Decoding Design

Designs for Amazon's future headquarters are coming into focus

Posting in Architecture

Amazon is planning to build a larger Seattle headquarters in the near future. Architects have been presenting designs in public meetings, revealing the online retailer's office--and community--goals.

Over the past two months, details have been emerging on Amazon's forthcoming new headquarters in downtown Seattle. Although the online retailer hasn't officially commented on the project, early renderings and plans are easily found online, namely via public documents available from the Seattle Design Commission. The plan, it seems, is to possibly triple the size of Amazon's current headquarters and move them to a new location a few blocks south within the South Lake Union neighborhood. The project could take up to eight years to realize, as the Seattle Times has reported.

So far, the proposed design for Amazon's future home includes three towers of up to 37 stories tall spread over three blocks that Amazon has acquired. These structures will also be connected to smaller buildings via sky bridges. Architecture firm NBBJ, which also designed Seattle's Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation building, is working on the plan. The designers have been meeting regularly with the Seattle Design Commission, presenting their concepts. (A design proposal is available as a PDF online here, along with early renderings from NBBJ.)

But the process of designing a home for a high-profile company comes means every detail is being scrutinized. “We're not rubber stamping anything,” Bryan Stevens of Seattle’s Department of Planning and Development told Seattle TV station King 5 earlier this month. “We are going to look at their application with a keen eye to make sure they've addressed all of the potential impacts that would come with new development.”

For instance, in the minutes of an April 5 presentation by NBBJ on the Amazon project to the Seattle Design Commission, NBBJ's designers were asked to "make it clear how the design benefits the public and the neighborhood, not just Amazon. Show how the design will stimulate activity on the street and in the neighborhood, not just on the plazas. Look beyond the lot lines; do not create a situation where the plazas are great but the streets are dead."

The Commission also recommended that the designers "show how the proposed open spaces fit into the context of the other open spaces in the neighborhood" and "integrate an artist into the design team to help design the public spaces."

As far as the designers' concepts for the new Amazon headquarters, here are some key elements of the project that NBBJ has presented:

  • The site will use small loading docks so there will be space for retail at the ground level and to promote pedestrian interaction; the small docks are possible because a high percentage of deliveries made to Amazon buildings are by carriers with smaller vans, such as UPS
  • The designers are creating what they call an "urban room" or an open, yet defined public space in the areas in between the three connected Amazon towers and the smaller buildings
  • The lower parts of the towers will have a "human scale" at street level and will reflect the neighborhood's existing retail display store fronts and "well-proportioned windows" to create a friendly experience for pedestrians
  • There will be a garden "rich in plant life" to "promote gathering and a sense of community"
  • A park area "designed to be flexible, resilient, and dynamic" in between office buildings will feature "terraced seat steps" where employees and passersby can gather

Amazon is a brand strongly associated with its hometown of Seattle. From the design proposal's language, it seems clear that the company is deeply committed to stay an important economic force in the city. But as its new headquarters will likely transform Seattle's skyline and traffic patterns, Amazon will continue to face numerous rigorous questions and passionate suggestions from Seattle citizens on how to truly be a part of its day-to-day community.

Image: Seattle.gov

[ Via Architect's Newspaper, King5 News, Seattle Times, and others]

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Reena Jana

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Reena Jana has written for the New York Times, Wired, Harvard Business Review online, Fast Company, Architectural Record, Artforum, Time Out New York, Harper's Bazaar, and GQ. Previously, she was the innovation department editor at BusinessWeek. She holds degrees from Columbia University and Barnard College. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure