Located on the Atlantic Coast approximately 90 km south of the capital city Rabat, Casablanca is the largest city, not only in Morocco, but the Maghreb. It is the nation's chief port, and the business and financial center of the country.
Originally known as Anfa, the city of Casablanca started out as a small settlement. It was renamed Casa Branca by the Portuguese who took control of the city in 1468 CE/872 AH. They rebuilt the city and changed its name to "Casa Branca" Like Casablanca, a term that came into use when Portugal became part of the Spanish Kingdom, it means "White House." In 1755/1168 AH the city was largely destroyed by an earthquake and abandoned by the European population. It was rebuilt by Sultan Sidi Mohammed Ben Abdellah, during whose reign the harbor became essential to sugar, tea, wool, and other trade. From 1912 to 1956 the city was part of the French Protectorate, who continued to use the Spanish name. The first governor, Marshal Lyautey developed the ambitious plan to may the city the economic capital of Morocco. In 1953 Michel Écochard devised a linear extension plan that would stretch between the ports of Casablanca and Mohammedia.
The low buildings of the medina contrast starkly with the skyscrapers of the new city. According to the World Population Review, the 2015 population of the city itself was significantly over 3 million, with the population of the metropolitan area being estimated at approximately 5 million.
In 1946, Michel Écochard was
appointed Director of the Service de l’Urbanisme et de l’Architecture for Morocco
with wider-ranging powers. For Casablanca he devised a linear extension plan
along the coast that would connect the two poles, the port of Casablanca and Mohammedia, bordered by
the creation of the Casablanca-Rabat highway. His plan emphasised the facilitation of modern
industrial efficiency, the rationalization of vehicular circulation, zoning to
isolate industrial and commercial districts from residential zones, and the
provision of mass-produced worker housing.
Through his theory of “habitat for the
greatest number”, formulated in 1950, Écochard
denounced speculation and its effects (dispersion of habitat, excessive roads, a
lack of open spaces, green areas and parking). He led a multidisciplinary study
with sociologists (Pierre Mas, André Adam) on the lifestyle of the populations,
particularly those in bidonvilles, analysing
the needs of families, the social
structure and the current built environment. This analysis led to the
establishment of housing for the local population that featured a specially
designed grid (“la trame Écochard”)
of 8m x 8m with a south or east orientation composed of two rooms opening onto a
patio, a toilet and a kitchen, that would house 350 people per hectare. The Carrières
Centrales district was the first experiment in the application of the 8m x 8m “trame”
both horizontally and vertically. The design of the site was entrusted to
architect George Candilis, amongst others. In addition to housing, Écochard planned
for "neighborhood units" with a school, pedestrian routes, commercial,
religious and administrative facilities.
Throughout his tenure from 1946 to
1952, he would be vocal in his opposition to speculators and, while his zoning
plans were approved in 1952, he resigned from office that year. Nevertheless
his work continued to exert influence on a new generation of post-colonial architects.