The architectural career of Bernard Bijvoet

Architecture, the recognisable element

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The long career of the Dutch architect Bernard Bijvoet (1889-1979) has often aroused great admiration. Bijvoet made his breakthrough as an architect in the early twentieth century, together with his friend and fellow student Johannes Duiker (1890-1935, better known in the Netherlands as Jan Duiker). In more or less the same period, he worked in France with the architect and designer Pierre Chareau (1883-1950). But Bijvoet always kept a modest profile in relation to his acclaimed architectural works. More than anything, Bijvoet the architect remained a builder, a ‘complete architect’, who let his creations speak for themselves. The architecture was the only thing that counted.

In 1925 Bijvoet established himself in Paris, where he rubbed shoulders with many of the celebrated figures of the time, including Robert Mallet-Stevens, Chareau, the Lurçat brothers, Eugène Beaudouin, Marcel Lods, Eileen Gray, Jean Badovici, Josephine Baker, Maurice Ravel, Vladimir Bodiansky and Le Corbusier. As Chareau’s right hand, he enjoyed considerable freedom. He preferred most to work within the work itself, which was possible in France. His best-known projects with Chareau were the golf clubhouse for the Grand Hôtel de Beauvallon (1929), on the Gulf of Saint-Tropez, and the private residence known as House of Glass (Maison de Verre, 1931), built in Paris for the gynaecologist Jean Dalsace.

The crowning achievement in Bijvoet’s work with Johannes Duiker in the Netherlands was the Grand Hotel Gooiland (1936) in Hilversum. Bijvoet completed Duiker’s design after the latter’s untimely death in 1935. The hotel was constructed in the French style and included a Grand Théâtre designed by Bijvoet at the rear of the building. In the late 1930s, Bijvoet was associated with the French architects Eugène Beaudouin (1898-1983) and Marcel Lods (1891-1978).

When war broke out, Bijvoet, like many Parisians, fled with his family to the inhospitable Dordogne region. Remote from the world, Bijvoet’s home there became a clandestine address for the French Resistance, the Maquis.

After liberation, Bijvoet returned to the Netherlands and settled in Haarlem to set up a partnership with the younger architect Gerard Holt (1904-1988). Bijvoet also collaborated with other colleagues. Holt, who admired Bijvoet for his professional skill, managed the firm. In most bigger projects, which included theatres and cultural centres, the two architects worked together intensively. During this period, Bijvoet specialised himself in the acoustics of theatre auditoriums. From 1946 until his death in 1979, he was a member of the Netherlands Advisory Board on Theatre Construction, initially alongside such eminent figures in Dutch culture as Paul Cronheim, Eduard van Beinum, Eduard Reeser and Johan de Meester.
Bijvoet received a Dutch royal decoration and was an Officer in the Order of Orange Nassau.

Ronald Zoetbrood, architectural historian

August 2000