Publié le May 11, 2018

A bionic architecture by Jacques and Sophie Rougerie

The design of the building was conceived by the architects Jacques and Sophie Rougerie, who, together with Sogea Caroni, a subsidiary of Vinci Construction, won the international competition launched for the creation of the new Nausicaá, the French National Sea Centre, in 2014. The Rougerie firm came up with a design based on bionic architecture which borrows from the marine world’s vocabulary of living forms.

Jacques Rougerie, architect

Passionate about the sea and space, Jacques Rougerie has been drawing inspiration from nature to draw and design submarine dwellings, ships and buildings unlike any other in the world for over 30 years.

His original creations and futuristic designs, all based on biomimicry, feature very strong technological innovations which makes them as efficient and natural as possible, helping them to blend into natural environments while also respecting them.

A pioneer and inspired dreamer, Jacques Rougerie encourages the passing-on of knowledge between generations and supports young talent from all over the world through his foundation. An academic, architect and artist, this “man of the sea” knows that mankind’s future lies in the oceans and has an unshakeable faith in the ability of human ingenuity to overcome the huge urban, social and environmental challenges of the twenty-first century, at a time when coastal regions are set to become home to three quarters of the world’s population.

Henri Rouvière, scenic designer

The ARSCENES Agency, which is based in Montpellier, was created in 1990 and is run by Henri Rouvière, a DPLG-certified architect (Government Certified Architect), scenic designer and museum designer. For the Nausicaá expansion project, the ARSCENES agency is representing its group by acting as scenic designer for the design of the tour route, tanks, décor, multimedia and graphics. It is taking into account the incorporation into the visitor route of the sound design conceived and created by Michel Redolfi. It is working closely with the exhibition commission run by the Nausicaá’s team. The role of a scenic designer is, of course, to stage objects, situations and scenarios or capture them in images… but also to create a sensory world which turns around and immerses the audience in a poetic and emotional event in which it becomes an actor.

Architectural challenge: first time in Europe

The line of the architectural project highlights its ambition: to reconcile the impact of the ocean on our current civilisation and its future with the maritime history of Boulogne-sur-Mer and its urban revitalisation. The new Nausicaá offers an ambitious and visionary response in terms of urban planning, architecture and scenic design which meets this dual objective.

Bionic architecture with a strong symbolic message

The development stands out with its highly symbolic architecture as an iconic building which puts the focus on its cultural venture and, at the same time, shines forth across the world like a beacon of marine knowledge and forms a new maritime gateway into the city right at the heart of the great urban landscape of Boulogne. And to strengthen this symbolism, we went for a bionic style of architecture which is unique in the world and immediately recognised, and gives the building its lines of force, its maturity and its extravagance. This is a legitimate aim given the purpose of the amenity, which borrows from the marine world’s vocabulary of living forms to develop the symbolism of its light and enveloping protective shells, its desire to be sustainable, its ability to draw on the sources of the terrestrial and marine worlds, its forms, which are sometimes rounded and sometimes project outwards, and its textures, which are sometimes pearlescent and sometimes striated.

Half bionic space and half temple of human knowledge, Planet NAUSICAA also aims to be a vessel for discovery and promises a journey into the realm of seas and oceans, which is symbolised by this arrow pointing towards the open sea.

Scenic design of water, staging in a weightless environment, choreography for living beings

These three key and vital ideas underpin and form the basis of the concept of scenic design.

The scenic and museum design is closely tied up with the built environment, it extends and is in osmosis with the enveloping architecture of the building.

The horizontals and the verticals join to form a single whole, like a sculpted, bionic body which stretches the visual and poetic relationships between outside and inside. The sculptural architecture of the scenic design is the living heart of NAUSICAA. Through emotion, it will lead and immerse the public in an adventure of discovery of the Blue Planet.

Water, an elementary form of matter

Essential, inseparable from all life and mankind, water is central to the way we think about scenic design. An elementary form of matter and a substance of life, water tells us about the origin of the world and, through its metamorphoses, the diversity of life. Water in all its forms inspires our approach to scenic design: reflecting water, water in the form of ice, hot and cold water, water in the form of mist… Water which is constantly moving, stormy, raging, scary, but also calm and soothing, the “soul” of the human body.

Water is a philosophy of nature! It is the Desire that travels the Earth in an endless cycle consisting of springs, rivers, seas, oceans, clouds, rain… and back to springs. Water fertilises the dual dimension of dreams and thought. It is a source of knowledge, myths and legends.

