Lionel Gregory (Greg) Bruer's professional practice saw him engaged in a range of commissions notably for theatres designed in the Moderne or Art Deco style during the 1930s.
The eleventh of twelve children, Greg Bruer was born in Adelaide on 22 February 1895 (WW2 Nominal Roll). In 1914, aged nineteen, he joined the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) and saw extensive active service. He went on to serve in both world wars, and was one of the Rats of Tobruk (Schumacher 1997). He married twice – to Hilary Heath with whom he had three children and to Violet Johnstone with whom he had two sons. In 1939 Bruer enlisted to serve in World War Two and was appointed Lieutenant-Colonel in Command by 1942 (‘Lionel Gregory Bruer ARIBA (F)’). His second marriage took place in 1940 whilst he was on war service in England (Schumacher 1997). Christopher, one of his sons from his marriage to Hilary, chose architecture for his profession and practised with his father for several years.
When he was discharged in 1919 Bruer turned to a career in architecture, initially in the public service and later in private practice. He studied at the South Australian School of Mines and Industries in the 1920s (Schumacher 1997). He trained as a draughtsman in the Buildings and Works Department under the Chief Architect, S.H. Stevenson and transferred to the Commonwealth Department of Works in 1922 where he remained until his departure in 1927 to pursue private practice (Page 1986).
Bruer entered into partnership with John Richard Schomburgk Evans (known as Jack), another ex-serviceman, in 1933. Three years later, in 1936, they admitted their draughtsman, James Hall, into the partnership, to become Evans, Bruer & Hall. According to Stewart Game who was articled to Evans & Bruer in the firm’s early days, the partners ‘did not charge a premium for their articled students. [Rather] “their philosophy was to teach, and not to look for money from students”’ (Page 1986: 182).
After returning from the army for the second time, Bruer became Superintending Architect for the Allied Works Council in the Northern Territory. After Evans' death in 1948 the firm took on more staff. Eric von Schramek, who joined Evans & Bruer & Partners in 1951, became senior partner of Bruer, von Schramek & Dawes in 1960. Peter Hignett entered into partnership with Bruer, his son Christopher, and Brian Vogt in 1969 (Page 1986). Greg Bruer, then aged 76, resigned from private practice only a few weeks before his death on 3 February 1972.
In 1931 Bruer passed an examination to become an Associate of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) (Page 1986). He joined the South Australian Institute of Architects (SAIA) in 1933. Becoming a SAIA Council member in 1948, he held the positions of Honorary Secretary and Vice-President and was President from 1954 to 1956 (Freeland 1971). During his presidency he played a significant role in successful moves by the SAIA and the Architects Board of South Australia to establish a Chair of Architecture at the University of Adelaide (Walkley 1976; Page 1986). In 1956 the SAIA hosted the Sixth Australian Architectural Convention which included a major exhibition in Adelaide’s Botanic Park. As President, Bruer welcomed hundreds of visiting architects, amongst them Professor Pietro Belluschi, then Dean of the Faculty of Architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Bruer’s design ability was first noticed when he won the competition for a war memorial for the City of Launceston, Tasmania (Schumacher 1997). Whilst a draughtsman with the Building and Works Department, he worked principally on projects connected with the Soldier Settlements that were opening up along the River Murray (Page 1986). In 1933 the Chamber of Building Industries announced an Ideal Homes Competition in which Bruer won second prize. However, his designs were not built until 1936 (Page 1986.
Evans & Bruer and Evans, Bruer & Hall were closely associated with city and suburban cinema projects from the mid 1930s. Generally the practice had a local supervisory role since the designs originated from interstate firms. Examples include the Vogue, Belair Road, Kingswood, a new building that ‘used Art Deco themes on some of its interior decoration’ (Page 1986: 180), West’s Olympia on Hindley Street, Adelaide, that was reconstructed internally in 1938 (Page 1986; Potter 2007) and became West’s Theatre, and the Piccadilly Theatre (1939) on O’Connell Street, North Adelaide. West’s boasted ‘giant, streamlined, flowing shapes in ceiling decorations and hidden lighting that displayed a variety of colours before reducing to a midnight blue just before the curtain opened’ (Potter 2007: 10). The building is now used as the headquarters of the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra. The ‘rotunda-shaped foyer with its elegant curved staircases’ survive from its days as a theatre (Potter 2007).
The Piccadilly was designed by Evans, Bruer & Hall in association with Sydney-based architects Guy Crick and Bruce Furse (Page 1986: 181) for Dan Clifford, managing director of D. Clifford Theatres limited. Dan Clifford was an important figure in the motion picture industry in South Australia (Walker 1995). The Piccadilly is a local landmark that has retained its external integrity despite being remodelled internally to incorporate three theatres in the late 1980s. Its massing and its streamlined form address the corner site and its distinctive ‘Chevron shaped windows’ (AHPI) contribute to its Art Deco character. In its time the Piccadilly was renowned for exuding attention to detail such as in 'the choice of flowers – lupins, gladioli and gerberas in season – and the design of usherette uniforms, even to the plastic earrings' (RAIA n.d.: 36).
The firm of Evans & Bruer was responsible for the Burnside Civic Ballroom in which the stage and proscenium were designed in 1933 (Bruer, National Library). The firm also supervised the construction of the Hindmarsh Incinerator (opened 1936), one of two incinerators designed in South Australia by the architect Walter Burley Griffin in conjucntion with Eric M. Nicholls. The incinerator survives today in a park on Burley Griffin Boulevard, Brompton (AHPI).
Evans & Bruer and Evans, Bruer & Hall worked on hospitals at Stirling and Mount Barker, the remodelling of the Queen Victoria Maternity Hospital and St Margaret’s Convalescent Hospital (Page 1986); Georgian and Regency style residential projects; and the maintenance of private hotels as well as establishments owned by the Southwark Brewery. Bruer travelled to the Northern Territory to supervise the building of the Hotel Darwin (demolished 1999), a commission arising from the firm’s association with the Southwark family (Page 1986).
Evans, Bruer & Hall designed several banks such as the former Savings Bank of South Australia Mount Barker Branch (1940), Gawler Street, Mount Barker. The building’s facade is ‘significant architecturally for its austere classical style and detailing, with clean solid lines emphasising the prominent corner location of the building’ (SHB Report, cited in AHPI).
With a career spanning five decades, Greg Bruer was one of a number of his generation challenged by the social and economic upheaval of world wars and Depression, the rise of new materials, technologies and design philosophies, and new approaches to architectural education. Against this background he made a considerable contribution to both the architectural profession and the built environment in South Australia.
A collection of Bruer’s work and papers is held in the National Library of Australia, Canberra.
Sullivan, Christine, 'Bruer, Lionel Gregory’, Architecture Museum, University of South Australia, 2008, Architects of South Australia: [http://www.architectsdatabase.unisa.edu.au/arch_full.asp?Arch_ID=31]