RIBA East Midlands Student Charrette 2022

What’s a Charrette?

On Wednesday 24th Feb 2022, Walters Architects supported the first ‘RIBA East Midlands Student Charrette’ since pre-pandemic times. The local Leicester School of Architecture stationed at De Montfort University hosted 50 students from across the East Midlands currently studying for qualifications in Architecture. Students ranged from years 1-6, creating a fantastic mix of ideas, perspectives and experience.

RIBA Student East Midlands
An introduction from Kate Cheyne.

“A charrette is an intensive, multi-disciplinary workshop with the aim of developing a design or vision for a project or planning activity.”

Introduction to the Charrette.

The day began at Beta X, Church Gate, a new hub for creatives in the city. Introductory talks from Kate Cheyne (DMU) and Lucy Grierson (RIBA) set the scene. Grant Butterworth, Head of Planning (Leicester City Council) then briefed the group on an exciting vision for one of Leicester’s iconic brutalist structures, Lee Circle (Auto-Magic) Car Park.

The cohort was divided into 10 teams (each team had students from different architecture schools) and challenged to repurpose Lee Circle. Considering site and city heritage would be key to determining the potential such a place has to offer. This would also be key in developing strong narratives for this project, named “Social Condenser”.

RIBA Student East Midlands
Grant Butterworth delivers the brief ahead of the charrette.

Site Visit

RIBA Student East Midlands
The extent of the car park.
RIBA Student East Midlands
One half of Lee Circle’s gradual double helix.
RIBA Student East Midlands
Few shops remain below this former retail machine.
RIBA Student East Midlands
Immediate context: Crown House
RIBA Student East Midlands
Immediate context: Fleet House

Following the introduction, each team conducted a brief site analysis. Gauging a feeling for the place and meeting team members marked the start of the Charrette. The dereliction around the site presents lots of opportunities and challenges, but that’s for another day. We then made our way back to the impressive MArch Studios at DMU for sandwiches and a debrief. 

RIBA Student East Midlands
Site Analysis Underway.

Back to the Studio.

4 Hours Until Pin Up.

Once refuelled, the teams began brainstorming ideas collectively. It was truly inspiring to see instant collaboration from groups of students who had never met. Such natural cohesion speaks volumes about the nature of our discipline.

RIBA Student East Midlands
Teams set up for the afternoon of design.

3 Hours Until Pin Up.

Now the group had a direction, the conversations were moving freely and the students were becoming much more confident in their abilities. Groups were forming within the team and work was naturally becoming distributed to each other’s strengths.

RIBA Student East Midlands
On to a winner.

2 Hours Until Pin Up. 

As time was ticking, it was necessary to establish a list of requirements that would help sell the vision. This in included concept diagrams, standard drawings, key sections, structural concepts, sketch visuals, models. It then became easier to delegate the work and ensure it would be delivered before time ran out. 

1 Hour Until Pin Up. 

Time now really was of the essence, each team dug deep to ensure that the key information was ready to present at 5PM. The energy in the room was growing as participants hurried around their stations to synthesise their final thoughts and ideas.

Pin Up.

As the clock struck 5, a big sigh of relief engulfed the studio and everyone gave themselves a pat on the back. The hard part was over. Now it was time to sell the idea for Lee Circle to the “judges” and the entire group. 

Each team was allowed 3 minutes to present and 3 minutes for questions. This meant we could to get through all 10 groups as efficiently as possible.

Ideas ranged from skateparks to shops. From drive in rooftop cinemas to a multi-level pedestrian park (externally, think Pompidou but green). Rainwater collection systems in the old petrol pump tanks, lots of vertical farming, markets, leisure activities, learn to climb (up the building). Sustainability was clearly on everyone’s mind, and rightly so. The greenest building is one that has already been built, so lets work with what we’ve got.

Presenting in front of that many people was a new experience for most people. So credit to those who presented as no one appeared nervous and managed to answer most questions from the panel of judges.

RIBA Student East Midlands
Urban Greening.

To Tradition.

What a great opportunity for Leicester to host such an event. Special thanks to those who organised the Charrette at short notice, you successfully delivered a day full of creativity and collaboration.

I was told, “traditionally”, a Charrette was only truly finished by heading to the pub. So, we made sure to stick to tradition and celebrated the city, architecture and urban planning with a drink or two.

I look forward to many more events like this and hope to continue building relationships with the local community of creatives. Should these events just be confined to annual Charrettes? Or should they occur more frequently to keep the vision for Leicester City current. Leicester has a lot to offer and even more potential to unlock. Through creative collaboration at local level with local experts we will see great improvement across the city.

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