This source of inspiration is reflected in the scenic design through the walkways along the tour routes, the choice of materials for the surfaces, the images, the graphic design, the temperature, the lighting, the atmospheres and the sound in the spaces.

Weightlessness, a physical state

Like water, the interstellar space provides lightness by reducing gravity. This weightlessness is the second source of inspiration for scenic design which reflects this spatial dimension where beings are set free from the restrictions of weight, suspended and freed from the fear of falling. Neither high nor low, this three-dimensional space offers the visitor/actor/dancer a pathway of fluids: it affects their bodies. More generally, the scenic design guides the movement of the public along the tour route, the shape of which mirrors that of the tanks. The aim is to make them feel dizzy from the feeling of depth, arouse their imagination, disorient and destabilise them, so they feel poetic emotions stemming from the state of weightlessness. The exhibition spaces are outside of time and reality. They form a separate world. The spatial staging and above all the staging effects on visitors’ bodies are achieved through mirrors, pivoting floors, double heights, the transparency of the floors and partitions, reflections, oblique planes, projected animated images and sound.

The dynamics of living beings: a priority

The dynamics of visitors’ movements is mirrored by the dynamics in the movements of fauna in the tanks, a living spectacle which is always the same yet always different, as the light moves and as day alternates with night. Rare and precious living beings are the soul of the aquarium. The purpose of scenic design is to augment them. Every effort is made to respect living creatures and ecosystems. Visitors come for this authenticity, this original truth. They want to admire and dream, but also learn and understand. The scenic design supports the visitor. The screens, which provide an open view of the living creatures, prevent the latter from feeling watched and offer an intimate relationship allowing the visitor to contemplate the grace of the movements, the fluidity of the dynamics and the “joyous” vivacity of the creatures of the ocean. Living creatures and the way in which they are showcased with choreography based on light and shade are the focus of our scenic design: the success of a visit to the aquarium depends on this.


Michel Redolfi is a composer and sound designer. The inventor of the concept of underwater music, he transposes this experience into immersive sound installations which are tailored to public spaces and the transport of the future. He has been in charge of NAUSICAA’s sound and music design since it opened in 1991.

NAUSICAA’s scenic design sets it apart from the world’s other great aquariums. The sound design is fully integrated into the scenic design of the tour, like the scientific information and presentation of the living collections. The music is not an ambient bath, but an orchestration of sounds intended to complement the internal architecture of the building while enriching the visit with a sensory dimension. That’s why, for nearly thirty years, Michel Redolfi has designed his installations from the planning stage together with NAUSICAA’s designers themselves: its director Philippe Vallette, the architect Jacques Rougerie, and for the open sea area, the scenic designer Henri Rouvière. So the sound equipment is being incorporated while the building is being built to take the fullest advantage of its acoustic possibilities and enrich its spaces. 

Sound design

For nearly thirty years, Michel Redolfi has designed his installations from the planning stage together with NAUSICAA’s designers themselves: its director Philippe Vallette, the architect Jacques Rougerie, and for the open sea area, the scenic designer Henri Rouvière. So the sound equipment is being incorporated while the building is being built to take the fullest advantage of its acoustic possibilities and enrich its spaces.

Big sound sensations

The open sea is a theme that must be conveyed in a big way with its giant creatures, powerful flows and dizzying depths. The open sea zone offers a galaxy of real and imaginary sounds which Michel Redolfi has created with the team from his studio, Audionaute. The sonic sensations, which are big and often sensory, are produced by highly innovative sound equipment. But for this new tour, he has also made use of the entire orchestra and even the piano to create lyrical touches along the way. A century after Debussy’s death, this composer is still his emotional point of reference when it comes to evoking the sea. But he also draws on undersea sci-fi literature and film, from Jules Verne to James Cameron (The Abyss). It was from this combination of influences that the inspiration for the music and atmosphere for the open sea zone came.

Original recordings captured in situ

This musicality in the educational experience often comes from the box that plays many original recordings which were captured above and below the surface of the oceans, revealing an astonishing diversity of sounds. In the Indian Ocean, Michel Redolfi managed to capture the amazing sound code of the sperm whale: in the spring of 2017, he and the film-maker René Heuzey went on an underwater sound recording expedition off the coast of Mauritius to record the mysterious signals made by these giants of the sea, which had never been captured well until then, from as close up as possible. He was able to dive and swim with a group of cetaceans, and, with a submersible microphone in his hand, he recorded their literally extraterrestrial language for the first time. It was a remarkable close encounter which was included in the soundtrack of the 360° video about these sperm whales.



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