Cité de l’Océan, Biarritz
The Cité de l’Océan (City of the Ocean) is a science museum in Biarritz, on the Atlantic coast of southern France, housed in an iconic building designed by American architect Steven Holl.
Opened to the public on 26 June 2011, the City of the Ocean has been conceived to complement the Biarritz Aquarium by creating a more children-oriented museum presenting the history, geology, and ecology of the oceans mainly through multimedia and interactive exhibits.
Above, view of the Cité de l’Océan in Biarritz at dusk; photo © Iwan Baan.
Steven Holl’s building
The 3,800-square-meter/40,903-square-foot building of the Cité de l’Océan was designed by Steven Holl, in collaboration with Brazilian-American architect Solange Fabião, after winning an international architectural competition organized in 2005 by the City of Biarritz.
From the outside, the museum consists of a glazed building and a concave cobbled plaza, whose shape is reminiscent of that of a huge ocean wave. The plaza is actually the roof of a large exhibition area partially dug below the ground as if it was a submarine city laying concealed under the surface of the sea.
“The building form derives from the spatial concept “under the sky”/“under the sea”. A concave “under the sky” shape creates a central gathering plaza, open to sky and sea, with the horizon in the distance. The convex structural ceiling forms the “under the sea” exhibition spaces. This concept generates a unique profile and form for the building, and through its insertion and efficient site utilization, the project integrates seamlessly into the surrounding landscape.” Steven Holl
A sketch by Steven Holl depicting the spatial concept “under the sky”/“under the sea”; © Steven Holl.
A sequence of cobbled footpaths, dry stone walls, grass fields, and gardens with local vegetation connects the museum with the nearby Atlantic Ocean seaside.
A panoramic view of the Ocean City of Biarritz; image courtesy of Agence d’Urbanisme du Territoire de Belfort.
Site plan, plan of the -1 level, cross and longitudinal sections; images Steven Holl Architects and Solange Fabião.
Exterior view at night, and a view of the gathering plaza with the Atlantic Ocean in the background © Iwan Baan.
The partially sunken exhibition space underneath the gathering plaza; © Iwan Baan.
The permanent exhibition
As mentioned previously, the permanent exhibition of the Cité de L’Océan is clearly oriented at children and families and consists almost exclusively of interactive exhibits and videos, many of which in 3D.
This approach to scientific education, pretty usual some years ago but a bit obsolete today, limits somewhat the attractiveness of the museum to younger people; therefore, we suggest the adults complement the visit to the Ocean City with that to the more science-oriented Aquarium / Musée de la Mer in central Biarritz, if possible.
The exhibition is divided into several sections, called “universes”, presenting various subjects related to oceans, including their origin from extraterrestrial water from comets and asteroids, marine mysteries and legendary tales, oceans’ exploration, influx on climate, submarine geology, and sea life. There is also a gallery dedicated to surfing, of which Biarritz is possibly the most famous spot in Europe
The program of the Cité de l’Océan includes changing exhibitions, conferences, live performances, educational activities, and special events.
The building of the museum also contains a shop, a 104-seat 3D cinema/auditorium, a restaurant, and a cafe.
Three views of the permanent exhibition. Images courtesy of Cité de L’Océan.
Interior view of the museum; photo © Iwan Baan.
Exterior view from the east; photo © Iwan Baan.
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