Crossings & Crime: Observations

by Angela (A) Pamanee (P) and Nikki (N)

P1050203 P1050190A: Dechen, Cami and Catherine broke many trends of all the charettes to date.

P: It’s a really interesting and creative approach for the charette to try remote participation and use the benefit of social media.

N: The format of using Internet device, as a method to spread out the exhibition and discussion, is a great idea and it’s a great indication that more people can get involved into the process.

A: The team engaged the Henry audience remotely, from Aurora Avenue, by broadcasting the charette progress through a live radio and twitter stream.

P: It allows live area study and interaction with people on Aurora. Cool!

But, the start is not smooth because we are not all technology people- not everyone uses Twitter. L We start to tune in with the broadcast at 4:40. For me it is difficult to follow the conversation via radio. But it works in the sense that the team keeps updating and responding all the time.

N: During site visiting, the team was constantly reporting the condition, which made it clear for the observers to get to know the situation.


  1. Does the group predict any inconvenience for the people in a different location? (i.e. meeting room, Henry Art Gallery, or by theirself)
  2. How much concern did the team give to the situation in Henry Art Gallery?


P: there are 4-5 walk-in audiences who seem kind of lost and don’t know how to react or participate. Difficult to hold people’s attention all three hours.

N: It was hard to imagine the body language and the gestures remotely.

P: This method works for those who wouldn’t be able to participate in an on-site charette. It allows for public sharing and participation for wider group of people. It also allows for individual concentration on the charette and, for some, it’s easier to follow.

N: I liked the introduction part of the discussion. The team mentioned our professors, professional guests, and the audience.

A: The process began inside an afternoon light-filled Aurora Commons, a women’s community center on Aurora and 90th. The team, plus dancers Ben & Rainbow and Aurora Commons director Karen, engaged in a conversation that flo­­­wed between explanation of: how the charettes had been working so farthe team’s approach to this charette,                           everyone’s visions of projects dealing with the theme of representing marginalized identities, and everyone’s characterizations of life and people on Aurora.

The team made their guests feel welcome by asking what they wanted to get out of the charette and by inviting them to share their own visions for projects. Though Karen was initially unsure of the purpose of the charette and uncomfortable speaking to an unknown audience on an i-phone radio, the team did a great job of reaching out to her in her element and allowing her to express her passion for the community.

Several common interests emerged, including performancestorytellingcharacter development, and, again, compelling representations of the frequently marginalized.

N: During the process, they talked about the main issues: Homeless, crossing, Pedestrian bridges.

A: Dechen noted that while the online twitter feed and radio broadcast were charette products in and of themselves, they could push their concepts further by going out onto the street and filming/performing/interviewing people.

After more talk about:                                                                                                                      needs on Aurora (“grace, and people’s names to be known,” [-Karen])                                 the conundrum of successful artistic cooperatives sans gentrification, and logistics of funding, the group expressed interest in going outside and making something happen before it got dark.

P: There was a blank moment: take a break 4:50, take a walk 5:45-6:10, disappear 6:30-6:50, 7:00-7:20 for drive back

A: During a break, Catherine had an idea: in an effort to wrap all the discussed ideas together, including interviewsaudio-video documentationstorylines, and visions of performance…perhaps a dancer could listen to a recorded interview and interpret their reaction through dance. This could happen on 99 different sites along Aurora, and it could be broadcasted so that anyone could listen. Everyone liked the idea- as easy as that!

P: You guys ran out of battery.

N: There was a long pause.

A: We walked outside and met some dudes who were happy to introduce one another. They were curious about our class.

We walked along the street in the twilight and found a recessed stage accessed by a ripped chainlink fence. Some pictures were taken of charetters posing as homeless people with actual ‘Anything Helps’ signs- and generally taking on roles of ‘users’ in the site, which admittedly made me slightly uncomfortable.

Karen introduced us to Jennifer, a motel owner down the street from Aurora Commons. Her voice was broadcasted to the Henry: she had provided a place for people in need for many years. She advised us that we all could be as strong as we needed to be, and then some. Water droplets fell from the eaves onto Catherine as she held her i-phone up to capture Jennifer’s story.

“The smallest thing can make a huge difference. And the biggest thing can make no difference at all”, she said. You could smile at a stranger. Or 99 dancers could move to that stranger’s story, in hopes of making a difference.

With a little over an hour left before the end of the charette, Rainbow danced in the abandoned lot as she listened to Jennifer’s story on headphones, while everyone stood around phone-filming to the sound of evening traffic. Someone approached us holding many full plastic bags. They walked by slowly, rounding the chainlink fence to peer down from a side street, lifting their arms in time to Rainbows’—then quietly moved on.

