Charles Arendt (1825-1910) : Leben und Werk des ersten Luxemburger Staatsarchitekten

Lutgen, Thomas; Raabe, Christian (Thesis advisor); Markschies, Michael Alexander (Thesis advisor)

Aachen (2023)
Dissertation / PhD Thesis

Dissertation, Rheinisch-Westfälische Technische Hochschule Aachen, 2023


Charles Arendt was the country's first architect to be appointed state architect by the Luxembourg government in 1858. Born in 1825 in the small border town of Vianden, the son of the local mayor and bailiff, Charles Arendt had the opportunity to complete a successful school education thanks to his well-off middle-class parents, which he finished at the renowned Athénée in the capital. The famous draughtsman Jean-Baptiste Fresez (1800-1867), who taught at the Athénée from 1841, was one of the great patrons of the artistically gifted young man. Besides drawing, however, mathematics was also one of Arendt's strengths. The political efforts to improve the building culture in the country had led to the foundation of the building administration Travaux publics by the government of the Grand Duchy in 1843. There, the talented draughtsman and humanistically educated young man Charles Arendt was able to begin his first training as a stage. The public building industry, which had previously been run predominantly by self-taught architects and practical-craftsman civil engineers, was to be accompanied and supervised by better qualified architects. This was the declared major goal of the Luxembourg government in 1843. To this end, the state was prepared to allow young talented men to study architecture at renowned foreign universities. In order to improve the quality of building in the country, this study was to be compulsory from now on in order to find employment as an architect in the public building administration. Despite the poor financial situation of the Luxembourg state at the time, it felt obliged to support the training of selected applicants by maintaining their full salaries. The great potential of Charles Arendt was quickly noticed by the heads of the building authority and so it was not unexpected that he was one of the lucky chosen ones who could embark on such a paid study abroad. He spent his first year in Brussels, where he came into contact with the early Belgian neogothic Architect Dumont and was allowed to work on the first new neogothic Church in Brussels, St. Boniface in Ixelles (1846-49). A year later he went to study at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Munich, where he met great personalities such as the architect Ludwig Lange (1808-1868) and his successor Friedrich von Gärtner (1792-1847). With his successful graduation in Munich, he embarked on his great study trip, which took him through many cities in Germany, finally to Cologne to see the construction of the cathedral there, and then back to Luxembourg. Here, the committed and enthusiastic architect wanted to prove his abilities and applied for a job with the public building administration in Luxembourg. Contrary to his high expectations, he is employed there, but is transferred to the branch in Diekirch, where he can only build simple roads and bridges. Arendt feels completely underchallenged here and tries to work outside his service. Thus he plans the small picture chapel for his birthplace and home town of Vianden without pay. At the suggestion of the head of the public works department François Joseph Charles Marie Wirtz, he is even able to submit his own design for the new Palais de Justice in Diekirch. His great talent and skill turned into envy and jealousy among his direct professional colleagues and later also among his superiors. Nevertheless, a short time later he succeeds in taking up the position of district architect in Grevenmacher. From there he was able to advance his career and was appointed provisional state architect in 1858 and then, from 1862, permanent state architect. This means, however, that he is not a civil servant in the public sector, but a state architect appointed by the Luxembourg state. As a freelance architect, he receives an annual state remuneration for the execution and supervision of public building tasks, as well as a contractually fixed architect's fee that is one percentage point lower. He has been in this position for over forty years, during which time he has been able to erect an almost unbelievable number of buildings. In doing so, he must also hold his own against architects working in the free market, who act as direct competitors. His range of work includes in particular the new construction and conversion of sacred buildings and the restoration of public buildings and monuments. Only a few private buildings belong to his œuvre. Immediately upon his retirement, he is appointed honorary state architect. He continued to work tirelessly as an architect and devoted himself to his scientific studies. He died in 1910 after a full and busy life at the age of 85 after a short illness. In his leading role, Charles Arendt shaped the building industry in Luxembourg for over fifty years in the second half of the 19th century. The author of this study holds a doctorate in art history and building research and has worked as an academic restorer in Luxembourg for over 25 years and was confronted with the name of this architect on numerous objects. There is almost no historical building or monument that cannot be associated with the name of Charles Arendt. Regrettably, however, with the exception of two historical studies on Arendt, there are only ever isolated, disparate references to his person. The author's interest in this architect, who was so important for Luxembourg, was aroused to such an extent that he conducted his own independent study on this person in addition to his freelance work. The aim was to gain new insights into the person of Charles Arendt and his function and achievements as a state architect. In doing so, the person, the oeuvre and the impact of this important architect were to be elaborated. It quickly became clear that the political and economic changes in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg had a significant influence on Luxembourg's architectural culture. For this reason, the study includes Charles Arendt's biography and attempts to cover all the buildings on which he was active. Structural studies were carried out on selected objects in order to be able to document detailed findings on the competitions, the planning processes and the course of construction. In particular, a separate chapter was devoted to the technical procedures and building materials used. The appendix of the study contains a comprehensive catalogue of works that can be attributed to the architect.


  • Department for Historic Building Conservation and Research [217220]