Biarritz, France, is said to be the birthplace of surfing, after screenwriter Peter Viertel—in town to work on a film adaptation of The Sun Also Rises—effectively invented the sport on the Côte-des-Basques in 1957. Biarratz has since developed an intellectual interest in the ecology of surf, and the Cité de l’Océan et du Surf museum examines the significance of the sea from a civic and scientific perspective. Where surf meets turf at the new museum—designed by New York–based Steven Holl Architects, working in collaboration with Brazilian artist Solange Fabião—it’s made to look like sea meeting sky.
The museum building frames two program spaces: its convex interior space features “under the sea” exhibition areas, whereas its concave exterior shape serves as an “under the sky” plaza. The museum’s sloping concrete roof serves as an outdoor plaza, and, lined in Portuguese cobblestones and natural vegetation, allows for rainwater to seep into the ground. The plaza also features two “glass boulders”: distinguished by their high-performance glass façades, these forms hold a surfing kiosk and a restaurant. Just across the plaza is a shallow concrete pool that serves as a skatepark for those who prefer to surf on dry land.
The museum, which can be accessed via a street-level lobby, features an auditorium, restaurant, cafeteria, and offices as well as exhibition spaces and even a surfer’s kiosk. The interiors of the museum offer dynamic curved surfaces that reference the waves of the nearby Bay of Biscay.
The jurors appreciated the fact that the light at the roughly 50,859-square-foot museum appears to change over the course of the day, and that the differentiated spaces reflect the notion of a wave as water suspended in air.
“The thing that is beautiful about this is the idea that it’s about the surf. You take an architectonic form and you make it roll like the ocean, and then the function slips underneath,” juror Joe Valerio said. “To connect the surf with the function underneath, you have this lantern, this white, glass lantern that runs through it.”
Cité de l’Océan et du Surf, Biarritz, France
Client SNC Biarritz Ocean
Architect Steven Holl Architects, New York, with Solange Fabião—Steven Holl, AIA, Solange Fabião (design architects); Rodolfo Dias (project architect); Chris Mcvoy (project adviser); Filipe Taboada (assistant project architect); Francesco Bartolozzi, Christopher Brokaw, Cosimo Caggiula, Florence Guiraud, Richard Liu, Ernest Ng, Alessandro Orsini, Nelson Wilmotte, Ebbie Wisecarver, Lan Wu, Christina Yessio (project team)
Associate Architect Leibar & Seigneurin
Consultants/Engineering Vinci-Marseille (roof); Betec (structure); Elithis (mechanical); Avel (acoustical); Apave; Quality Control Office
Lighting Design L’Observatoire International
Contractor Faure Silva–Gtm
Exhibition Engineering Cesma
Exhibition Contractor Geroari
Size 50,859 gross square feet (building); 376,740 square feet (site area)
Cost €20.9 million ($30.1 million U.S.) building, €1.5 million ($2.2 million U.S.) landscape
Photograph Iwan Baan