by STIRworldApr 22, 2023
How does a fairytale manifest as architecture? And in the process, is it possible to educate its users about sustainable food production?
Stuttgart-based German architectural firm haascookzemmrich STUDIO2050 brings alive elements of fair-haired Rapunzel's fairytale in their latest architectural project, the new Rapunzel World, a visitor centre created as a 'walk-in building sculpture' on organic food producer and distributor Rapunzel Naturkost’s premises in Legau, in the district of Unterallgäu in Bavaria, Germany. Replete with an enormous floating roof and a 'braided' spiral staircase, the cultural architecture was conceived over three years of construction, and was designed "to be public and inviting, and is intended to make Rapunzel's leitmotif 'We make organic out of love' tangible for visitors—a house full of discoveries that invites guests to linger and participate with varied and emotional imparting of knowledge," shares Martin Haas, Founder and Partner at haascookzemmrich STUDIO2050.
"Observing the natural cycles of nature is a basis of organic farming. The architecture of the Rapunzel world also feels committed to the principles of an ecologically sensible circular economy. The building technology was reduced to a minimum. We use daylight and the microclimate and largely do without mechanical air conditioning. I hope that the floating and protective roof band that soars up into the Rapunzel Tower, the wings of the building stretching out into the natural environment and the careful choice of building materials that are as regional as possible will also illustrate these principles to the visitor when developing the visitor centre," Haas continues.
Reaching 21m, the 'Rapunzel Tower,' situated at the single-story sculptural building’s northern, highest point welcomes visitors, rising from a landscaped 'fairytale garden', which continues onto the shingled roof adorned with dormer windows. This gestural floating roof spans the entire visitor centre, wrapping itself around the building like a band, and surprisingly, without limiting views to and from it. “An open and invitingly accessible sculpture, where at the end, the crow's nest allows a view of the landscape,” the German architect says.
According to haascookzemmrich STUDIO2050, the new Rapunzel Visitor Center is a “building of many surprises,” making the leitmotif of the company tangible across all senses through its spatial programme, beginning with the exhibition space, where visitors can learn interesting facts about cultivation, fair trade, and production as well as sustainable living at interactive stations. A coffee roastery inside is designed in such a way, that one can watch the roasting and processing, enveloped in the delightful smell of the coffee. In addition to the bakery and the organic market, the visitor centre also contains various rooms of discovery and learning, such as those for training courses, yoga, and other activities. "The playfully designed fairytale garden leads to the tropical house, where you can watch the coffee plants grow,” he adds.
Rapunzel’s uber-lengthy braided hair is manifested in the form of a large, spiral wooden staircase design that denotes the public and central space of the Rapunzel World, in tandem with connecting all floors from the wine cellar to the exhibition space, the gallery above, and the terrace that boasts all-round vistas. Apart from the obvious, huge elements of the building, haascookzemmrich STUDIO2050 also included varied smaller details such as the copper downpipes of interlocking pots, or the playfully offset roof tiles, each with its own colour nuance, contributing to the 'special character' of the new Rapunzel Visitor Center.
Finding genesis on the ground floor, the 12-tonne, 14.5 meter-high triple-spiral, self-supporting stringer staircase is articulated entirely as a timber construction, essaying the heart of the interior design, as its main connecting element. Its primary load-bearing element is formed by the stair’s stringers made of curved laminated veneer lumber with a thickness of 15 cm and integrated into the balustrade.
"To reduce the susceptibility to vibration on the platforms, they are rigidly connected to the concrete structure via slotted sheets and consist of oak and spruce veneer layers with different orientations according to the structural requirements. The outer veneer layer consists of oak wood. It is arranged with the grain in the vertical direction and gives the staircase its specific appearance. The risers and steps were connected to the load-bearing stringers using an ingenious arrangement of fasteners in order to create the three-dimensional load-bearing effect and the clamping between the storey levels. The production took place in individual segments with up to eight stages. The veneers of the cheeks were first glued to prefabricated moulds and then processed with a CNC-controlled milling machine. Then the outer and inner stringers were joined together with the risers and finally the steps were inserted,” Haas explains.
The roof as a connecting band
Like a bucket hat, the softly undulant wooden form of the roof was directed by the three wings of the Rapunzel Visitor Center stretching into the natural landscape below, each containing different areas of use. The wooden roof construction clad in tiles gives it a slightly shimmery, coppery patina, wrapping itself around the building as a "continuous, floating band," to unite the three zones underneath. The roof only touches the ground in the tower area, and otherwise floats across the entire span. The glass façade runs along the entire perimeter of the ground floor, remaining as free and transparent as possible, allowing a substantial number of entrances and exits. The curated placement of the dormer windows on this roof ensures targeted views from inside the building, as well as a generous influx of natural light within the upper floors.
"The complexity of the experience spaces is a special feature of the visitor centre. Irrespective of which of the two equal entrances the visitor enters the building from, they are received and distributed via the centre," adds Haas. The glazed interior partitions of the Rapunzel World permit generous insights into the coffee roastery and the bakery. Inside the gallery, one can look through the display facade to the roastery, and proceed either to the front zone of the exhibition area or to the office area that lies at the building’s south wing.
The cooking workshop room and the seminar and yoga room (which can also be used as a conference room), are located on the second floor. Wine seminars, wine tastings and other small events can take place in the wine cellar, which is located in the basement and can be accessed through the spiral staircase, or the core of three staircases within the building’s three wings.
