Located just off the Grands Boulevards in Paris, at the bottom of rue Rougemont, an astonishing façade stands out like a backdrop. Approaching further, a curious onlooker will discover an immense building, with this historical monument forming the main entrance. This is the headquarters of the former bank, Comptoir National d’Escompte de Paris, built between 1878 and 1881 under the architect Édouard Jules Corroyer.
Finding its place in the French capital
Since 1846, France had been in turmoil owing to the economic, political and social crisis. In a bid to remedy the situation, the provisional government of 1848 opened up local credit institutions in France’s industrial cities. With the support of a group of publishers, including Louis Hachette, the Comptoir National d’Escompte de Paris set up in the Palais Royal.
When the premises became cramped, the bank moved in 1851 to rue Faubourg Poissonnière, still spared by the real-estate speculation. Under the Second Empire, the Comptoir diversified its activities and extended its range of services. The free trade agreement signed between Britain and France in 1860 favoured its international expansion. After the defeat in 1871, the Board made the decision to build a headquarters to reflect its image.
The Banque de Paris et des Pays-Bas had kept the historical townhouse located in rue d’Antin in the tradition of rich family banks. The Comptoir National d’Escompte commissioned a new building. Its construction was an event that was immortalised by Louis-Émile Durandelle, who was the official photographer for the restoration of the Mont Saint Michel in 1872.
“Temple of Prudence” or “palace of silver”?
In both the building’s structure and ornamentation, Édouard Jules Corroyer, a student of Viollet-Le-Duc, gave technical progress a place of honour. The architectural design illustrated the commitment of banks to industrial development. The Saint Gobain floor glass tiles allowed natural light to penetrate into the vault, while the split glass roof in the hall guaranteed that it was waterproof, without spoiling the aesthetics. New features from this period included a pneumatic tube system for distributing internal mail and a miniature train in the basement!
The main pavilion of the building boasts a triumphal arch for the glory of Prudence and statues showing Trade and Finance seated in the Attic. Mosaic medallions of the five continents remind the visitor of the Comptoir d’Escompte’s international expansion. Moving past the main entrance, the lucky few are led gradually into the salle des pas perdus (waiting room). This large hall with its 17 metre-high ceiling looks at the time like a glasshouse and a railway station. This type of architecture conveys a sense of open space and solidity, while playing the effect of coloured light on the stone arches.
The first restored historical monument site to obtain the High Environmental Quality certification
From the outset, Édouard Jules Corroyer, whose family worked in the building trade, had fought for decorative arts to form an integral part of the building’s architecture. He hired renowned interior decorators and ornamentalists including the mosaicist Giandomenico Facchina (trained in Venice) and the painter Charles Lameire (specialised in church decoration). Preserved as a historical monument, the whole building was entirely refurbished between 2007 and 2009, according to HQE (high environmental quality) standards. Today, it houses more than 1,700 people working for our subsidiary BNP Paribas Asset Management, one of the six business lines within International Financial Services at BNP Paribas.