Michele Tenzon




The establishment of the French Protectorate on Morocco (1912-1956) entailed the radical shift of the country’s traditional settlement system based on the Imperial cities towards industrial coastal cities. To support the colonial urban development, the French launched in the early 1920s an electrification policy, the so-called ‘politique des barrages’, at a time when mainland France was pursuing ‘white coal’ (houille blanche) as an alternative to petrol-based electrical power.

Alongside with the new dams and power plants realized along the Atlas mountain ridge (with works entrusted to French planners, landscape architects and architects already involved in extending the old medinas into modern colonial towns, such as Henri Prost), the coastal plains’ irrigation systems were reorganize. New settlements funded by French private banking and trade companies were established, with the secondary objective of sedentarizing a supportive ‘cushion’ local Arab population against the threat of Moroccan rebels who found refuge in the mountains.

A form of continuation of this policy is to be found after WWII, when the Protectorate’s chief-architect and planner, Michel Écochard, was entrusted with a large reclamation and rural resettlement scheme of the Gharb Valley. Such a scheme entailed the modernization and extension of many existing villages, but also the creation of a totally new network of agro-industrial cities, and has often been cited as an example of early modernist participatory planning process.

Eventually, this scheme was continued by Écochard and his team after independence, and by the Moroccan State late into the 1980s.

Apart from Écochard’s few published articles, little is known about this case-study. Henri Post’s archives at the Cité de l’architecture in Paris have been thoroughly examined, but the link between his power plants design and the ‘politique des grands barrages’ has not been established yet. Excellent scholarship has dealt with French planning in Morocco, and especially with Écochard’s works, but mainly in the urban sphere (Avermaete – Casciato, 2014).

Photograph’s of Écochard’s personal archives are held at ULB, and are waiting to be processed. Much archival material held at the French military archives in Vincennes and the Protectorate’s archives in Aix-en-Provence have not been disclosed yet. There is an important interest in unveiling and processing this material on colonial enterprises which sheds new light on the history of French and European modernist planning.

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POPP, H. (2013), “La ‘politique des barrages’: l’irrigation dite moderne au Maroc”, in Popp, Hamza (eds.), L’héritage colonial du Maroc, Naturwissenschaftliche Gesellschaft Bayreuth.
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