A winner of the Aga Khan Award for Architecture for his role in the ongoing restoration of the Azem Palace in Damascus, Michel Ecochard (1905-1985) donated his archive to the Award. The collection represents his work as an architect, urban planner and archaeologist, and demonstrates his keen interest in photography and aviation.
After his studies at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, he was first based in Damascus and then in Beirut from 1931 to 1944, in Rabat from 1946 to 1952 and in Paris from 1953 to 1983. He worked in the Near East under the French Mandate on excavations at Baalbek and numerous restorations, notably on the site of Palmyra. Named architectural adviser to the Syrian government in 1934, he undertook many restoration works in Syria in the 1930s, including the Azem Palace in Damascus, home of the French Institute, on whose grounds he constructed a modern director’s house. He carried out research on the documentation of hammams in Damascus with the architect Claude Le Coeur , then on the construction of the Museum there, having done that of Antioch (Antakya) in 1931.
After having worked on an urban plan for Damascus, he served as director of the Service d’urbanisme in Syria from 1940 to 1944, establishing a new and ambitious urban plan for Beirut (1943-1944). In 1945 he began to look at the principles of functional urban planning while traveling with Le Corbusier on a tour of the United States. He implemented these ideas in various cities of Morocco when he became director of urban planning. His ambitious plan for Casablanca was approved in 1952 but he refused to submit to pressure from developers for modifications and resigned his post.
After presenting his experience in Morocco at the ninth CIAM conference in 1953, he worked in Pakistan, designing the University of Karachi, in Africa, with the urban plan of Conakry (1959), universities at Abidjan (1962-1978) and Yaoundé (1963) and the urban planning of Dakar (1963), as well as on projects in Iran. In 1955, he designed, with another French architect Claude Lecoeur, the Collège Protéstant in Beirut along with a series of other high schools and hospitals.
The most ambitious architectural project of his later career was the Museum of Kuwait from 1960 and a new urban plan that he developed a new plan for Beirut, concentrating on infrastructure (1961). He then outlined a new urban plan for Damascus, with a focus on the circulation of traffic.
He was put in charge of of urbanism at the Ecole des beaux arts in Paris (1967) and continued to pursue projects in both France and the developing world until the 1980s.
An invited competition was launched in 1960 for the construction of a
museum in Kuwait City. Michel Écochard won this project while his work was
flourishing, especially in Lebanon. However, between the time of the project
and its realization, a long waiting period elapses. Michel Écochard expressed
doubts about the likelihood of this project being completed at all.
The Museum program was based around several themes, including areas
devoted to the oceans and to the field of culture, another to the oil industry,
and a botanical garden. The first section relates to culture and administration;
a space dedicated to archaeology, art, ethnography and folk traditions. Offices
and storage areas extend into an outdoor exhibition area, with spaces reserved
for temporary exhibitions and an auditorium. A separate building is reserved
for displays on the theme of “Kuwait, today and tomorrow”, a dome-like
structure, connected by a walkway to the main building. One can also gain
access from the garden. A space with a high ceiling is able to house the machinery
of oil chemistry; the second part of the second storey addresses the scientific
and industrial applications of oil, and is covered by a dome structure that
stands out from the rest. The main entrance is located between the two
It is interesting to note that the section of the Museum part devoted to
traditional life partially recreates the organisation of the so-called
traditional city, with a market for traditional crafts such as tanning, jewellery-making,
pottery, weaving, and fishing. Buildings organised around a central patio
reproduce forms of traditional habitat.In the area destined to house the zoological and botanical garden, an
itinerary encouraging strolling, with the first floor transparent, is provided
via ramps and walkways connecting the floors, allowing a view of the botanic
garden and a large aquarium. The strength of the architectural design comes
from the fact that each section is both independent and connected to everything
else, both in the interior and exterior areas.
The architecture is resolutely
modern with the use of concrete pillars and beams. The rhythmic façades are punctuated
by areas with small rectangles made from work blocks. The architecture has been
designed in response to the climate to avoid both the sun and sandstorms. It
should be noted that the sun-shade was conceived as a way to create a
microclimate and a variation of light according to the coverage needs. The idea
is to create protection through a flat roof made of open, light, metal, a
"microclimate" in which the museum and its immediate surroundings can
function independently of the outside temperature. This is a huge shelter that
is 28m high, with widely spaced pillars.