Pamanee’s suggestions:                                                                                                            You could use facetime to give live experience during area walk survey and performance.    You could promote this charette ahead to allow more people to join and prepare. I think there are more people who want to join them. Bring more collaboration– not just surprises.

Overall: We appreciate your creativity and effort! Great experiment to inspire the rest of us to test out different avenues for creative charette processes and new types of collaboration. Great job working with the time constraints.


Charrette: Crossings & Crime

BE 598_Identity Charette_21Feb14

Look for #99Crossings and @99Crossings to read our full Twitter feed, and listen to our charrette on our Mixlr broadcast. Click to enlarge our process board below.Our process

Check out our prototype video of Rainbow and Ben performing to Jennifer’s recorded interview. We were grateful to have such talented people on our team.

The Team

Charette: Identity



“We were given the task of creating a marketing campaign to re-brand Aurora. Questions that came to mind: Re-brand it to who? The people who are already using it daily? Potential developers? And, re-brand it how? By acknowledging and emphasizing what’s already there, or already perceived to be there- or by projecting onto it an idealized vision of the future? To try to determine how people who frequent the Avenue already identify with it, Ian and Angela interviewed twenty people they encountered in shops and on the sidewalk. To learn what people who don’t frequently engage with the area think of it, Pamanee interviewed people on campus.

When asking “what Aurora means to you,” users and non-users alike seemed to agree that the stretch of highway is “dirty,” “seedy,” a decaying remnant of the past, and generally a place where “crazy shit happens.” On the brighter side, Aurora is also clearly a place that people can rely on for money. People who work there seem to accept it for what it is- none of them indicated much of a sense of woe about going there every day. It is what it is. “Same old same old,” said a woman who’d sold exotic fish for the last 19 years.

Our charette seemed to somehow adopt this same laissez-faire attitude. Pamanee, Ian, Angela and guests had a lengthy conversation about what Aurora was already like- what was good, what was bad, what people think about it. We agreed that it was what it was, and some interesting phrases got thrown around, including “pseudo-pioneering” and “the hairy armpit of Seattle.” But nobody was too amped up about pinning down its identity into anything very succinct. Finally we split into teams, which by then included obliging members of our audience, all of whom had the same glazed-over expressions as people you might see waiting for a bus on Aurora and 99th. One team re-branded Aurora with a vision of what it might become. This vision took the form of a three-step process by which Aurora as a district would gain breathing room by taking program off Aurora and widening the sidewalks with the reclaimed space. Then, refreshed motels would be livened up as local tourist housing, Finally, regular street parties would punctuate the monotony of traffic along Aurora by bringing visitors in to see the district as an area of experimental restaurants, low-cost specialty commercial spaces, and entertainment. The other team was interested in community and identity-focused public art. The second team developed a variety of art-interventions on both the personal and the automotive scales. These interventions would invite the viewers to engage the art at all speeds, and invite them to slow down from whatever speed they might be at to more closely inspect the neighborhood. Both teams ended up quietly deciding to throw a huge party, and a few of the charetters even broke out some chalk pastels. Our deliverables ended up being a set of multi-step recommendations, for how the branding efforts might be accomplished, starting with the small scale and working to the large. Our efforts were illustrated on trace paper and pinned up as a series of step-by-step visual instructions.

General thoughts in retrospect: everybody seemed tired, from the guests to the audience to the team members. But, everything flowed without too much awkwardness. We didn’t come to a very concise conclusion, and though we came up with two different marketing campaigns, it would have been nice to have more time to meld them into one single strategy. “

Group Identity

Ian, Angela and Pamanee were given the task of creating a marketing idea that would rebrand a new identity for Aurora Avenue. This was a great task with a clear goal. The team had some amazing community members, Kristine and Barbara who both seemed enthusiastic about and seemed to bring a lot to the conversation. There was more of an emphasis on discussion and less on creation, leaving a feeling of being rushed to produce in the end, from an observational standpoint. There wasn’t too much that stood out either negatively or positively, missing the “Wow!” factor.

The professionals seemed excited about taking part (except Barbara at the end) and had some great incite on Aurora. Kristine prepared by bringing visuals of how she envisions Aurora based on what other cities have done and the idea of “bringing back the neon” was a great slogan for a neon sculpture park, which is genius. The audience was asked to participate, which could have been emphasized more, and a chamber member was brought to the table.The group had a nice mix of surveys, videos and still shots that they took.

There were a number of ideas going on that were overlooked and could have been explored more thoroughly in this time, which was mainly used for discussion and more creation time could have been beneficial. There was some prior research and photography the group did, but it wasn’t completely clear how the information was useful for this charette, or how it directed topics of conversation. It would have been great to see more results from this prior work, like a graph or some statistical information. More visuals (both brought in and produced in the Henry), collaboration, movement, voices at the table and mediums could have been explored. More digital creating would be nice to see as well. This whole exercise is a learning experience and can’t be perfect.


