It takes a surfer to know a surfer. So it’s hardly surprising that the Surfrider Foundation’s French chapter in Biarritz, France, would enlist an architect who is also a die-hard surfer to design its office space.
“I was sharing waves with an old friend of mine—the president of Surfrider France—when he told me they were looking for help,” says architect Patrice Gardera, principal of the Parisian architecture firm Gardera-D. He immediately rose to the challenge, not only because of his passion for surfing, but also because of his respect for the nonprofit foundation’s raison d’être.
Founded in 1984 by a group of visionary surfers in Malibu, California, the Surfrider Foundation’s mission is “the protection and enjoyment of oceans, waves, and beaches through a powerful activist network.” It now shepherds more than 50,000 members and 90 chapters worldwide. The Surfrider Foundation Europe was founded in Biarritz in 1990, and the 70 employees of the French chapter, who had been working ad hoc in various locations, including garages, were sorely in need of a unified place to conduct their business.
Two clients, two programmatic objectives
Thanks to the innovative new work and exhibition space Gardera designed, the foundation now has an inspiring place to fulfill its endeavors and showcase its efforts to the local and global communities. The development of the new offices is also a credit to the city of Biarritz, which funded the renovation of two large industrial sheds—totaling 10,500 square feet—that previously housed trucks.
The arrangement ultimately meant Gardera had two clients—Surfrider and the city. “I had to please the city with a project that would be cost-effective, and I had to aid Surfrider in defining its goals and defining a program, including space for 70 people, meeting areas, and exhibit space,” Gardera says, adding that Surfrider also had wanted to create a strong physical identity for the foundation.
After reviewing the programmatic issues with Surfrider,Gardera recognized that the team would embrace the idea of working collaboratively in an open space, “rather than being scattered in a set of different, smaller office spaces that would drag them back to their former ‘garage’ years,” he says. “The challenge, then, was the cohabitation in a single space of a noisy program—the exhibition space welcoming young schoolchildren to visit—and a quieter one, the working space.” Instead of placing these program elements in separate sheds, the architect opted to have the wall separating the two structures removed to create one large space that would house both.
Innovation and identity
The centerpiece of the newly combined space is a sculptural, wavelike element, which establishes a clear sense of identity and houses the exhibition area, separating it acoustically from the work, meeting, and cafe spaces on either side. The structure of the wavelike element is made of a complex assembly of maritime pine, with cellulose foam and a one-inch-thick phenolic resin panel as insulation. Lacquered, perforated MDF panels mounted on top of mineral wool panels form the inner skin, while the outer skin is made of composite birch plywood panels. The “wave” works as an insulating screen from the workspaces, and has sound-insulating properties equivalent to
a five-inch-thick brick wall.
To make the rest of the space viable for working, the architect doubled the thickness of the walls and roofs of the existing sheds. He also called for the original concrete flooring to be cleaned, de-oiled, and sandblasted, then left raw. Cellulose-fiber insulation panels were faced with plaster drywall mounted on walls, and Fibracoustic panels of recycled wood and paper were transformed into a huge sound-absorbing membrane once they were installed beneath the roofs.
Gardera designed polycarbonate translucent roof elements that provide natural light: One shed is pierced with a long canopy that measures approximately 20 by 66 feet and the other with a series of twelve 5-foot-by-5-foot roof windows that can be opened for natural ventilation. Tables in the workspace, made of local maritime pine wood, have been designed as large, freestanding plates seemingly “plugged” into the wave, like surfboards. The existing warehouse lights were replaced with similar industrial fixtures.
Since opening, the space has transformed the way Surfriders’ Biarritz employees do business by enabling them to easily collaborate under one roof in a flexible setting and by allowing them to effectively showcase the efforts they undertake in fulfilling
a noble mission.
Key Design Highlights
- Two sheds were combined into one structure to create an open workspace that encourages collaboration between previously disparate employees.
- Custom desks made of local maritime plywood were designed as freestanding plates that resemble surfboards.
- A wavelike structure houses exhibition space and is highly insulated to keep adjoining
- work areas quiet.
- The existing roof structure and walls were reinforced and insulated to improve thermal performance, and skylights were inserted to admit daylight.
Surfrider Foundation Europe Headquarters
- Designer: Gardera-D
- Client: City of Biarritz
- Where: Biarritz, France
- What: 10,500 total square feet on one floor, plus mezzanine
- Cost/sf: $92