Riding the wave

by NICHOLE L REBER on Nov 24, 2011 in Architecture , Interiors , Lifestyle
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Upon hearing there’s a new museum dedicated to surfing and the ocean, the non-surfer’s doesn’t immediately think of France, but this is exactly where the new Cité de l’Océan et du Surf is located

There is a lot of surfing, though, along the southeast coast of the Bay of Biscay – Biarritz, in fact, is said to be the centre of surfing in France and one of Europe’s best surfing towns.

The town has a long history of appreciation of its oceanic surroundings — from its centuries of whaling to 19th century claims that the waters held medicinal values. For almost 20 years, the city has held a premier surf festival that brings world-renown surfers, and surfers represent a significant percentage of the town’s annual tourist numbers. 

The museum, a collaboration between US-based Steven Holl Architects and the Brazilian architectural designer Solange Fabião, isn’t so much about catching the perfect tube or riding goofy foot. While its attention to the surfing community may indeed bring surfer tourists to its doors, the museum is an educational tool about the ocean’s health. It’s a place where anyone can “learn about the problems of the health of the ocean,” Holl says, “and their role in our leisure, science, and ecology. In this incredible cupped form, one side moves you toward the ocean horizon, and the other side cups the space up in the distance.”

The museum, known locally as Cité de l’Océan et du Surf, opened this summer. It began as an international competition in 2005. It has an interior of 3,800 sq-m and exterior study and interactive spaces that expand to more than 15,500 sq-m. Some two-thirds of the building resides below ground.

The primary outdoor space is concave, designed to represent the ocean as a whole, under the sky. It’s flanked by two massive waves. Lengthwise, it tapers toward the Bay of Biscay. Inside the museum, the ceiling bears a convex shape. The interiors are meant to symbolise an ‘under the sea’ concept. Walls are shaped irregularly, appearing like frozen waves. The composition of curvilinear shapes and smooth, gentle lines grants an organic effect. It yields a definite crystallised metaphor for the planet’s most abundant element.

 Read the full story in the December 2011 issue of Perspective magazine!