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Robert French

Bob French

Robert French is an adjunct associate professor in the School of Architecture. A 1972 UT architecture alum himself, he’s been on the faculty since 1988. He now teaches design courses to first-year, fourth-year, and graduate students.

Before coming to UT, he worked at two architecture firms and participated in design work on the Tennessee Valley Authority’s office building. French continues to be a practicing architect with design, construction, and restoration projects around East Tennessee.

Why architecture

While in high school, French saw an image of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater in rural southwestern Pennsylvania.

“It wasn’t something you saw at the time. If I were to have drawn a house then, it would have been gable roof, couple windows, door, and a chimney. I thought, ‘This can’t be a house.’”

He immediately went to check out books about Wright and began to develop an interest in architecture and design.

Dream dinner companions

Close friends, particularly college schoolmates.

“There was a core of us, and we’ve maintained our contact and get together periodically.”

French describes his schoolmates as the best critics of his work. He encourages his students to interact with each other and talk about their work.

“What happens when you’re in the company of your classmates that much is that you tend to build really strong relationships. I can see it already with my first-year students.”

To unwind from the day

French has sketchbooks full of doodles.

“You just make a line or something and then it begins to form another thing.”

If he didn’t do this

Always interested in poetry, French thinks if he wasn’t an architect, he might attempt to be a poet.

“Outside of my art classes in high school, I enjoyed literature a lot. And of course we read poems.”

Some of his favorites include Rumi, Saint Francis of Assisi, and Saint Catherine of Siena, who are considered mystic poets. Their poetry is about enlightenment.

“It’s so amazing—there’s such an economy of words.”

Advice to his college-age self

Take more notes about what professors have to say.

“I think I would have taken much more copious notes when some of the teachers were talking.”

French remembers how some professors were particularly inspiring and he said he still employs the lessons he learned from them.