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.
Sidon is the third city of Lebanon, located to the south of Beirut. This
coastal town backed by a mountain range occupies the position of capital of the
southern region of Lebanon. The planning work that Michel Écochard puts to work in his proposals for
the city of Sidon is characteristic of the approach and the solutions applied
to post-war planning. Before putting into effect a development plan for the
city of Sidon, the team put together by Écochard tackled the overall problem of
the extent of the city’s territorial influence in relation to the surrounding
countryside. The layout of Sidon is coordinated with a broader regional
development, taking into account mountain villages. The proposals are part of
what he describes as major capital projects involving the whole territory, such
as the electrical power project or that of irrigation.
Three big elements encapsulate the plan: planning and highways on a
regional scale; the “remodelling” of the old town; and new extensions, notably
the creation of a “new city”. The new layout of the old town is summed up by the clearing and
improvement of historic monuments, notably through attributing new administrative
or commercial functions to them, in order to confirm the cultural,
administrative and economic role of the old town. The destruction of particular
neighborhoods on the seafront allowed for a lowering of population densities
and a cleaning-up of the area. The development of the port and its boundaries,
which are extended to the north by the demolition of the warehouse area, which
represented a difficult to organize mess, in favour of a warehouse and
commercial district “logically organised” around Khan el-Rouz.
A large highway for heavy north-south traffic is included as part of a
regional study. Another route connects the city to the mountains. Écochard, who
put forward the hypothesis of a coastal highway project for Lebanon – for which
a study would be entrusted to him three years later – also proposed the idea of
an international highway through the Bekaa. Large routes of communication to
the docks, which “will be given a new life”, connecting them to the road from
Beirut-Tyre, via a new road for 17 miles along the north part of the French
Khan. Secondly, through the creation of a new road by the sea, extending from
Aïn-Heloué and leading to the southern part of the docks, after skirting, in
the west, the walls of the great mosque, the objective is to establish a
closure of the large roads coming from Beirut and the mountains.at the central
square in front of the docks.
The new extensions accommodated the displaced residents of the old town
and represented future growth areas. The location was chosen so as not to
affect fruit crops, making the case for the “the old tradition” of a maritime
town and a town above: the new town of Aïn Héloué, with its green areas, public
buildings, and its placement of apartment blocks, villas and organised
A zoning plan foresaw an industrial area located at the edge fo the sea
to the south of the city, particularly for the processing of agricultural
products. A zone is also reserved for the clearance of areas around
archaeological sites, one for exhibitions and fairs, and finally one for sports
and leisure. Planted zones are conserved and protected. These developments were
meant to allow the city to play a leading role in planning for southern Lebanon
and to support rural areas as well.
Source: Aga Khan Trust for Culture
Development Plan for Sidon and its Regions (Variant)