The recently opened Cité de l’Océan et du Surf in Biarritz, designed by Steven Holl Architects in collaboration with Solange Fabião, has been named Public Building of the Year by the 2011 Emirates Glass LEAF Awards.
About the museum, the jury stated, “It is designed as a set of simple, low, geometric enclosures, for a permanent collection and exhibition areas with a rolling plaza. These evoke the mystery of the sea and by night glow like fragments. The project achieves a good, seamless connection with its coastal landscape. This is a poetic gestural design sitting between land and sea, and bringing together the best of both.”
The Cité de l’Océan et du Surf, which opened on June 26, 2011, aims to raise awareness of oceanic issues and the scientific aspects of sea and surf. Derived from the spatial concept “under the sky” / “under the sea,” the museum’s concave exterior forms the character of a central public plaza, the “Place de l’Océan,” which is open to the sky and sea and looks towards the horizon in the distance. On the interior, the inverse convex curve becomes the ceiling of the main exhibition space, evoking the sense of being “under the sea.” The building’s spatial qualities are first experienced in the entrance, where light comes in along the curved surface, and reflects into the galleries below.
The gardens of the Cité de l’Océan et du Surf aim at a fusion of landscape and architecture, and connect the museum to the ocean horizon. The public plaza is paved with a progressive variation of Portuguese cobblestone paving that allows for the growth of natural vegetation. With slightly cupped edges, the landscape, a mix of field and local vegetation, is a continuation of the museum facility and provides a site for festivals and daily events.
Two “glass rocks,” 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 white Okalux insulating glass is like the “foam of the sea,” and the exposed white concrete of the building exterior has a soft shell-like texture.