PART TWO: The Baby Was Born In A Harvard Closet

Part Two was written by me, Alison D. Gilbert, The New York Graphic Design Examiner. It was published by the on January 14, 2011.

The Harvard Graduate School of Design Logo
The Harvard Graduate School of Design Logo

Charrette did not enter the New York scene until a few years after its birth. It was actually born (although not yet named) in a closet at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. The idea was to house in one location all the supplies design students would need. This eliminated the need to take the time to travel to a dozen different locations to gather all the materials required for their projects.

As strange as the name Charrette sounds, anyone who has attended design school or has worked in a design office knows what a ‘charrette’ is. When students and professionals (particularly) in architecture stay up all night to meet a deadline, they say that they are “en charrette” or they are “charretting”.

The term came from the Ecole de Beaux Arts in Paris, which in the 19th century was the leading school of architecture in the world. When deadlines arrived, a CHARRETTE, the French word for wagon, would be pushed through the building and students had to place their drawings on the “charrette” or they would not be accepted.

Many students would actually sit or straddle the wagon as they signed their work or put down the last few lines. Students came to study in Paris from all over the world. When they graduated and returned home, they used the term “en Charrette” to define the last effort to finish a design project. This description applies primarily to the architecture and planning fields.

According to Lionel Spiro, since he and Blair Brown, the founders of Charrette, only planned to supply architects, they chose the name that they felt had special significance to their targeted market. However within a short time, Charrette was discovered by a succession of design professionals who used many of the same products.

Eventually manufacturing companies such as Raytheon, Ford, GM, and Chrysler eventually turned to Charrette for the majority of their design and engineering drawing needs. In addition, Charrette was discovered by hundreds of relatively small design offices within much larger government agencies in Washington.

Also included were structural, mechanical and civil engineers and later other engineers including electrical and electronic engineers. Commercial (graphic) designers, product designers and other creative people working at ad agencies, media firms and even television shows like Saturday Night Live became regular users of Charrette products as regular New York customers.


PART ONE: Invitation to a graphic memoir, the Charrette Corporation
PART TWO: The baby was born in a Harvard closet
PART THREE: Charrette meets ‘Big Apple’ graphic standards
PART FOUR: The Charrette New York creative culture
PART FIVE: The Charrette Chronicles Synopsis
The Charrette Alumni Group on Linked

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