Gustav Cornelis Bremer

07-07-1880 - 14-08-1949

Gustav Cornelis Bremer played an important part in the history of Dutch architecture, not only as state architect, but also thanks to his influential position as a political figure. As Deputy and later Chief State Architect, he gave status to national buildings by ensuring that they were characterised by monumentality, allure and solidity.

In the early nineteenth century, students such as Gustav Bremer who wished to study architecture had two options: the Academie, which offered training of an artistic nature, or the Polytechnische School in Delft, a more practice-based polytechnic where they could gain a title as engineer. Despite his wish to study at the Academie, Bremer, partly to please his father, signed up at the Polytechnische School in Delft, where he graduated as an architectural engineer in 1904.

He moved to The Hague in 1907, where he worked as head of the drawing office on the construction of the Peace Palace, under the supervision of J.A.G. van der Steur (1865-1945). On 5 December 1908, he was accepted as architect and member of the “Maatschappij tot Bevordering der Bouwkunst Vakvereeniging van Nederlandsche Architecten (MBVA)”, the Society for the Promotion of Architecture and Association of Dutch Architects. He was actively involved as supervisory director in the new administration of The Hague department, whose chair was held by state architect D.E.C. Knuttel (1857-1926), Bremer’s subsequent boss at the national buildings department.

Bremer received his first assignment as architect in 1910, which was to renovate and extend the prestigious villa ‘Huize Beukbergen’ in the grounds of the Huis ter Heide estate. On 16 August 1912 he married a biology teacher, Johanna Margaretha Buekers. He had a small country house built to his own design at Klingelbeekseweg road in Oosterbeek, and called it  “De Kaap”. The young couple lived there until they moved to The Hague in 1916.

The construction of the General Post Office in Rotterdam, one of his key works, started in 1916. As in all his designs, Bremer paid special attention to the use of natural building materials for the finishes. He even made a special trip to Berlin to look for a suitable type of stone. With this first design for the government, Bremer presented himself to the architectural community as an inspired architect and his style left a clear mark on Dutch state architecture.
Bremer was appointed sole and general State Architect of the new State Buildings Agency, an amalgamation of various agencies. This put a stop to various architects acting alongside each other rather than together.

As state architect, Bremer inspired his staff and artists of various disciplines to work together towards a common goal. For instance, he worked with R.N. Roland Holst, writing that the latter’s work was “a serving art” that drew strength from “curtailing its freedom”, words that also seemed to apply to Bremer himself. His work as State Architect was based primarily on rendering a service and the restraints on his creative freedom were substantial. With each design, he had to grapple with the requirements of various users, and he was also bound by extreme financial constraints, which at first were prompted by the strict economies made by the head of the buildings department at the Ministry of Finance, and later by the 1930s depression and, finally, the Second World War.

Although appreciated in his own day, Bremer has remained relatively little known as an architect, partly because his context was largely an administrative one and because budget cuts and a faltering economy meant he could achieve little else. He was in any case difficult to categorize architecturally – neither a modernist nor an innovator, nor attached to a specific group or movement. The changes Dutch architecture was undergoing left the Government Buildings Agency largely unaffected. Bremer held office as Chief Government Architect until the end of the Second World War.


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