I sit in a brightly lit conference room observing professionals from a variety of different backgrounds. This may appear to be a typical scene from the corporate conference circuit, but in reality, it is anything but. The majority of light is provided by daylight rather than light bulbs, and the attendees aren’t placidly watching the presentation- they furiously scribble down engineering solutions on large, blank sheets of butcher paper.

This is a design charrette.

An integrative design charrette is radically different from a workshop or a lecture. It is an interactive event that allows for industry experts to discuss a specific design problem and then work creatively to draft a solution. Today, a varied group of individuals are meeting at the United World College of Southeast Asia, likely the most sustainable building in Singapore, to discuss building a new semiconductor factory in an existing warehouse in Singapore. Government officials, architects, engineers, businessmen, academics, consulting firms, contractors, even a biologist all gather. They all have the similar goal of designing the facility so that it can be constructed and maintained as sustainably and cost effectively as possible, but they also hold different perspectives to the same design problem which creates engaging discussion geared towards achieving solutions that will benefit people, profit and planet.

What makes this charrette special is that the engineering firms present are all actively bidding for this project. They not only have to come up with creative design solutions, but their participation in the process will influence the contract award; the client is also in the room. One might expect the ambience to be thick with a tension; however, this is far from the reality I witness. As I walk around the room I watch the professionals energetically interact with one another. This open transdisciplinary structure is what allows for the event’s dynamism. Each individual brings his or her own expertise and point of view to the discussion and a higher level of openness and industry permeability is achieved.

The blank sheets of paper are now lined with quick sketches and detailed notes. The charrette has ended and as the participants gather for a tour of this world-class example of what ‘can be’, all that is left is to wait for the owner’s decision. But whomever they choose, something greater has transpired here today. A conversation has led to the development of a new way of unraveling design issues – before they lead to financial and environmental harm – and to the creation of innovative cost-effective solutions.

Marla Goodman, Sustainability Intern