Louis-Marie Cordonnier (1854-1940) : a pioneer of regionalist architecture

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Louis-Marie Cordonnier was the dominant figure in architecture in the north of France at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries. Already well-known before the Great War, he played a central role in the reconstruction of several northern towns, many churches and industrial buildings.

Born in Haubourdin in the department of Nord on 7 July 1854, his father was a renowned architect working in the region of Lille. During his studies to become an architect at Paris's Grande École of Fine Art, Louis-Marie was influenced by two major figures in the field: Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, restorer of medieval architecture in France, and Charles Garnier, architect of Paris's opera-house. After successfully completing his studies, Cordonnier returned to the department of Nord to work alongside his father. In 1881 he won his first commission to design the new town hall of Loos, which today represents an early manifesto for a regionalist architectural movement intent on reviving the traditions of the Flemish renaissance (belfries, sloping roofs decorated with dormer windows, combined use of bricks and stone). In fact Cordonnier was proposing an alternative to the neoclassical style much-favoured by the triumphant Third Republic. Loos was the beginning of a series of prestigious buildings, notably the town hall of Dunkirk, inaugurated in 1901 by the President of France, Emile Loubet, and the Tsar of Russia, Nicholas II. But his greatest success was his victory, in 1905, in an international competition to build the Peace Palace in the Dutch city of The Hague, a gigantic neo-Flemish building which included two bell towers.

By then considered to be the greatest neo-Flemish architect in France, he was entrusted with the design of two prestigious buildings that continue to mark the architectural landscape of Lille: the chamber of commerce––also called the "new stock exchange" (Nouvelle Bourse)––completed in 1906, and the opera which was started in 1907 and completed during the German occupation.
 
In the pre-war period Cordonnier was made the official architect of the largest mining company in France, La Société des Mines de Lens. He had close relations with the influential members of the board, who were textile industrialists, and shared their political and religious convictions: they were fervent Catholics and social conservatives. He designed the company's Lille headquarters on rue Thiers––this time a neoclassical building––and Saint-Theodore Chapel in the housing estate of pit No.9, in Lens (1910).

In the aftermath of the Great War, Louis-Marie Cordonnier (aged 64 in 1918) committed himself to the huge collective effort to rebuild the ruins left by the fighting in Nord and Pas-de-Calais. He defended the necessity for a regionalist approach to the Reconstruction, in his view, the only antidote to the affronts of the war and the consequences of the anarchic town planning and industrialization of the 19th century (even if it meant reinventing some elements of the style...). Through his immense influence he was able to obtain a large number of the Reconstruction's major works, for the most part designing public buildings and churches, such as those of Armentières, Comines, Laventie and Bailleul. He was also the author of the lantern tower and the basilica in Notre-Dame-de-Lorette French National Cemetery. Lastly, he oversaw the reconstruction of La Société des Mines de Lens's main buildings.

Yves LE MANER,
Director of La Coupole
History and Remembrance Centre of Northern France

Archive pictures

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