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.
from the Lebanese government is one of a series undertaken by Écochard,
beginning with the 1943 Beirut Development Plan through to his study for a Ministry
City in 1963. This work was theoretically under the direction and under the
control of the Commission of Beirut and its Suburbs.
plan foresaw large roads linked with a hierarchy of speeds. Thus, six
interchanges, service roads and roads providing outlets from the city center are proposed to service a road junction located outside the borders of Beirut
municipality. The regional and national level is expressed in the proposal for
a peripheral outer highway, beyond the urban area, and a highway linking the
north and south of the country and an array of proposed regional roads. “The
network of large roads had the objective of creating a ‘coherent whole’”. It
would include, on the one hand, roads penetrating the city from outside, while,
on the other, roads connecting different neighborhoods and the new city with
the current city center.
urgent need of development are suggested, including slums, in order to prevent
their endless extension. Two new towns are proposed in order to cope with the
growth of the city, the first in the south in the same place as that proposed
in the 1943 plan, and the other more to the west. The founding principle of
this proposal remains the same, namely to build a “healthy city” near the “sick
city”; also, the road constitutes the backbone of urban development.
reflects the vision of a city of varied density. The quantity of construction
allowed in various areas actually differs so much that the density allowed on
the mountain slopes adjoining the city limits makes it almost rural. The reason
given for this urban planning is he safeguarding of the site and its impressive
landscape. Two new “centres of attraction” allow less concentration in the
heavily populated traditional centre. Located to the extreme southeast and
southwest of the city, these two centres help in promoting the suburbs and of
course justify, in relation to the new town, the low population densities
beyond those limits.
functionalism leads naturally to a grouping of activities by category,
including those involving administration of the state. The idea of a Ministry
City had already been envisaged along a southern boulevard of Sidon. The idea
was to decentralise commercial activities to new shopping centres corresponding
to “the life of a modern city”. Rapid east-west circulation, avoiding the city
centre, completed the plan. Zones requiring urgent development were defined
through the knowledge the planner had of the city and with the aid of aerial
photography. A distinction was made between categories: housing for the
economically insecure, slums, shanty towns and hovels.
The new towns were no more
built than the Ministry City; the highway project was just beginning to take
shape in 1963, and no policy of land appropriation had been set in place. However
this plan left its mark on our perception of urban space and urban planning.