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.
Michel Écochard undertook the Protestant College project in
Beirut at the same time as that of the University of Karachi. This school is
located in the heart of the Lebanese capital. Écochard was now plying
his trade with the new status of liberal architect from his Paris office
located in Montparnasse, a change of status that provided a new space for
expression through the potential diversity of clients and especially through
his reunion with architecture.
the Protestant College, Écochard is said to have built one of the most modern
and functional schools: a landmark of modernity in the Beirut landscape. The
comprehensive program, planned for a thousand students, covered classes from
kindergarten to high school.
design is characterized by a great purity of line, rhythms are sought after in
the treatment of façades and there is a continuity between open spaces and
enclosed ones, like the teachers’ library which leads to a rest area outdoors,
called the iwan by the teachers (a
reference to local terminology), and finally, the use of sun-screens, dear to
the architect, on certain buildings The ground plan of this school includes the
main building and its service areas, and two out-buildings, one located at the
bottom of the plot, the other a little behind and parallel to the main building
The main principle which governed this provision was to have buildings on the
outskirts of the land with the goal of freeing-up the largest space possible
The choice of materials reflects most explicitly the modernity
of the architecture, the project being built entirely of reinforced concrete
and using of raw concrete outside. The use of modular spans, standard elements
in the primary and secondary schools, including their annexes, characterizes the
approach to construction. For the architect new techniques have as their first
mission the need to meet the expectations of the new pedagogy.
In his architectural dialogue with the site, the
architect used the slope of the land with intelligence, and attached importance
to the general landscape and climatic conditions. The southern orientation of
the buildings allows the use of sunlight in winter and easy protection against
the high sun. The sun shades, within this logic, are designed so that the sun
cannot penetrate at certain hours of the day, depending on the season. As for
ventilation, it operates from the south face to the north face of the building
with overhead bays at ceiling level and running the entire length of the classrooms.The
architecture of the Protestant College in Beirut expresses an optimized
functional approach to the extreme, but it does, however, have the merit of
being based on a good knowledge of the realities of the daily operation of the
college. Michel Écochard advanced an aesthetic based on "the joy and
harmony essential to the development of students through a strict study of
proportions based on the ‘golden ratio.’