Tag Archives: charrette

en Charrette, and on Charrette™

New Year’s Day morning, having a cup of coffee at our friends’ house, my knee was nervously going up and down under the breakfast table. I knew how much work I had to do this month and how little time I had to do it. I was already panicked. It was going to be an old school charrette.

We hurried home, and I sat down in the chair in my studio, opened up a model I had just received, and got to it.  New Year’s Day, 2010. “Let’s go…”

Yesterday, the 20th, I sent off the last of eleven formal renderings, at 6:30pm.  Between the first of January, and yesterday, I left the house a total of three times, and for no more than an hour and a half each time.  Whew… What a way to start the year. And now I think they want maybe 10 more. Yikes.

Cross-hatched Sky Detail... January 2010

This is about all I can show, a small patch of sky (above), which is maybe an inch wide in the original.

It was a mad charrette. The traditional definition of “en charrette” is that one is “working furiously, continuously, often overnight, up to the very last moment possible, on an architectural design presentation”.  I managed to avoid all-nighters, but I had a run of 16 to 18 hour days that lasted the last two weeks straight.

The idea of a “charrette”  comes from the Beaux Arts schools in mid to late 1800s Paris, where students would work in a mad fury, literally up to the deadline, and would continue to put finishing touches on their drawings even as the “charrette” or cart was brought around and their work was collected.  Cries of “charrette!” warned students of the advancing cart and, with it, the deadline.

My Charrette Tape Ball, about 8 years old, with some "dead soldiers" (pencil points used to their absolute tip)

In the late 60’s a pair of grad students at the Harvard Graduate School of Design convinced their art supply sources to help them set up a shop, on Brattle Street I believe, to sell drafting supplies to architects and architecture students.  It thrived. They named it “Charrette”.  It was the lifeline for nearly every single architect in Boston or Cambridge during the 70s, 80s, 90s…    Swiss, french, german equipment, obscure tools, (then) difficult to find paper, yellow trace, pens, leads, etc.  All to be spun into architecture by practicing or paper-architects.

Enter the personal computer. And after a faltering few years, Charrette is shuttered.

In December I got a call about some emergency work, possibly reworking or redoing a series of illustrations I had previously done for the George W. Bush Presidential Library. The design had been furthered, and so we were thinking there might be a run of illustrations required. I shot over (7 miles away) to Charrette.  They’d been trailing off in terms of attention and service in the past few years, but it was still THE place to get supplies.

As I pulled in, I thought to myself that “someday I’m going to find out that they’ve stopped making these pencils”, the prismas.  [Note the pencils nubs in the photo above. Yes, those are truthfully how far down I manage to sharpen and use them.  I’d tell you how, but I’d have to kill you.  My cubby at CBT had them in the tens,  arrayed like punji sticks along the top of the partition, keeping interlopers at bay].

After arriving at Charrette, in desperate need of supplies, I pulled up to the door where I could see a sign. “CLOSED”.  A small notice explaining that they were done.  That was it.  “Thanks for 33 great years”. Discontinued pencils, hell.  They closed the whole damn store.

I sat there in the car, engine off, briefly stunned. Took it much harder than I would have had imagined.  In the past couple years, Charrette seemed a pain.  You’d pick out something and take it to the counter only to find that they didn’t know the price, or that three were priced differently than the rest.  Or that no one could answer a question.  Still, I couldn’t imagine it vanishing. And yet it was gone.

Still, a big boy, I got over the close of Charrette pretty quickly, and ordered some stuff from Utrecht, delivered to my door.  >shrug<

But yesterday, well yesterday I reached for my tape dots. The box is a dispenser, and as I pulled the paper tape to take another dot, the tape pulled free, clean.  Empty.  No Charrette tape dots.  And then it hit me again… Uh OH.

You see, that tape ball above is about 8 years old.  When I rejoined CBT after a brief stint with a buddy of mine in his shop, that ball was started day-1.  It’s 100% Charrette dots.  Not because of some rigid dictum, but simply because that’s where CBT (and I) got supplies.

It’s deceptively small, say four-and-a-quarter inches in diameter, but very dense, very heavy.  Rather than just stick a used draft dot to it, I stick them on and every now and then roll the thing under my foot to compress it, actually standing on it.  It’s solid, more than a couple pounds.  I calculated (for grins) that it contains some 13,000 used draft dots. Even though it’s not every dot I have used in that time, it still represents more than 3000 drawings (say four per drawing), or about 400 drawings a year.

A guy at CBT, a cubby or two away, got inspired, and started his own tape ball.  Within a month it seemed his eclipsed mine which was maybe two years old at the time. On close inspection, though… a-HA!  He was merely slapping them on with little or no attempt to compress the ball, and keep it dense.  He was entraining air… Minus ten points, my friend.  Gotta stay old-school.  If it isn’t harder than a soft-ball, it’ll be DQ’d.  We architects don’t screw around.

I have a buddy who is searching the inter-tubes for new-old-stock charrette dots for me.  He’s convinced it must go on. Heck, he’s more concerned than I am.

If you remember zip-a-tone, Letraset, Leroy lettering, Keuffel-Esser templates, bar compasses, toilet templates (“hey, you see the one with toilets in elevation?”), begging your boss for a quadruple-aught jewel-tipped Koh-I-Noor Rapidograph, debating the virtues of white-versus-yellow-versus-cream trace, getting high off spraymount, scrounging fome-cor….. well, then, this lament is for you.

Farewell, Charrette.  Thanks, indirectly at least, for my career.


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