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What the heck is a ‘charette’?

July 21, 2009
On Sunday, July 18th, the last of three design charettes (brainstorming sessions for those of you who don’t parle francais) for the future Northlake Community Wharf took place at the Lake Washington Rowing Club. What better place to stoke your imagination for a future public waterfront site than at a boat club overlooking the water.At the charettes, we practiced such exercises as visualizing the future site in completion – what do you see? What activities are taking place? What are people doing? We also looked at an existing site map and put colored dots on the areas where we felt people would gather, where they would enter, where the “heart” of the site would be.

What blew me away about all three of these sessions is that attendees seemed to continuously come up with ideas that maintain the values and mission of the existing Center for Wooden Boats philosophy – that hands-on experience can be life-altering and that a welcoming and permeable (isn’t that a great word?!) space is necessary to that experience – while expanding upon the capabilities and uses of the space at the north end of the lake.

These sessions were a great way to not only feel out the community needs and visions for such a site, but also to springboard off of some more obvious ideas into some that are just…cool. Like the idea of a floating farmers market that could make frequent stops at Northlake Community Wharf, or the 8-year-old who thought that a playground made out of boats would be pretty sweet. This might be getting a little ahead of ourselves in practicality, but long ago, long before we had even the tiniest thought that this project might be tangible, the Steering Committee and The Center for Wooden Boats decided that if the Northlake Community Wharf wasn’t going to be relevant to the community, it wasn’t going to be relevant.  

There might not be any more charettes or any other fancy-worded events coming up in the near future, but this blog should serve as a space to tell us your ideas, what you visualize, what you think the community does and does not need, and what crazy things you can come up with that would just be…cool. Like inflatable pontoons that attach onto your bike so you can ride right off of the Burke Gilman and across Lake Union, I love that one.

– Meg Gilshire

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