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 suburbs of Beirut. The city is fast
expanding and Michel Écochard is in charge of several projects in Lebanon,
involving city planning as well as architecture. The architect is starting to
be known as an educational establishment specialist. He currently has two
construction sites in the Lebanese capital: the Protestant college and the
This project’s program is beyond that of a standard school, starting
in kindergarten (70 students) and ending the last year of high school (1200
students), as it also includes a boarding section (60), accommodation for the sisters
and teachers (20), a convent for scholastic postulants, teaching fathers (115),
a chapel, a conference room and several other sections such as canteens, a
sports field and a performance hall.
The approach stems from a double dialogue between the site and its
imperatives, and the expectations of its occupants. The implantation is on a
14-hectare site with challenging topography and orientation as the slopes are
oriented towards the west and the north. The project takes into account the
various seasons and hours of operation. The aim is to favor the occultation of
sunlight, as demonstrated by the model presenting the project. The
implementation of the site’s buildings is determined by certain criteria.
Écochard established a dialogue with the future occupants to think this project
The challenge is to ensure “perfect coordination” between the project’s
various parties, as some of the latter have dissimilar operating logics, while
preserving the total independence of each party, as it is necessary to
“consider the teaching staff as well as the community of sisters taking care of
the younger children”. The convent’s location is designed to be completely
independent from the rest of the compound.
The positioning of the elements on the parcel takes the climate into
account, thus implementation on the upper end would further occult the sun. The
area with 50% sloping is used for “relaxing strolls”. The whole flat area is
attributed to the creation of a sports complex. The convent is built on the
lower part of the parcel, isolated on all sides. The academic section follows
the contour of the terrain as it is laid out in tiers on the less sloped area.
This is a harmonious arrangement between the various elements of the
program and the existing buildings. The church holds the place of honor atop
the hill, and a narrow pathway links the church to a small existing chapel,
which ensures the necessary peace and serenity of this area. It should be
highlighted that the architect even takes the vegetation into account. The
meeting room and performance hall, which can hold up to 578 people, leads
directly to an open-air stage.
One of the principles behind the conception of the classroom arrangement
is to create differentiations according to their use by different age-groups. For
primary classes, a zone classified “mixed” is attached to the classes of the
children to “aid the harmonious development of the children’s personalities”. Corridors
are removed to prevent crowding at the beginning and ending of class, and
classes are served by two or three stairs. Each level feeds only two classes. The
division into small buildings – each section includes a group of three classes
of 30 students – allows for flexibility. The boarding school is considered not
as a sleeping area, but a living area. The refectory is divided into dining
rooms for 45 people in order to avoid the noise created by large rooms. The
kitchen is a central hub for each room.
The chapel is stylistically very refined and deserves to be highlighted.
It is characterized by its triangular shape, the widest part of which is at the
base of its slope, with a roof in a single hyperbolic paraboloid shape, and a
method of lighting tangential to the walls. The area around the altar extends
in a circle nine meters in diameter, allowing space for important ceremonies. Beyond
this circle is a semicircle designed for deacons. A clear space is foreseen all
around the altar area.
The Collège des Pères Antonins is cited as an example
of "the permanence of the convenience of using spaces” and remains so to