Steven Holl Architects’ Cite de l’Ocean et du Surf Wins 2012 American Architecture Award

Steven Holl Architects has received a 2012 American Architecture Award for the Cité de l’Océan et du Surf in Biarritz, France.

The awards, administered annually by The Chicago Atheneaum: Museum of Architecture and Design and The European Center for Architecture, Art, Design and Urban Studies honor “new and cutting-edge design” and aim to promote “the best of new architecture and urban design.”

The Cité de l’Océan et du Surf, designed in collaboration with Solange Fabião, 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 plaza’s southwest corner is dedicated to the surfers’ hangout with a skate pool and an open porch underneath that connects to the auditorium and exhibition spaces inside the museum. The exposed structure of white concrete of the building exterior has a soft shell-like texture and white Okalux insulating glass is like the “foam of the sea.”

Previously, the Cité de l’Océan et du Surf has been honored with several other prestigious awards, including a 2011 Emirates Glass LEAF Award and 2011 Annual Design Review Award.

In October 2012, The Chicago Atheneaum, together with The European Centre for Architecture Art Design and Urban Studies will present a special exhibition of all awarded buildings at an annual symposium, “The City and the World” in Istanbul, Turkey and in conjunction with the Istanbul Biennial. After the Biennial, the exhibition will travel through Europe.