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.
This project is located in the center of Beirut at the level of the
Chayla stadium. The school is symbolic of French education in Lebanon,
comprising a program that includes all levels of classes, from kindergarten
to primary and secondary levels, including special and scientific classes,
evening courses, a library and student lodgings
The project uses the language of modern architecture. A composition of
several buildings is positioned parallel to the axis of the road. Construction
is on concrete pilotis, and
horizontal windows on the facades of the main buildings contribute to a
rhythmic effect. The architect plays with the different levels in his
composition. The ensemble is brought
together through a circulation system via covered pilotis.
The main building, on three-levels, includes secondary classes on two
floors, “special classes” on a portion of the third level and the lodgings of
the principal. This building is extended by the construction of two levels
including a courtyard, classes for evening courses and common areas. A
pedestrian entrance leads to administration at right and the other classrooms.
A different access is reserved for school-bus drop-off and pick-up.
The school benefits from a large playground that extended to sports
fields destined for basketball, handball and volleyball. The development of
this open space between buildings, planted with huge eucalyptus trees, offers a
sense of vast space. Corridors are used mainly for short breaks.
For pedagogical reasons, Écochard devotes a specific building for infant
classes, separate because "their needs are different." Constructed as
a bungalow, unlike the rest, it is arranged in the middle of the field parallel
to the other buildings. The third building devoted to primary schools on two
levels reflects the architectural language of the first. The ground floor on pilotis stilts serves as a playground.
And one last building for the kindergarten and children's classes is extended
by a courtyard on the first floor.
This project undertaken in the late 1950s is emblematic of its time; it
borrows the language of “la Cité Radieuse”, evidenced in the discreet use of
colours such as yellow and red.