Oceans Apart

Where architecture meets the sea

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Ever since human beings first explored the horizon, successive civilizations have been fascinated with the oceans; for sustenance, transportation, military domination and scientific discovery. Our dependence on the oceans is integral to our occupation of the planet, a relationship that is explored through the following architectural projects, that occupy a space between land and sea. A collection of museums and aquaria that recreate the experience of a place where raw nature still prevails, its watery depths and other worldliness inspiring an architecture necessarily tethered to the land but nonetheless belonging to different realm.

Museum of Sea & Surf, Biarritz
Museum of Sea & Surf, Biarritz, Image by Iwan Baan

Museum of Sea & Surf, Biarritz, France

Stephen Holl Architects in collaboration with Brazilian architect and artist Solange Fabião.

The Cité de l’Océan y du Surf museum is located in Biarritz, southwest France and forms part of a master plan for the redevelopment of the sea front overlooking the Bay of Biscay. Designed to raise awareness about environmental issues related to the oceans through educational, scientific and leisure related exhibitions and activities, the building programme includes an exhibition area, auditorium, restaurant, cafeteria and offices.

The formal expression, an inhabited slice of terrain raised above ground level with concave lateral edges, describes a plaza above ground with views that frame the horizon and provide a convex surface internally used to project images related to ongoing exhibitions. A void under the soffit of the southwest corner forms a covered porch to the auditorium and exhibition spaces while also becoming an informal area for related activities. The materiality of the building is defined by the landscaping of the plaza; Portuguese cobblestone that allows vegetation and grass to grow in between the cobbles, a textured white concrete made with local aggregates, and the ‘glass rocks’ that contain the restaurant and the surfer’s kiosk.

Aquarium architecture in Denmark
National Aquarium Denmark

National Aquarium Denmark, Kastrup, Copenhagen

3NX Architects

Also known as The Blue Planet, the Danish National Aquarium is configured like a gigantic whirlpool frozen in a material expression of fluid movement. The building is designed to be appreciated as much from the air by passengers arriving by plane, as from ground level. The steel frame structure is clad with aluminium scales that reflect the ever changing skies above, and internally the exhibitions are organised around five ‘arms’ that accommodate the various marine animals sourced from cold, warm, salt and fresh water environments.

Sited on the Øresund, the strait that forms the border between Denmark and Sweden, the building connects land and sea using landscaping to blur the lines between inside and outside, creating watery currents around the built volumes. Visitors to the building are swept into the lobby by its swirling curves, and deposited at its centre from which all the exhibitions radiate out into the arms.

Aquarium architecture in Valencia
L’Oceanogràfic, Valencia

L’Oceanogràfic, City of Arts and Sciences, Valencia

Félix Candela, José María & Tomás Llavador Arquitectos

L’Oceanogràfic is an open-air marine park made up of several buildings representing different aquatic environments. It forms part of the City of Arts and Sciences, an ambitious cultural complex located on the former riverbed of the Turia river, Valencia. Félix Candela, together with Santiago Calatrava, is the author of the overall master plan for what is nowadays considered the singular most important tourist destination in the city. L’Oceanográfic was completed in 2003, and is the largest oceanographic aquarium in Europe, covering 110,000 square meters with 42 million litres of water.

Candela is renowned for his elegant and sculptural concrete structures, here perfectly capturing the plasticity of the material and fluidity of the internal programme. The aquarium building is conceived as a shell composed of a series of concentric hyperbolic paraboloids with a glass curtain wall in between that provides the entrance to the underwater museum that accommodates 45,000 species sourced from around the world.

Maritime architecture in Sidney. Waterfront Pavilion
Waterfront Pavilion, Sydney. Image by Brett Boardman

Waterfront Pavilion, Australian National Maritime Museum, Darling Harbour, Sydney

FJMT Studio

The Waterfront Pavilion is an annexe to the adjacent Australian National Maritime Museum, and was designed to provide access to two highly significant naval vessels of the Royal Australian Navy; HMAS Vampire and HMAS Onslow. These are permanently docked in Sydney’s Darling Harbour at an already existing wharf.

Conceived as a floating tube over the water, the building form is generated by providing access to the naval vessels via their portals and gangways while leaving space below so that visitors can appreciate the relationship of the vessels with the docks. The façade is articulated to reflect their scale and materiality, the three elements configuring an overall composition of complimentary volumes. Internally the pavilion is designed to reflect the ruggedness of the sea faring life, with detailing kept to a minimum. The high- tech exhibition explores the militarization of the oceans, and the vital role they play in modern warfare.

Maritime architecture in Saint-Malo. History Museum
Maritime History Museum, Saint-Malo

Maritime History Museum, Saint-Malo, France  

Kengo Kuma & Associates

Japanese architect Kengo Kuma (author of the new V&A Museum, Dundee) submitted the winning entry to design a building marking Sant-Malo’s historical relationship with the sea. It accommodates permanent and temporary exhibitions, as well as educational activities and events in the historical walled city. It is configured as a series of three stacked volumes, staggered in plan and section that delineate the main entrance with glazed end gables framing views over the seascape.

The scale and materials of the proposed museum reference the industrial warehouses and vernacular naval architecture of the port area, where construction work on the museum will commence in 2019. Internally the exhibition spaces are conceived as diaphanous hangars providing maximum flexibility. The façades are clad with engraved zinc alternating with glazed panels to give the building a translucent quality that will mimic the light and grey skies over the Brittany coastline, while also being reflected in the harbour setting, at the Duguay-Trouin dock.

Main Image: Museum of Sea & Surf, Biarritz. Photo by Iwan Baan