Using the Charrette Design Model to Foster Connections amongst Peer Designers and External Allied Fields

Presented by: Steven B. Webber

Young interior design practitioners are expected to excel in frequently cross-disciplinary environments with allied consultants to complete projects.  By contrast, students in higher education have very limited opportunities for interdisciplinary interaction (Buchbinder, 2005).  This discrepancy between higher education and the interior design profession highlights the value and need for greater emphasis on collaboration between students of varying levels of expertise and professionals outside the interior design profession (CIDA).  This proposal describes research findings that suggest the charette design model can help address this need.  This study examined the effectiveness of a charrette as the means to training students to work across lines of expertise and discipline.

“Charrette” is French for “cart”.  As legend describes it, in 19th century French architecture schools, a cart would be pushed through the student work spaces to collect drawings at the deadline.  As students heard the approaching cart, work would accelerate, with often a tremendous amount of progress being made in those closing moments of the deadline (Kelbaugh, 1997).  Today, the charrette design model seeks to capture the spirit of this intense productivity and mimic time constraints of actual projects for students.  In the 2013 fall semester, interior design student teams took part in a charrette with the goal of re-designing an existing building to withstand a zombie outbreak.  Despite its fantasy-oriented nature, the charrette had the serious goal of engaging students with professionals in the areas of urban design, architecture, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, and medical triage so that students could understand these fields’ criteria and apply them effectively in their solutions.  Each practitioner provided the student groups a 30-minute presentation introducing their fields’ criteria for the project.  Each four-student team was organized vertically across the sophomore-to-senior student levels.  Student projects were required to accommodate 50 users and five dogs for two weeks by providing spaces for their essential needs of eating, sleeping, sanitation, and security.  Students and experts addressed zombie capabilities based on “The Zombie Survival Guide” by Max Brooks (2003).

The study examined student perceptions of the success of collaboration, both within the team and with the external experts.  The study’s student survey instrument used a 5-point Likert scale, examining, among many topics, these overarching questions:

  1. Do the students find collaborative learning experiences with their peers to be effective in advancing their learning process?
  2. Do the students value input from cross-disciplinary professionals in their learning process?

Survey responses show that the students found value in the vertical team organization in that the less experienced students’ learning experience was enhanced.  The survey responses also show that the students found the input from four of the five outside professionals valuable to the design process in the charrette, suggesting that the students recognized the contribution that outside fields have to the design process.  This presentation will share further detailed results and work examples of the charrette experience, lending support to the premise that the charrette design model can be a valuable teaching tool to prepare interior design students for a cross-collaborative professional environment.


  • Brooks, M. (2003). The zombie survival guide: Complete protection from the living dead. Random House LLC.
  • Buchbinder, S. B., Alt, P. M., Eskow, K., Forbes, W., Hester, E., & Struck, M. (2005). Creating learning prisms with an interdisciplinary case study workshop. Innovative Higher Education, 29(4), 257-274.
  • CIDA. (2010). Professional standards 2011. Retrieved 09/11, 2013, from
  • Kelbaugh, D. (1997). Common place: Toward neighborhood and regional design.
  • Walker, J. B., & Seymour, M. W. (2008). Utilizing the design charrette for teaching sustainability. International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, 9(2), 157-169.


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