Cité de l’Océan et du Surf Museum
The Cité du Surf et de l’Ocean Museum intends to raise awareness of oceanic issues and explore educational and scientific Aspects of the surf and sea and Their role upon our leisure, science, and ecology. The project, designed in collaboration with Solange Fabião, is comprised of a museum building, exhibition areas, and a plaza, Within A larger master plan. The building form dérives from the spatial concept “Under the Sky” / “under the sea”.
The Cité de l’Océan et du Surf Museum intends to raise awareness of oceanic issues and explore educational and scientific aspects of the surf and sea and their role upon our leisure, science, and ecology. The project, designed in collaboration with Solange Fabião, is comprised of a museum building, exhibition areas, and a plaza, within a larger master plan. The building form derives from the spatial concept “under the sky”/”under the sea”. A concave “under the sky” shape creates a central gathering plaza, open to sky and sea, with the horizon in the distance. The convex structural ceiling forms the “under the sea” exhibition spaces. This concept generates a unique profile and form for the building, and through its insertion and efficient site utilization, the project integrates seamlessly into the surrounding landscape.
Steven Holl Architects
Celebrating warm days (northern hemisphere…) can very well go hand-in-hand with welcoming the increasing presence of ocean or oceanic museums, and their inevitable site-specific qualities. This article looks at the Cité de l’Océan et du Surf building in Biarritz, France, which opened on June 25th and was designed by SHA (Steven Holl Architects) in collaboration with Solange Fabião. Also, this article includes exclusive interviews with the driving forces of the Architecture/Design Team (Steven Holl, Solange Fabião, Rodolfo Reis Dias), who, in turn, provide generous insight into the process, objectives and expectations of the design.
The Cité de l’Océan et du Surf in Biarritz, France, can be seen through the light of two to three increasingly interconnected architecture and urban design desires: buildings which become emblematic icons for the city where they are situated, buildings that aim to be parts of the city in and of themselves, and, lastly, interpretation centers – specifically Ocean Museums – interested in informative and educational endeavors and general environmental awareness-raising and their increasingly dominant strategy of interaction design around cultural practices to mobilize populations at large and their diverse cultural niches. The intersection of these traits is not uncommon and, instead, might evidence a convergence of topics around urbanity, public space, coastal areas and, of course, tourism and awareness-raising for problems facing the oceans.
The brief for the Cité at Biarritz was greatly interested in the tourism component of such a new building. The Cité would be providing one more dot on what can now be a more distinguished TGV-supported architecture pilgrimage that passes through Bilbao’s Guggenheim Museum (1997) – by Frank Gehry – and San Sebastian’s Kursaal Convention Center and Auditorium (1999) – by Rafael Moneo. Not unlike the older pilgrimage route that crossed several European cities – Way of St. James – which culminated in Santiago de Compostela’s cathedral, cultural and business tourism has proven to be a rather (economically) successful intersection to support the revitalization of some urban or historical areas.
On the one hand, common sense says that bodies of water are naturally appealing and sought out, and therefore tend to increase the value of surrounding areas, which is a justification for the (easy) success of these particular buildings to constitute public space – all populations are attracted to them. On the other hand, around major coastal cities, architectural additions near bodies of water – rivers or oceans that mark them – are often part of larger, phased reconfiguration plans that reconsider the ways in which the relationships between downtowns, ports and industrial areas can be transformed towards different economic and cultural objectives as roles of different infrastructural activities change, but also do socio-economic panoramas. This often includes remodeling obsolete structures for new uses, or adding new programs altogether. These water-adjacent areas are, therefore, often reclaimed land from industries, port areas or other private ownerships and become channels for the public to access the waterways and their history of alternating ownership.
The Cité (de l’Océan et du Surf) is already called only and justly that – Cité – in anticipation of its future role in becoming an identifiable piece or fragment which is more than a building that aims at continuing lines of public space, and, therefore, becomes a zone which can simultaneously reflect and engage Biarritz. At the heart of these transformations are changes in the relative functions and exchanges between programmatic and cultural characters and the realms of aesthetics that explore these new activities and eminently public connections. The architecture team was particularly interested in having an extended landscape design surrounding the building, which could extend and provide more potential for these linkages to evolve. These new relationships emerge as a reformation of that larger character that we know as the city – the reflection on its future role as an exchange center, and the ways in which there might be particular topologies that redefine the connections between the larger environment, institutions and citizens. It is for this reason that, at the Cité, the embracing wave design–which analogically suggests the continuation of folding topologies of the ocean further away–embodies important beginning movements not for its independent figuration, but for its attempt to exercise that continuity as a matter of fact.
