The first bite is with the eye: Architecture to whet the appetite

Restaurants with expressive architecture offer guests a feast for both the eyes and the taste buds. In terms of sustainable design, the Wälderhaus in Hamburg is one of a kind. It perfectly pairs cuisine and architecture.

© Kay Riechers, Hamburg

© Miguel Ferraz, Hamburg

Andreas Heller designed the extraordinary Wälderhaus building in Hamburg-Wilhelmsburg. (Photo:© Miguel Ferraz, Hamburg)

At a glance: The Wälderhaus 

The Wälderhaus in Hamburg-Wilhelmsburg was brought to life as an ‘excellence project’ of the International Building Exhibitions (IBA) in 2013. The building’s owner and operator is the Schutzgemeinschaft Deutscher Wald, Landesverband Hamburg e.V [German Forest Protection Association, Hamburg Division], whose Managing Director is Barbara Makowka. The Restaurant Wilhelms im Wälderhaus was awarded the METRO Award  for Sustainable Hospitality in 2022.

A restaurant that wants to delight its guests needs good cooking, friendly and efficient service, and an architectural design that guarantees an atmosphere of well-being,’ says Barbara Makowka, manager of the Wälderhaus. Architect Andreas Heller, who designed the extraordinary Wälderhaus building in Hamburg-Wilhelmsburg, adds: ‘Going out to eat is an emotional occasion that goes beyond mere appetite. It is often said that the first bite is with the eye.’

Opened in 2012, the Wälderhaus combines its restaurant, hotel, conference rooms and a forest experience exhibition under one roof. The ‘forest and wood’ motif is in evidence throughout the building. The upper three floors that house the hotel are constructed entirely from spruce. The green roof and the entire untreated larch facade offer feeding and nesting opportunities in their vegetation for birds and other small animals.

The greatest challenge has been fire protection. At the time of planning, a wooden construction like this was an innovation for which planning regulations didn’t exist.‘Both of the lower floors include a meeting place and a full kitchen, so we had to build these out of reinforced concrete,’ says Andreas Heller.

Nature sprouts from the walls

Directly inside the Wälderhaus entrance is a tree sculpture that reaches from the foyer to the second floor – an artwork on permanent loan from the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei. ‘We brought the forest into the building,’ says Heller. In Restaurant Wilhelms, branches seem to grow directly out of the reinforced concrete on the ceilings and walls. The tables, chairs and counters are also made of wood. ‘We want to improve the interior design  even further. We’re discussing ways to revegetate the walls with elements such as moss and ivy,’ says Barbara Makowka.

 © Kay Riechers, Hamburg
© Kay Riechers, Hamburg
 © Kay Riechers, Hamburg
© Kay Riechers, Hamburg
 © Kay Riechers, Hamburg
© Kay Riechers, Hamburg
 © Kay Riechers, Hamburg
© Kay Riechers, Hamburg
 © Kay Riechers, Hamburg
© Kay Riechers, Hamburg
 © Kay Riechers, Hamburg
© Kay Riechers, Hamburg

On the upper floors, the solid spruce creates a warm atmosphere in the 82 rooms of the 3-star superior hotel. ‘It smells pleasantly of wood,’ says the Wälderhaus manager. Each room bears the name of an indigenous tree species, with pictures and text to provide additional background information about the species. There are no radiators as the Wälderhaus relies on energy-saving technologies. A ventilation system ensures highly efficient heat recovery.

Architecture and cuisine in harmony

Everything comes together perfectly in the Wälderhaus, where indoors and outdoors are fully integrated into a unified concept – right down to the kitchen philosophy. ‘The architecture of a restaurant should always be attuned to its cuisine and the target group,’ explains Andreas Heller. The Restaurant Wilhelms im Wälderhaus attracts an urban audience whose environmental awareness and health consciousness are as apparent in their lives as on their plates. Right from the start, the focus has been on sustainable and local cuisine that reflects the seasons. ‘The architecture,’ explains Heller, ‘also relies on regional materials, with most of the wood coming from Germany. This allows a common ‘language’ to emerge, which builds authenticity and is well received by the guests.’

Everything is a feast for the eyes

Spectacular gourmet architecture? Four examples from around the world!

Pleasure for all the senses: Top-class restaurant Steiereck in Vienna Stadtpark’s former milk pavilion was expanded in 2012 with four pavilions featuring reflective metal facades. The huge window fronts that can be opened enhance the feeling of dining close to nature.

Sacred gourmet temple: Restaurant The Jane in Antwerp is located in a former church. What was once the altar is now a fully glazed kitchen, the organ loft serves as a bar, and a huge chandelier hangs above the guests.

Haute cuisine on the ski slopes: Built high above Andermatt in Switzerland in 2019, a modern mountain lodge houses two 1-star restaurants in one: Gütsch and The Japanese. The terraces and panorama windows offer breathtaking views of the mountain scenery.

The celebrated architect’s sphere: The newly constructed Niemeyer Sphere in Leipzig is reminiscent of an oversized golf ball stuck to a brick building. The ball-like construction was designed by architectural legend Oscar Niemeyer from Brazil, who passed away in 2012.

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