Once upon a time, back in 1975, a couple opened a small health food shop in Augsburg, Bavaria, selling nut spreads and muesli made with ingredients grown on their nearby farm. Almost 50 years later, Rapunzel Naturkost now produces everything from canned soybeans to buckwheat cereals, making it one of Europe’s leading organic food manufacturers.
The company’s name might call to mind Disney’s Tangled, but it wasn’t the long-haired princess who inspired its branding. Instead, its original namesake is the Rapunzel plant, also known as corn salad or lamb’s lettuce. In the Brothers Grimm version of Rapunzel, the protagonist’s father trades her to an enchantress as payment for stealing these greens to help his ailing wife.
That might not be the most savoury of plot points, yet Rapunzel Naturkost has grown to appreciate the power of a little fairy-tale magic all the same. The outcome can be seen in its fantastical new visitor centre, which the company opened this past fall at its headquarters in Legau, Bavaria (about a 90-minute drive southwest of Munich). Designed by Stuttgart-based firm Haas Cook Zemmrich Studio2050, Rapunzel World — which expects to see 150,000 visitors a year — is part educational facility, part grocery store and part enchanted storybook setting brought to life.
For one thing, there is its northern peak, dubbed “Rapunzel Tower” and punctuated by trapezoidal windows that evoke the fairy tale’s fabled lookout. Inside, “Rapunzel’s Braid” takes the form of a triplespiral, 14.5-metre-tall spruce staircase clad in oak veneer. This sculptural showpiece winds through the 7,560-square-metre building’s three floors, which include everything from yoga and cooking studios to a coffee roastery and wine cellar. Meanwhile, exhibition galleries teach about soil quality and chart a hazelnut’s journey from tree to grocery cart.
Besides co-founding the German Sustainable Building Council (DGNB), the partners at Haas Cook Zemmrich Studio2050 also won the 2020 German Sustainability Award — so it should come as no surprise that the team selected the building’s thoughtful mix of natural and renewable materials using a complete life cycle assessment.
“The design is based on what suppliers and craftspeople who were located within a radius of [25 kilometres] could offer,” says firm partner Martin Haas. Wood, clay and recycled foam glass aggregate make up most of the structure; only the wood for the staircase and the wooden roof’s slip-glazed beavertail tiles are sourced from outside Bavaria.
Wrapping around the entire structure, the sinuous roof touches down in just one corner. “The swinging up-and-down movement gives it a certain poetry,” Haas says. “But the wide overhang also provides natural shading for the daylight-optimized rooms, reducingmechanical air-conditioning to a minimum.”
In another boost to its energy efficiency, the visitor centre taps into a larger network that Rapunzel Naturkost has used for its nearby production facilities since 2007. Complementing the electricity and heat already being generated by this system’s photovoltaic array and biomass plant, respectively, Rapunzel World’s coffee roastery recovers waste heat that is then pumped into two buffer storage tanks in the basement and distributed throughout the building’s pipes for ambient heating.
Triple-insulated glass further optimizes thermal performance while opening views to the project’s landscaping, which includes gardens, orchards and playground equipment carved to look like giant carrots and other supersize vegetables.
Yet the best vantage point is found on the publicly accessible rooftop, reached via a zigzagging external metal staircase. Looking out across the surrounding meadows, it is the perfect spot to unwrap an organic snack bar and perhaps, in true Rapunzel fashion, let down one’s hair to blow in the wind.
With its new visitor’s centre, organic food company Rapunzel Naturkost celebrates the magic of storytelling and sustainable building science.