La Cité de l’Océan de Biarritz: a wave in the sky

Between mountains and oceans, Maxence Gallot evokes his passion for making fleeting tracks on natural surfaces. Here hxse delivers a report on the Cité de l’Océan de Biarritz, illustrated by himself and Greg Moyano.

Maxence Gallot

A project by architects Steven Hall (N.Y.) and Solange Fabião (Brazil), associates at the agency Leibar & Seigneurin, the Cité de l’Océan de Biarritz is aimed at raising awareness and conservation of the ocean. Opened in 2011, this building is made of convex shapes reminiscent of the crystal clear waves that strike either fear or excitement in sailors and surfers respectively. Designed to link the sky with the ocean, its roof is like a forming swell, disrupted by a bowl where skaters can make full use of the public space.

Surrounded by mountains and battered by the ocean spray, Biarritz is renowned for its well-being enhancing properties. But a little bit away from the bourgeoisie and the upmarket streets, you have a passionate core of people watching the swell, skating in the streets and sweating when the conditions are not right for hitting the water. The cradle of European surf culture since the 1950s, the heart of the town still beats in time with the ocean. Cosmopolitan and inventive, its modernism is also manifested in its architecture with buildings taking inspiration from the environment and waves. The Cité de l’Océan is an example of this audacity for breaking local conventions.

Cité de l’Océan is a brutalist, minimalist giant with Japanese influences whose brilliance glints with ingenuity on the edge of Milady beach. The geometry of its shapes give life to a brutalist wave, as concrete as it is alive. S for Skate or Snowboard, S like the snaking of the perfect turn, S for a mode of transport above this transparent space. It’s quite rare to be able to skate on the top of a building and even if a ban prevails some people will want to taste the forbidden fruit that gives such a special taste to riding in the heart of a public space.

Greg Moyano

Between the upper and lower floor, two worlds coexist. Underneath, a permanent ocean museum open to everyone, a conference centre and surf photography exhibitions and festivals of all kinds are held. Upstairs, a raucous roof in the shape of a refined skatepark. In the end it’s the top floor that has the upper hand when it comes to freedom, looking out onto the ocean of possibilities underneath. The Cité de l’Océan vert is becoming a ‘melting pot for all boards’. Local aficionados come to skate the bowls, drop into the ramp illegally and share some good times. It was even possible to ride it when the structure was covered in snow during the crazy 2018 winter. At the end of February, French snowboarder Mathieu Crepel treated himself to a few snowy drop ins right by the sea.

When the sunset lights up the shapes of this static wave, the building materials reveal themselves and the work becomes interactive between space and people. Here, architectural performance and human performance merge. While visitors are looking at a sleek, thought-provoking architectural monument, the riders want to leave their own impression of style and vision of self-expression. For them, the shapes match each other. They want to become at one with the movement of the roof; it’s all about adapting to the curve.

Maxence Gallot

The ocean, the real one, is a stone’s throw from this magical place. Marine iodine is deposited there and hours are spent lolling about in it. Diagonals are contrasted to the fluidity of the building and the rumble of the waves that crash in the distance. This arena, opening onto the horizon, gathers curious and passionate people together in a public space, proof if needed, of the trend of our society to restrict and regulate everything. One doesn’t leave a track on concrete; one diverts architecture and appropriates urban space. Here, a carefree environment is cultivated through boardsports, drawing on the essence of human imagination to be freed from society’s straightjacket. Long live the city.


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