Linguistically Challenged Architect – A Totally French Project.

When this linguistically challenged architect advertised for a ‘benevolent bureau’ I don’t think there was any expectation of finding such a ‘winning’ office, let alone a totally ‘French’ project to work on.

I couldn’t have planned the total immersion experience into French architecture better.

Now that I have got to grips with the computers in this state of the art office, I find myself today, on my day off, wishing I was back at my desk to put some ideas together. I went to bed last night with my head buzzing, and solutions pinging at regular intervals from somewhere deep in my ‘cerveau’ (brain).

My benevolent bureau has me designing an extension to a Chaumière. And for those none the wiser, this is one..


A Chaumière is a typical thatch building. What makes this one typically Normand is the timber frame structure.

And what makes this project typically teasing is that I have never worked on a thatch building, let alone on an ancient timber frame. Although it looks like this isn’t going to be a project where I can demonstrate vast levels of experience and ‘know how’, I am actually delighted because I am working on something so typically French, rather than a ubiquitous factory or retail park.

To add to the experience, enough weeks have passed for my french counterparts to start ‘upping’ my challenge.

Yesterday, having already put me through my paces last week with a site survey, fellow project architect requested I phone the client for the phone number of the enterprise who had done the existing hatch. Phone numbers! Dimensions! Tape measures! Have I already told you about my mastery of French numbers – lets say I am pretty cool just to number 70, after that it all goes a little awry. I am sure that soixante dix (70) followed by soixante onze (71) is a tongue twister, quatre vingt seize to quatre-vingt-dix sept don’t come across as obvious bed-fellows. And who was the joker at Darty Telecom who gave me my phone number with 76 75 and 77 in it, but of course not in the right order so that I would learn them in a consecutive fashion. So you can imagine the basic confusion on site as fellow architect read out the dimensions and I carefully noted them on the plan. The client was wondering how a 40 year old didn’t know her numbers yet, and fellow architect resorted to repeating herself with individual digits. Oh and did I mention how the French use centimetres for designing and the British use millimetres. It’s not such a hard conversion to make, though a little bewildering, having drawn out the plans on Autocad in millimetres to come into work after a day off to find fellow architect has re-scaled it in one’s absence!

There was a definite quietening down of the hubub in the office once ‘fellow architect’ had requested I make THE phonecall. I was very aware that it was a test! A number test! Luckily for me then that I had the good fortune to get the answer phone. I confess to smirking a little!

Not content with my escape, an hour or so later my phone did ring and I was launched into a particularly confusing conversation with more twists and turns than the Seine itself regarding a missing ‘ordonance’ (prescription). I wasn’t sure what prescriptions had to do with Architecture. The office was amazingly quiet, a kind of bated hush had descended over the place as my counterparts listened with interest to how I made out…

…to their BLAGUE (practical joke)….

Thanks guys! Love working here!

2 thoughts on “Linguistically Challenged Architect – A Totally French Project.

  1. Sounds like it’s going really well, apart from the numbers business. Why they can’t have septante and nonante, I can’t imagine. National pride or something just as daft. Bon continuation.


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