Cité de l’Océan et du Surf

Architects: Steven Holl Architects

Photos: Iwan Baan

Where: Biarritz, France

The Cité de l’Océan et du Surf is a museum that explores both surf and sea and their role upon our leisure, science and ecology. The design by Steven Holl Architects in collaboration with Solange Fabiao is the winning scheme from an international competition that included the offices of Enric Miralles/Benedetta Tagliabue, Brochet Lajus Pueyo, Bernard Tschumi and Jean-Michel Willmotte.

The building form derives from the spatial concept “under the sky”/“under the sea”. A concave “under the sky” shape forms the character of the main exterior space, the “Place de l’Océan.” The convex structural ceiling forms the “under the sea” exhibition spaces. The building’s spatial qualities are experienced already at the entrance where the lobby and ramps give a broad aerial view of the exhibition areas, as they pass along the dynamic curved surface that is animated by moving image and light.

The precise integration of concept and topography gives the building a unique profile. Towards the ocean, the concave form of the building plaza is extended through the landscape. With slightly cupped edges, the landscape, a mix of field and local vegetation, is a continuation of the building and will host festivals and daily events that are integrated with the museum facilities.

Two “glass boulders”, which contain the restaurant and the surfer’s kiosk, activate the central outdoor plaza and connect analogically to the two great boulders on the beach in the distance. The glass boulders can be reached through the main entry lobby, which connects the street level to the cafeteria and surfer’s kiosk, and but are also accessible independently through the plaza, which serves as a main gathering space open to the public.

The museum store is located at the intermediate level of the exhibition spaces, with direct access to the entry lobby and the auditorium. The more intimate restaurant and the elevated outdoor terrace are at the top level of the museum, providing open ocean views.

Photo by Steven Holl Architects

At the building’s southwest corner, there is a skate pool dedicated to the surfers’ hangout on the plaza level and an open porch underneath, which connects to the auditorium and exhibition spaces inside the museum. This covered area provides a sheltered space for outdoor interaction, meetings and events. The exterior of the building is a textured white concrete made of aggregates from the south of France. Materials of the plaza are a progressive variation of Portuguese cobblestones paving with grass and natural vegetation. A combination of insulated glass units with clear and acid-etched layers animates the visual dynamics enhancing interior comfort. The interior of the main space is white plaster and a wooden floor provides under-floor wiring flexibilities.

Concept Sketches





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