Picture this: a retail hub, with several stories of office space on top. But also, it’s in a forest full of rare plants from around the world, navigable by suspension bridges and canopy walks and encased in four-story steel and glass spheres.
That’s the vision for the triumvirate of orbs — or biospheres as Amazon calls them — under construction on the second block of the company’s campus in Seattle’s Denny Triangle neighborhood, just north of downtown.
Amazon Director of Global Real Estate and Facilities John Schoettler gave insight into Amazon’s new campus, its impact on the neighborhood and everything that went into building the spheres as part of the Washington chapter of NAIOP’s annual property tour Thursday.
When all of Amazon’s current work is complete in about 2022, Schoettler said the company will occupy approximately 12 million square feet in 40 buildings. That includes two more blocks in the Denny Triangle that will be developed over the next couple years.
The idea for the spheres came from Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, who wanted the new campus to include an architectural icon. Originally, the site of the spheres was supposed to have a six-story office building, but Bezos wanted to build something people will remember 100 years from now.
“This is our world headquarters, and we don’t make all of our buildings really flashy, but let’s make something really unique, something special,” Schoettler said Bezos told him.
The second office building on the campus is set to open in November, but the orbs will open about a year later in late 2017 or early 2018. Maria Royer of Real Retail, which works with Amazon on retail in its buildings, said the gap between the opening of the offices on the block and the orbs is due to a large tree currently stored out in Woodinville that will be transplanted into one of the spheres. To do that, some of the panels on top will have to be removed and the tree will be lowered into the orb.
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Amazon’s urban forest will include 10,000 plants from 3,000 different species, and Amazon now has a horticulturist on staff. The idea to fill the spheres with plants came out of internal research showing that employees need a connection to nature.
One big challenge to creating this contained forest is finding plants that would thrive in a cool, dry environment that is comfortable for humans rather than a hot and humid greenhouse-like setting. During the day, temperatures will be around 68 to 70 degrees with low humidity and by night temperatures will drop but humidity will increase.
“It’s designed for people by day, plants by night,” Schoettler said. “Most conservatories are very hot and humid and not places you’d want to stay very long or bring your laptop in.”
The three spheres will include about 6,500 square feet of total retail space, but Royer and Schoettler would not say what kind of retail will go into those spaces.
Much like what it has done in South Lake Union, Amazon is catalyzing development in the Denny Triangle. Retail is a big part of that. The next block to be built will have 40,000 square feet of retail space, the same amount as the first two blocks combined. Half of that will be dedicated to an entertainment use designed to make the neighborhood more of a destination on nights and weekends. An exciting neighborhood can be a draw for top-tier talent.
“Where you want to live and where you want to work has got to have that critical mass of energy,” Royer said. “When you walk out of a hard day’s work and you want a cocktail, you want to have a great cocktail. You want to have it in a place that’s fun and inviting and where everybody wants to be.”
Amazon acquired the land for its campus from Clise Properties, a long-time landholder in the neighborhood, through multiple transactions that totaled more than $259 million. Clise is taking advantage of the energy Amazon is bringing to the neighborhood. Clise is under construction on a 40-story apartment tower in the neighborhood, and it is planning to build a data center and another apartment project with a pair of high-rise towers.
“We used to have 100 pounds of hamburger, and we sold 55 pounds of it to Amazon, and mysteriously the other 45 pounds turned into tenderloin,” said Richard Stevenson, president of Clise.