Today’s traditional office spaces have evolved from basic cubicles and conference rooms to a place of creativity and collaboration through open environments and communal workspaces. Designing an ecosystem for a thriving work culture Amazon created “Spheres.” In the heart of downtown Seattle and adjacent to the retail brand’s 521-foot tall headquarters, it’s an urban conservatory campus that combines elements of nature and with a vision for the workplace of the future.
“We wanted a space for employees to collaborate and innovate,” said Amazon Vice President for Global Real Estate and Facilities John Schoetter. “We asked ourselves: What is missing from the modern office? We discovered that missing element was a link to nature.”
The triple-domed structure took six years of planning, construction, and planting to come to fruition. Designed by Seattle based architecture firm NBBJ, the geometric building was as much an architectural challenge as it was an internal cultivation of an urban forest. The fluid curves of organic geometric shapes were created by pentagonal hexecontahedron Catalans, a 5-sided shape inspired by the Belgian mathematician Eugene Charles Catalan. The largest sphere is 90 feet tall and 130 feet wide, and almost 2.5 million pounds of rebar were used to reinforce the structure. In total, an impressive 2,643 panes of glass cover the surface, promoting photosynthesis and illuminating the interior space of lush growth.
One of the most stunning features is the 60-foot living wall that spans four stories high and made up of 200 species comprising some 25,000 plants. Collectively more than 40,000 plants make up the entire space that is managed by a dedicated staff of ten horticulturists. Many of the plants are brought in from offsite facilities and transplanted into the environment, some of them even being extinct species donated from ecologists. To keep the environment in balance an advanced climate control system keeps daytime temperatures at 72-76 degrees, with humidity around 60 percent. At night the humidity rises to 85 percent to mimic the diurnal cycle required for healthy plant life.
While not entirely open to the public, the Understory, or the first floor, serves as a discovery center for Seattle visitors and tourists alike. Miniature models of the architectural elements communicate the sophistication of the design from the structure and lighting to temperature controls. Select plants are displayed in transparent tubes to showcase the more than 3,000 varieties of plant species that populate the space. Digital screens vibrantly display images of the plant life and origins of the plants.
Above the visitor center floor a wooden canopy bridge circles a large fig tree where an attached “bird’s nest” serves as a meeting nook. Banks of tables and chairs spread out throughout the space help to accommodate up to 800 Amazon employees at a time. Ensuring employees are just as nourished as the plant life; a café on the third floor provides coffee, tea, and baked goods. A public green space welcomes employees to a little outdoor entertainment, and an adjacent dog park serves as a playground for furry friends.
Experts increasingly suggest that access to nature can have a profound impact on brain function by enhancing creativity and increase problem-solving skills, as well as reduce anxiety and stress. Amazon’s move to create Spheres isn’t just about demonstrating cutting edge design and high tech capabilities. It’s about creating a workplace that will attract top talent and foster employees who will lead the way for a future of continued innovation and collaboration.