According to haascookzemmrich STUDIO2050, the interactive exhibition on the first floor “is the key to discovering the organic experience holistically and also to sharpening and appreciating the view of the rest of the structure.” The exhibition titled From the plate back to the field is designed by Atelier Markgraph and involves the visitors on approximately 600 sqm of area, comprising a wide range of digital and analogue exhibits and stations, placed in a scenography of thematic units such as the kitchen, laboratory, or cultivation fields, relaying Rapunzel's proverbial commitment and ethos.
A building of ecology, sustainability, learning, and organic production
"Observing the natural cycles of nature is the basis of organic farming. In the visitor centre's exhibition, visitors learn everything about the aspects of healthy nutrition, about its cultivation and processing,” Haas says. “We have also committed ourselves to this principle of an ecological circular economy in the architecture of the Rapunzel World. Natural and renewable building materials such as wood and clay were used and the building services were reduced to a necessary minimum,” he continues, highlighting the sustainable design features of the structure that imperceptibly reaches a height of 4-10.5 m.
Moreover, no styrofoam was employed for the insulation and the subfloor, and instead, recycled foam glass gravel was used for the sustainable architecture. All materials, colours, and coatings are mineral-based and ecologically directed. Daylight is used to the maximum within the building’s interior design with lofty ceilings, and mechanical air conditioning was largely done away with. "Here we used what nature provides us with as a microclimate on site, to build a robust, and therefore, a durable house that works with nature and not against it," inform the founders of the German architectural practice, Martin Haas, David Cook and Stephan Zemmrich.
They also went on to relay that all the craft businesses that were involved in the construction of the Rapunzel Visitor Center are in the immediate vicinity of Legau. From local wood to the neighbouring gravel, local materials were used to keep the ecological impact of long transport routes to a minimum. They only resorted to more distant partners for the staircase and the fine engobe bricks, "as only the brick kilns in Switzerland still had old kilns that allowed a special type of engobe. The building not only strengthens the region, but also helps the environment by avoiding emissions and resource consumption in transport,” Haas explains.
All areas of the German architecture connect to the centrally located ‘Genießerwiese,' the heart of the garden, lined with white pears and ornamental plums, as well as seating for picnics. The nuts and vegetable playground, its depths survived by hazelnut bushes, desire to be discovered. From here, visitors can head into the greenhouse, which unmistakably shapes the garden and makes one of the central themes of the visitor centre—coffee—tangible, with real coffee plants blooming here.
"Whether socialising on the long benches under the white blossoms of the pear or experiencing peace, shade, and fragrant wood in the sunken path, the experience is pleasant. The idea was that the open space should enchant the guests, into which they dive and from which they return home strengthened and inspired,” shares Haas. As is with the entire building complex, the choice of materials and vegetation here seeks a connection to the natural environment and, in accordance with Rapunzel's requirements, demonstrates a sense of responsibility for delivery routes and value. “Regional is the first choice and sometimes, simple is better,” he adds.
The arrangement and positioning of the rooms inside the contemporary architecture, as well as its window openings, were determined according to microclimatic aspects. The substantial overhang of the wide roof ensures natural shading of the daylight-optimised areas of Rapunzel World, accompanying the natural ventilation that was governed by the plan. “Only the areas of the roasting plant still have to be mechanically ventilated, since the heat loads here exceed normal levels. The building was connected to the already good local heating network and the solar power generation from Rapunzel. A life cycle assessment was drawn up and the energy involved, recyclability and transport were decisive factors in the choice of materials. Whenever possible, preference was given to renewable or recyclable building materials,” shares haascookzemmrich STUDIO2050.
Through its architecture and contemporary design, the Rapunzel Visitor Centre takes its visitors a step closer to understanding how imperative it is to find routes into ecological farming practices and using organic produce, for the health of our planet, and ultimately, us, who inhabit it. By asking them to engage in the very process of sustainable food production, the space serves dollops of information and inspiration for the general public, to encourage them to transform our current choice of food productions.
Name: Rapunzel Visitor Center
Location: Legau, Unterallgäu, Bavaria, Germany
Gross Floor Area: 7,560 sqm
Building Volume: 31,400 cu m
Client: Rapunzel Naturkost
Architect: haascookzemmrich STUDIO2050
Design team: Sinan Tiryaki, Lisa Ruiu (project leads); Lena Lang, Yohhei Kawasaki, Ariane Prevedel, Katharina Hoppenstedt, Elisabeth Wiest, Xun Li, Felix Wolf, Sabrina Carrico (planning team)
Open Space Planning: Ramboll Studio Dreiseitl – Überlingen - Hendrik Porst, Berthold Flieger (project leads)
General Contractor: Gebr. Filgis GmbH & Co. KG - Alexander Saab (construction manager); Alexander Huber, Marco Klein (planning team)
Exhibition Concept and Design: Atelier Markgraph, Frankfurt/Main - Uta Brinksmeier (project lead), Mareike Schmitt
Structural Engineering: Ecoplan Ing. GmbH, Fleischwangen - Thomas Pfister (project lead)
Building Physics: UMT Umweltingenieure GmbH, Ulm - Hartmut Kayser, Verena Klotz (project lead)
Energy Concept: Transsolar – Stuttgart - Monika Schulz, Christoph Stetter (project lead)
Fire Protection Consultant: Tichelmann & Barillas – Darmstadt - Frank Kramarczyk (project lead)
HVAC/ Mechanical Engineering: Transplan Technik – Bauplanung GmbH, Stuttgart - Eckehart Ulmer (project lead), Rick Huber
Electrical Engineering: g+h projektplan GmbH, Eislingen - Catalin Hilgarth (project lead)