research about this – that a person who has had experience in education can walk into any school and within a few seconds, get a sense of how the people inside of it – students and staff, as well as regular visitors – experience the school. A school is well run or it isn’t. A school is a happy place, or it isn’t. And so on. Within a few seconds of walking in the door, you know, or at lest that’s my sense of how things work in schools.

I imagine that neuroscience research related to “mood contagion” would be one way to explore the empirical evidence for the perceptions that I refer to.

To add nuance to my narrative, let me add this: In my years in teaching, I encountered evidence that lends weight to the truism that, in education as in other endeavours, sometimes is is indeed the case that “Perception is reality.”

Pre-Internet study procedures

In those pre-Internet days, I walked from one library at the U of T campus to another, and located every book and journal article I could find that had some relation to my year-long study of architecture and schools.

Among other things, I explored, and published a journal article on, the rationale for home schooling, which involves education in spaces other than in buildings that are purpose-built for schooling. As part of my study, I read extensively about the history of education.

As well, I explored research regarding the differences between large high schools and smaller ones, as manifested in a range of variables including “student spirit” and student participation in extracurricular activities.


Among other things, I also learned all that I could about charettes, which I note have been used in the organizing of community input in the Inspiration Lakeview project.

In the latter project, the rhetoric and the reality of community input in planning appears, from all of the extensive evidence I have encountered, to be very closely aligned.

For this reason, the recent The Current (CBC) podcast about community charettes in the context of urban design planning fascinates me endlessly.

Workspace Design

A related topic concerns the design of workspaces – a topic that is covered admirably well, in my view, from an evidence-based perspective in the October 2014 issue of Harvard Business Review. Again, the latter series of articles are of interest and are well worth reading.


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