The Players: Ian, Angela, Pamanee, Barbara Swift [BS], + Kristine Matthews [KM]
The Mission: Create a marketing system to rebrand Aurora

BS: Typology of the world [places akin to Aurora
+ Stigma regarding Aurora “Get in, Get out”
+ Funky stores with low overhead
[Kristine brought inspirational images of signs…referring to Aurora’s similarity to the Las Vegas strip]
+ “Pseudo pioneering”
BS: Importance of places that are not safe and that its okay they are not safe…rich diversity…ecosystem
+ Reality of service of 99…BS: “Deal with it”
[Group continues to go with whole-group conversations 5.15]
5.19 BS: The Wild West…low cost entry, but predation not ok
[Group circles around, facing the audience]
Scott: brings up issues of imposing an identity upon people
Quote: “Armpit of Seattle”…BS: “HAIRY!”
Ian attempts to lead the group forward, questioning the desired end product
KM: Branding for large audience
BS: authentic identity…not to lose sight of self with the promise of redevelopment
[Enter Community member from the audience…C]
+ Conflicting elements of stop and go
Break 5.40
5.50 Angela recaps for everyone
Community member comes to the table
KM: Brings up the product…Turning Aurora inside out, providing access to the backside…”BRING BACK THE NEON”…gratuitous efficiency
BS: Turn Aurora into live-work spaces…artists…Georgetown – cheap, large space
2 Themes [dictated by Ian]: Now vs. Then…Art + Engagement
[BS passes her “Hairball of Aurora” to KM]
6.05 split
NvsT: Barbara, Ian, Pamanee
A+E: Angela, Scott, Kristine, Community Member

Barbara + Kristine diagram…others watch
Leaders and followers – there is a need to alter roles…to play catch…professionals need to be followers for a time
KM asking others to draw; BS still the only one drawing
+ Listing out present conditions
+ Connection to front and back of house
+ Can’t turn your back on Aurora
+ Take program from the street…trying to do too much
PAUSE…long ponder without action
+ Continuing to draw and brainstorm individually
6.45 Shared Ideas to one another…Stores self identify
Group discussion
6.48 “Aurora: Open for People”
BS: Timeline…a diagram of actions
A+E: 7.00 Addressing Aurora as a person
7.05 BS passes the torch…allowing others to generate
[How to excite and spread out…what initiates action?]
Did the group discuss roles ahead of time?
Barbara sitting back while others produce…looking at the other team
No interaction
7.17 A+E begin to pin-up
Barbara strikes up a casual conversation with the community member
7.21 No collaboration has occurred
EKG Flat Lined at 6.48

Following the charette from a seat in the audience proved interesting. As prior observers have noted, it was difficult to hear the details of the conversation. This was not a problem, however, since I was more interested in trying to see if there is any relationship between the theories of group practice we have read, and the practical charetting skills we are able to bring to the table. From the standpoint of architectural theory, it becomes apparent that charette is an embodied practice, rather than a form of knowledge. To put this another way,
From a vantage in the audience, the identity charette never seemed to gain momentum: the conversation was cordial, but as Tyson has noted, there was no sense of group achievement at the end, as witnessed by the almost complete lack of collaboration while the project was being pinned up.
There are different types of challenges that can be recognized- some decisions seemed to dissipate momentum, while at other times the process sputtered through lack of group engagement. Overall, the group seemed to need someone to take the facilitator role, ideally if each member had been able to activate the momentum might have emerged.

Users Charette Observation

The Users group created an intimate setting using a desk lamp to create a focal point, which allowed participants to focus on their workspace and each other. They were able to start the meeting without feeling distracted by the audience or competing noises in the gallery. They skipped formal introductions and, instead, used a quick activity to get the participants focused on the topic: users of Aurora Ave. This was the first charette to begin with a structured activity during which participants quietly and individually developed and wrote out their ideas before sharing with the rest of the group. This worked well to jumpstart the conversation into an almost immediate exchange of ideas, including the drawing and writing of thoughts. The group was able to propel the conversation forward despite the ambiguous prompt: “Propose a strategy of urban accessories to engage Aurora’s user groups.”

P1040842The beginning of the charette was the only structured part, as the rest of it flowed so smoothly and naturally. The students prepared a slideshow of images and pinup of written quotes from user interviews. There was plenty of trace paper and markers on the table, but the simplicity of the setup allowed participants to focus on the conversation around the table.

flowdiagramsBy the end of the first hour, they reached consensus around a general concept with vague locations of sites. The goal was to create a proposal that they could propose to the city. At 6pm (1.5 hrs in), they split off into smaller groups. To assign groups, they used slips of paper to facilitate a random selection process, which equalized the value of tasks and bypassed the need to talk about who should be assigned to which task. For about an hour, the smaller groups worked independently and finally came together to share their results. By this point, the participants were working so well together that the observers, by contrast, were completely disengaged, and most were on their smart phones. The group took a short break during their work session, but they were obviously engaged by their concept because they continued to have more casual conversations about it during their break.

