Amazon.com’s ambitious plans to erect three massive 37-story office towers in the Denny Triangle area of downtown Seattle isn’t about building a corporate campus, it’s about building a neighborhood. At least that’s the view of NBBJ’s John Savo, the architect for Amazon.com.
In front of standing room only crowd Tuesday night at City Hall, Savo addressed members of Seattle’s Design Review Board about a project that has the possibility to transform the city by connecting the South Lake Union neighborhood to the downtown retail core around Westlake Park.
Throughout his remarks, Savo stressed the importance of making the space accessible to the public, highlighting the importance of pocket parks, artwork, retail storefronts and green spaces that “emphasize the pedestrian.” In that regard, Savo described the overall project as an “urban room.”
“It is very important if we are going to treat this truly as open space that people feel invited into the spaces,” Savo said. If all goes as planned, the entire project could take up to eight years to build in three phases.
Savo and NBBJ’s Dale Alberda described four different plans during the course of the meeting, spending most of the time explaining the benefits of the “hybrid” or “preferred” scheme which includes a large amount of public space wrapped around the buildings and “sun pockets” where individuals can gather when the gray skies disappear.
The plan also calls for redesigned transit stop on Westlake Avenue and a 2,000-person auditorium, more in the style of a hotel ballroom than a concert venue. (Savo said it has not yet been determined whether that facility would be open to the public).
In addition, Alberda said Amazon.com is excited about “incubator buildings” — smaller buildings that are 75-feet wide and six or seven stories tall — that would connect the towers via skybridges. The whole idea behind the building layout would be to maintain the flow of the downtown grid, but make at “least one gesture to South Lake Union,” Alberda said.
South Lake Union is the location of Amazon’s new headquarters, a spread of new office buildings that it is already outgrowing. The company now employs more than 56,000 people, adding 4,900 workers during the fourth quarter of last year.
Here’s Alberda describing the “hybrid” plan at Tuesday night’s meeting:
As anticipated, the meeting did come with a few fireworks. Members of the pro-labor group Working Washington posed questions and offered statements that were phrased in a way to draw attention to Amazon.com’s alleged mistreatment of workers and its controversial stance on taxes.
No representatives from Amazon.com spoke publicly at the meeting. But Savo stressed the company’s desire to be a good neighbor, noting that the project is designed to be “porous” so that pedestrians can easily pass through it.
“As we have been reminded again and again by our client, we are building a neighborhood, not a campus,” said Savo. “And so that is part of what we are trying to do, so it is inviting to the employees to get out of the buildings. (Amazon) would actually like to see that happen. I mean how many high-tech companies do you know that want to be in a downtown? I don’t know any that have anything near this scale. We are doing a number of campuses out in the suburbs and on greenfield sites and old abandoned sites in other places, that you have a lot of freedom about what you do. But people are not engaging in the city life. I think this is a very smart move to be downtown, with the recruiting and the retention, because they want the people to get out of the building. They want people to walk their dog, eat outside, to invite their family in to come meet them here.”
Jevon Barlas might be one of those folks to use the new urban space. A nearby resident who described the project as in his “front yard,” Barlas was largely supportive of the “hybrid” plan.
He suggested Amazon design buildings that varied in height so it didn’t look like a box from a distance, whether from a ferry in Elliott Bay or from a car along I-5. And he suggested buildings with some color that were a bit different, noting that most of the buildings going up in the neighborhood are black and gray.
“Something that is a little bit brighter would be welcome in this neighborhood … and would go well with what seems like a lot of park space and the vibrancy they are trying to add to this area,” he said.
Here are some documents previously filed with the city about the project.