We can find in some of the material choices the search for this particular monolithic quality which is nevertheless supple and flexible, such as the use of “calçada” – portuguese cobblestones – as the main plaza/exterior ground pavement; the particular tectonic feeling afforded by this material creates a more elastic layout where the connected levels and pathways are easily interchangeable.
Another strategy that speaks to this interest is the choice to create a seemingly underground building that reduces volume, thus allowing for a better contextualization with the surroundings as an open space, a negative plaza. This way, the plaza is at a better height difference from the main street level. This plaza level is activated by 2 volumes: the restaurant and surfer kiosk. The layout also provides different levels of independent entrance – literally different entry points – and use for different program spaces, i.e., the auditorium.
There is an increasing need to rethink the way in which buildings are the formalization of institutional spaces and can act as scaffolds or infrastructures for the societal transformations they are aiming at.
On the one hand, the increasing presence of virtual media in the programmatic body of the city implies that formalization might not reside or gain efficiency from the proper (physical) space of buildings – just as much as the old battle between program-function-form. On the other hand, media evolution and remote connectivity has created sharper and deeper comprehensions of what a locale is – including a deeper, layered understanding of how a location is formed by other places’ processes but also how it is relevant in processes happening elsewhere. In the case of the Cité, one can foresee a strengthening of the community’s bonds – including the sport of surf – as well the understanding of how distant places are influenced by each other, which includes the way in which the oceans are shared and affected by all. The hybrid typologies that include research centers and interpretation centers are nowadays extremely important for their dedication to diverse cultures of education and action promotion. The surf sport culture has a wide breadth of practices which appeal to the ocean education endeavor such as the captivation of younger demographics, the sport’s drive to foster understanding of geological and environmental circumstances and processes, and the pilgrimage/seasonal factor – many surf practitioners will travel to different surf spots – which lends itself to the creation of events and the promotion of a larger connectivity between different areas of the world through the understanding of their common process and/or linkages.
Much can be written about typologies that almost become stronger urban spaces than the cities they originated in: mall typologies are the usual reference for this. However, discussions around mall spaces are perhaps still bound to a way of understanding urbanity as density and the limit that contains/forms them – a modality that looks at cities in a rather conventional way and repeats stereotypes in attempts to recreate that density. A different modality – conventional in its own right – might look at the reshaping of infrastructural exchanges, through the creation of newly possible centralities.
Maybe Cité has initiated a set of bodies passing through itself which ultimately cross Biarritz, the region and elsewhere in such new way.
Project name: Cité de l’Océan et du Surf
Location: Avenue de la Plage, Biarritz 64200, France
Type: Museum, Reseach / laboratories Center
Project area: 38,000 sqm
Building area: 4725 sqm
Construction started: 2005
Completion Year: 2011, Opening – June 2011
- 2012 Chicago Athenaeum International Architecture Award – new and cutting-edge design
- 2012 Chicago Athenaeum International Architecture Award – promote “the best of new architecture and urban design.”
- 2011 The American Institute of Architect (AIA Awards) – Annual Design Review
- 2011 The Emirates Glass LEAF Awards – Public Building of the Year
- 2011 ArchDaily Building of the Year Award – Musems & Libraries Category
Client / Owner / Developer: SNC Biarritz Ocean
Architects: Steven Holl Architects
Project Designer: Solange Fabião, Steven Holl
Project Architect: Rodolfo Dias
Project Advisor: Chris McVoy
Project Assistant architect: Filipe Taboada
Project Team: Francesco Bartolozzi, Christopher Brokaw, Cosimo Caggiula,
Florence Guiraud, Richard Liu, Johanna Muszbek, Ernest Ng,
Alessandro Orsini, Nelson Wilmotte, Ebbie Wisecarver, Lan Wu,
Team: Rüssli Architekten, Justin Rüssli, Mimi Kueh, Stephan Bieri, Björn Zepnik
Associate architects: Agence d’Architecture X.Leibar JM Seigneurin
Structural consultant: Betec & Vinci Construction Marseille
Acoustical consultant: AVEL Acoustique
HVAC consultant: Elithis
General contractor: Faura Silva, GTM Sud-Ouest Batiment
Exhibition engineer: Cesma
Exhibition contractor: Geroari
Text Description: © Courtesy of Steven Holl Architects
Images: © Iwan Baan, Mariko Reed, Steven Holl Architects