Throughout the charette, Nikky served the role of a graphic recorder. Her sketches were not just recordings of the conversations, but she was able to synthesize the group discussion into her drawings. During the smaller group work session, about half of the participants were drawing simultaneously to represent and share their concepts. Eventually there were so many drawings that the group was able to edit and select the ones that best represented their idea. The charette moved at a comfortable pace throughout, and both student and professional participants seemed to be enjoying themselves to the point that they probably could have kept talking for hours.

Photo Feb 06, 5 34 08 PMP1040869

Development- team observations

Aurora Ave: History, (Its)story

The charette came off well, especially after the first 25 minutes.

The participants worked diligently to incorporate their guests into conversations related the their strengths and experience. After about a half hour, the hosts and guests came to a shared comfort level where they could get down to questions beyond the initial wash.

Many thoughtful observations were made, some quite impressive for the amount of time available to the charette participants. A number of comments related to the way we related to Aurora were thought provoking, and a number of those were clearly portrayed in the deliverable objects produced by the charette team. Among the astute observations was the separation between the viability of popular modes of neighborhood engagement such as food trucks in walkable neighborhoods (Ballard, SLU, et al) and areas where virtually all trips are made by car.

Another observation which directly impacted the work flow and final designs of the session was the conversation around how out-sized the built environment’s reaction is to all object, how *SUPERSIZED* and brightly lit everything is along the avenue, both out of character for Seattle’s roads.

– The team’s allocation of time was reasonable, most of their subject matter was reasonably covered.

– The team worked together smoothly in general. Most of the pauses in their work were in the first 30 minutes.

– The team members seemed to self-select into their roles, there seemed to be some hesitance to invite the guests into specific roles- defaulting to seeing where the guests wished to go.

– Decisions were consensus based, there were few discernable moments of singular, authoritative leadership. There were no outright disagreements during the session, so there were few opportunities for leadership to be overt.

– The guests were invited to engage the subject matter at a thorough level. It seemed like there were various moments in the charette when the students deferred decision-making to them, sometimes in important decisions that the students might have engaged more fully.

– All members of the team engaged the charette equally. The role of a recorder is a difficult one to accomplish while also being part of the dialogue, this team did a good job of engaging the recorder inasmuch as possible.

– Their strategies were generally effective. I couldn’t tell from the outside if they truly agreed on almost everything, or if dissenting opinions were repressed. If opinions were being held inside, that would be disappointing, and might add sharper, more incisive designs to the lovely designs accomplished by the team.

I ABSOLUTELY LOVED having the projector in the room with the looped video of Aurora playing, it anchored much of the theoretical dialogue in the washed out reality of the context.

Having both flat and modeled objects as items under production at the end of the session was fantastic.

A “Development” of Thoughts

A “Development” of Thoughts

The latest charette in the Design Lab focused on Development on Aurora Ave., posing the question, “How can we best develop the western half of Aurora between 93rd and 95th street?”

With an empty parking lot as their site, the group more than any other that came before, tried their best to bring all their ideas together into a final product. With a more whimsical and open thought process, the group was willing to throw out “crazy ideas” not limiting themselves with budget and the reality of the actual development process. Everyone brought their own unique take on Aurora Ave.—the lichen study was a great way to look at the site. This led to a much more upbeat, positive conversation—quite the opposite of last week.

IMG_6279 photo (1) photo (2)  It was clear they listened to class discussions and learned from the previous weeks on the best practices. Early on, they were able to reach consensus on a few key decisions (while they may not have realized it):

  1. Make the development a destination with a visible positive change
  2. Create a space that is versatile and somewhat temporary, since the entire neighborhood is in flux and very diverse
  3. Include Art
  4. Support Businesses
  5. Connect parcel to the nearby park

The group defined their goal and started designing early on in the evening, making time less of a factor in their production.

IMG_6271However, the consensus and very inclusive approach may not have led to the best result. Their final proposal was an amalgamation, rather than a synthesis, and they somehow kept almost every idea that was put on the table rather than make clear-cut decisions. Ian did a great job at taking on the leadership role of the group but there were times when the group’s progress was cut short by his own thoughts and agenda. Hopefully next time, Pamanee and Angela can step up and keep the conversation and work moving forward.


Overall, this week’s charette was inclusive and energetic. Everyone pitched in and the end product was a great representation of their positive conversation and ideas.

-Catherine, Nikky, Kate