Decoding Design

Calm, cool, collected museum takes last major architecture award of the year

Posting in Architecture

The year's Play category winner of the Annual Design Review Awards is a welcome calm after the starchitecture design storm of 2011.

The Cité de l’Ocean et du Surf, designed by 2012 AIA Gold Medal winner Steven Holl, won an Annual Design Review Award and was also named Public Building of the Year at the Emirates Glass LEAF Awards.

Located in Biarritz, France, the Cité de l’Océan et du Surf museum explores and exhibits oceanic issues and the scientific and cultural aspects of the sea and tides. The 4,725 square meter (50,859 square foot) building and its integrated plaza are rolling forms that echo ocean waves. Holl's design concepts of "under the sky/under the sea" are expressed by the concave exterior plaza (under the sky) and a convex structure covering exhibition areas (under the sea).

The sheltering shapes and spaces that slip past each other make it easy to see why the project won the Play category of the Annual Design Review Award.

Two glass 'boulders' anchor the plaza and house a restaurant and a surfers' hangout. An open porch connects an auditorium and exhibition spaces inside the museum and provides a space for outdoor activities. Light colored materials and etched window walls create a tranquil glow normally seen only in architectural renderings.

The deceptively simple gestures conceal the precision and restraint required to design and construct such an elegant building. The project's details have no fussy ornaments to hide behind. At the end of a year of flamboyant buildings, proposals, and star architects, it's refreshing to see a subtle yet powerful project like the Cité de l’Océan et du Surf in the spotlight.

Images: copyright Iwan Baan, courtesy of Steven Holl Architects

Share this

Sun Kim

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Sun Joo Kim is an architect and creative consultant based in Boston. Her projects include design and master planning of museums, public institutions, hospitals, and university buildings across the U.S. She holds a degree from Carnegie Mellon University and is a member of the U.S. Green Building Council. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure