It was a rather brash idea, to invite myself to visit a french architect on my recent trip to Paris. Perhaps due to my not having been to France since I was a college student, I felt I had nothing to lose. That is until my host said, “Wait, you actually have an appointment with him? That’s like meeting with Frank Gehry”.
I rode the Metro to the Place de la Bastille and walked through an “up and coming” neighborhood that was off the edge of the tourist guide map. The office building stood at the end of a street looking a bit more polished than its scruffier neighbors. I wondered what I had gotten myself into.
Of course I knew he was a serious architect since his website had projects ranging from the remodeled interiors of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, to a new Russian Orthodox Cathedral under construction a few blocks from the Eiffel Tower, to skyscrapers in South Korea, to a sports stadium in Nice seen in detailed model form that stared back at me as I waited in the lobby .
As we talked over coffee, he shared insights into French architecture and his firm in particular. I learned the firm’s impressive statistics:
- 207 employees
- 21 nationalities
- 24 languages spoken
- 28% foreign
- 39 average age
- 59% men
- 41% women
And the impressive office locations:
- South Korea
And that the firm is the largest architecture firm in France.
We chatted for about half an hour, which made me feel a bit guilty as I learned he was off to London later that evening and then on to Morocco the next day. I asked the (to me) obvious question of why he didn’t have a North American office, to which he replied that he had decided to focus on Asia for the firm’s expansion strategy. (Perhaps I can assist with a North American branch office someday.)
An assistant gave me a thorough behind the scenes tour of the office which was a sleek modern space within the traditional Parisian 19th century building.
So, at this point you may be wondering, how did I get an appointment with this guy? Well I sent him an email out of the blue, with the suggestion that we are long lost cousins and that I would like to meet him. You see, his name is Jean Michel Wilmotte, which I have to assume is the French version of Wilmot, or more appropriately, my name is the British version of his.
But even if our names weren’t so similar, he might have been open to meeting me – Life Lesson #4 “Don’t assume the answer is no, it just might be yes!” or as my father-in-law put it, “Make them say no”.
And the Frank Gehry reference was apt, as it was hinted in our meeting, and later confirmed, that M. Wilmotte did the restaurant in the new Vuitton Foundation designed by Gehry Partners that just opened in Paris this summer.
An American architect outside of Wilmotte & Associes SA d’architecture
68, Rue du Faubourg Saint-Antoine, Paris.