What we do and how we do it – The Planning Workshop or Charette

Kevin Young Project Planning

what-we-do-and-how-we-do-it1At The Planning Studio, we believe in being very hands on in our approach to your planning project. Which is one of the reasons that when we start a new project, especially a medium to large project, we almost always do it with a Planning Workshop or what is often called in the design professions as a “Charette”. This several day workshop allows us to meet and get to know the client and their staff, visit and get very familiar with the particular project site and develop in a very efficient manner, several planning options or concepts directly with the client. Our clients generally find this process to be informative as well as a very efficient way to start a project.

The first step in the workshop process, once we have arrived at a project location, is to hold a comprehensive meeting with the client, their staff and any other consultants who will be involved in the project. They might include architects, engineers, landscape architects and golf course architects to name a few. This meeting will cover access to the property, property boundaries, topography and the client’s planning brief or proposed development program. We will also discuss with the client their ideas for project themes, if applicable. Depending on the type of project, we will also discuss various parameters for the development. For example, if the project is primarily a residential community, we will look at potential roadway sections, desired lots sizes, lot or unit counts, allowable and desired building heights, and preferred residential layout concepts.

When we have a very good understanding of the project, the client’s goals and the development program, we usually head out to visit the project site. Over the years, this has involved a variety of transport including helicopters, cars, trucks and four wheel ATVs, but most of the time it means a lot of walking. We prefer to walk as much of a property as is possible so that we get a comprehensive understanding of the entire site. We note where the best access points are; where hills and depressions are and what the overall topography is like; we note the location and type of vegetation; we try to figure out where the drainage is for the site. During the site work for the Nirwana Bali Resort in Bali, Indonesia, many years ago, the golf course architect and I prepared a preliminary golf course routing before we ever went out and looked at the site. As it turned out, once we walked the site, we learned we had one par 3 going the wrong way, in a major way! We got to where the green was supposed to be and when we turned to look back at where the tees were supposed to go, we discovered that there was not only a spectacular view of the Tanah Lot Temple sitting just offshore, but a spectacular view of Gunung Batukau (mountain) in the distance behind where the tee was to be. These discoveries meant we had to turn the whole golf course routing around and go the other way, so that golfers could enjoy these spectacular views while playing the par 3. For most projects, especially resort master plans and residential master plans views from the property can be a very important factor as they create value and need to be maximized.

what-we-do-and-how-we-do-it2Once we have an understanding of the clients goals and of the project site, we begin generating alternative concepts for the project. These will usually be done as “bubble diagrams” using tracing paper and magic markers overlaid on a topographic map of the site. We try and develop at least three very different concepts for a project showing different approaches to where roads and development parcels will be located. Much of this conceptual work is often done in our hotel rooms or even a hotel lobby, where ever we can find adequate space. I used to work with an architect who used to carry a nail in his briefcase. He would use the nail to remove the bathroom door in his hotel room and lay the door on the bed as a drafting table. I remember one time when we were working together on a concept plan for a very large site. The topographic map we were utilizing as a base was big enough to cover the entire door. So, when we made our first presentation to the client, we put up on the wall, three alternatives, each with a tear out at the top of the drawings, which had been where the door knob had been!

After we have developed several alternative concepts, we present them to the client and solicit their comments and feedback. Normally, depending on how the client reacts to the concepts, we will either refine the preferred concept or we will prepare a hybrid concept of the ideas the client preferred in each of the alternatives. When we have

completed the refinement of the preferred concept, utilizing our knowledge of typical unit densities for various hotel and residential uses, we can provide the client with the first estimate of unit counts or carrying capacity on the site. Depending on how detailed the client’s development program is or whether they have had a financial consultant prepare a project feasibility study we may then tweak the concept to be more in line with the client’s program or the projections from the financial feasibility study.

So, by the time we pack up our tracing paper and magic markers and head back to our home office, we will have a very comprehensive understanding of our client’s goals and objectives. We will have provided the client with a series of development concepts showing various approaches to achieving those goals. These will have been used to generate a preferred development concept, which we can take back to our office and refine. We have also provided them with a “first take” of the project unit counts so that they can begin their financial analysis and planning.

Based on this concentrated effort at the beginning of a project we can rapidly move from having an agreed to development concept into refining and detailing it to create the overall master plan.