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Heard on the Street: Backers help architect make his dream happen

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Architect Adam Ferrari wants to help make Rochester better.

To do that, he turned to the community to fund his vision of a mobile design studio that could drive into a neighborhood and spend a day addressing a specific issue.

Using the Kickstarter crowd-funding website, Ferrari raised more than $9,000 in December to buy and equip a truck for his nonprofit, sideline project called Charette Happens.

So what is a charette, and what actually occurs when one happens?

He said it is a French word that picked up extra meaning for architects dating back to the 16th century. The word literally means a wheeled cart. A charette was used to pick up student projects at an influential architectural school. It came to represent that last-minute burst of creativity and action right before a deadline.

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That has evolved into being a word architects such as Ferarri, used to describe a design workshop focusing on a specific issue or project.

"It is sort of structured brainstorming," he said.

The basic concept is that the truck drives into a neighborhood and unfolds into a design studio and mini park space. Then, Ferarri spends the day working with people to come up with a solution to some sort of problem or issue.

That could mean offering options for a vacant lot that could benefit the entire area.

"By the end of the day, they should have an agreed upon site solution. It is a way for people to get the conversation started," he said. "People could use this resource to address any number of community design issues."

If that still sounds a little vague, it is by design.

"I don't want to prescript how it could be used. I don't want to limit it," he said. "I want it to be what people want it to be. It is a community resource."

This is not a money-making venture for Ferarri. His day job is running his own Rochester architectural design firm called 9.Square. However, he said he likes being involved in urban design. Previously, he worked with the Rochester Area Foundation on such projects.

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"I believe strongly in pro bono service and using design for the common good," Ferarri said.

While he had long thought about the concept, Charette Happens began taking shape when a Rochester arts initiative requested ideas for local creative projects for a competition for funding. Charette Happens was among the three semifinalists. Even though his project wasn't chosen, the positive feedback he received inspired him.

"I knew I had to make this happen," Ferarri said.

So he made a video explaining his concept and launched a Kickstarter funding campaign. Seventy-eight backers kicked in a total of $9,198 for the idea.

"It far exceeded my expectations," he said.

Ferarri said he hopes to have the Charette Happens truck ready to roll this spring.

And then Rochester will see what happens.

Columnist, blogger and reporter tracks business action in Rochester and southeastern Minnesota every day in Heard in the Street.

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