Best Practice: A total artwork in Darmstadt

The new Alnatura corporate head office has been awarded the German Design Award. That said, sustainability is the building’s primary strength. A look behind the facade.

“An impressive model for sustainable office construction” – such was the jury of the German Design Award’s verdict, as it decided early in the year to award 1st prize in the “Excellent Architecture” category to the new Alnatura Campus in Darmstadt. In late 2019, the Alnatura Campus had already wowed the jury of the National German Sustainability Award “with its extraordinary and truly trend-setting holistic quality” and was swiftly bestowed with the 1st prize in the “Architecture” category. Since 2019 the Alnatura Campus with its building called “Arbeitswelt” – working world – is the new headquarters of the organic food retailer based in south-west Darmstadt. It was masterminded by Stuttgart architectural practice HaasCookZemmrich and was built using a loam structure on re-naturalized grounds formerly occupied by the US military. The open, bright office world provides working space for 500 staff.

Alongside the pleasant working atmosphere, the building’s best features are related to ecology: The aesthetically designed, simple building is the largest in Europe constructed partly using loam, the oldest building material in cultural history. Loam regulates the ambient climate in a natural way and even impacts favourably on the acoustics of the rooms. Year-round natural ventilation is provided by fresh air from the neighbouring forest, which is channelled into the building through an underground intake duct. A PV solar system on the roof generates the building’s electricity, with water for the sanitary facilities and irrigation of the outside spaces provided by a rainwater cistern. In winter months a geothermal plant provides the heat necessary to power the panel heaters integrated into the walls. In summer, the same technology is used to cool the building. Put differently, Alnatura has shown that it is possible to create an almost zero-emission head office at low construction costs.

“The transformation of the former military compound into a peaceful and communally used campus epitomizes the central idea behind Alnatura, namely of creating something worthwhile for humans and the Earth,” comments Götz Rehn, Alnatura founder and CEO, at the opening. His choice of words alludes to an affinity for the field of “anthroposophy”. Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925) founded this school of thought, which takes a holistic, “cosmological” view of humans and the world and is still being put into practice in Waldorf schools, organic farms, and cosmetics companies. Götz Rehn did indeed attend a Waldorf school and after completing high school there studied Economics in Freiburg. While a student, he met the anthroposophist Herbert Witzenmann, whose ideas significantly influenced him the years to come. After working for Nestlé for some time, in 1984 Götz Rehn founded Alnatura, which now operates 134 organic supermarkets across Germany, with a payroll of 3,300 members and annual turnover just short of a billion Euros.

By the way: Visiting the new Alnatura campus in Darmstadt is well worth it. Interestingly Alnatura Headquarter is also home to a Waldorf kindergarden. The ground floor of the new head office boasts a vegetarian restaurant called “tibits” that offers a choice of 40 different homemade dishes and has an outdoor patio with a wonderful view of the large natural pond.

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