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.
Khodr, Ali. “Planning a Sectarian Topography: Revisiting Michel Ecochard's Master Plans for Beirut between 1941-1964,” 2017.
Submitted to the Department of Architecture in partical fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Masters of Science for the degree of Masters of Science in Architecture Studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. June 2017.
Scholarly discourse around the work of French architect and urban planner Michel Ecochard in the early days of the Lebanese nation state frames his master plans for the capital Beirut as modernist tools for an ailing urban agglomeration, without considering the possible ramifications these plans could have had on the social and sectarian structure of the city. Throughout the scope of this thesis, I will present a re-reading of Ecochard's work, detailing how he introduces an urbanity of social integration in a sectarian city rife with sporadic acts of urban violence. I will also argue that Ecochard's planned interventions are based on a careful reading of Beirut's socio-political and economic divisions following Lebanon's independence in the 1940's, and throughout the nation-building era in the 1960's. By studying and analyzing Ecochard's personal archives, notes and drawings; I will maintain that Ecochard's plans for the city reflect his vision for the peaceful integration of communities by promoting access, functionality and the articulation of communal public spaces, rather than viewing the plans solely as the agents of urban modernization. Reflecting upon the broader discourse of Ecochard's planning initiatives across Lebanon, at the time, I seek to position the architect/planner within the shifting political contexts of post-independence Lebanon. I will also address the nuances experienced by Ecochard as he attempts to intervene on Beirut within two spatial and temporal moments. The first concerned with planning a colonially inherited city. And the second, occurring at a time when Beirut becomes an economically driven safe haven, coinciding with the presence of a nationalist political agency attempting to restructure the capital with the intention of strengthening social and urban integration. The similarities and discrepancies surrounding the shifting architectural and urban dynamics between the 1941 and 1963 Plans will be key to this study.
Thesis: S.M. in Architecture Studies, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Department of Architecture, 2017.
Includes bibliographical references (pages 118-122).