Amazon's new HQ takes design inspiration from DNA and the poop emoji
When a company the size of Amazon starts casually dropping the idea that it'd like to build a second headquarters, state-level politicians start to drool, with jobs and growth spinning around in their eye sockets even faster than dollar signs are spinning around in the eye sockets of Amazon execs. This, remember, is a company that occupies nearly 20 percent of all available office space in Seattle, and its meteoric success has lifted that city's numbers with it, if not necessarily its living conditions.
So began a "Hunger Games of cities" in 2017, as Wired put it, as more than 230 cities across the USA wheeled their offerings in barrows to the altar of Bezos. Tax breaks. Special considerations. Literal piles of cash. It'd all be worth it, they thought, when some 50,000 white-collar jobs, with average salaries around US$150,000 a year, started raining cashed-up, high-tech yuppies into the cafe, retail and school catchments of their towns.
In the end, Amazon chose to split its bounties between New York City and Arlington, Virginia. Not, in the end, because they offered the most money – Montgomery County, Maryland, prostrated itself with US$8.5 billion outstretched, Chicago took the extraordinary step of offering Amazon half of the payroll tax paid by its employees, and the mayor of Kansas City, Missouri, personally bought 1,000 things off Amazon just so he could leave a thousand five-star ratings, presumably trying to talk to these technology people in a language they'd understand.
No, New York won because it was New York, and Arlington won because it's right across the river from Washington, DC. Not that they didn't offer incentives – indeed the public opposition to the New York deal ended up causing Amazon to pull out – but in the end, location was paramount.
All of which is merely an interesting preamble to today's announcement of what HQ2 in Arlington is actually going to look like. Amazon released some renders today, and the new facility, designed by architecture firm NBBJ, will certainly be a landmark.
There will be three new 22-storey buildings on the site, built to the highest sustainability certification offered by the U.S. Green Building Council, running entirely on outsourced solar and offering 2.8 million square feet of office space between them. And nobody's going to notice them at all because of the giant, swirly, green-and-glass soft serve ice cream dollop in the middle.
It's called the Helix, and while it will have some offices and "alternative work environments" built into it, the two walking paths spiraling up the outside will be the structure's calling card. Landscaped with "lush gardens and flourishing trees native to the region," it'll offer a neat little urban hiking experience, as well as spaces for artists to sit and be inspired by their green, spirally surroundings and make stuff. The overall vibe could end up being reminiscent of the spectacular Cloud Forest biodome and its skywalks in Singapore, but with an American twist instead of a tropical one.
It'll be opened up to the public "several weekends a month," and the rest of the compound will offer some 2.5 acres of public space, including an amphitheater, a "forest grove," a central green capable of hosting markets, concerts and outdoor movies, retail spaces, restaurants, childcare centers, food truck accommodations and a "dog run." A separate 20,000 square foot "community space" will host community meetings, classes and such.
We've seen a couple of other striking NBBJ designs in the last 12 months, notably the spiraling gardens climbing up the Vivo HQ, and an entirely new neighborhood the size of Manhattan – both in Shenzhen, China. The Helix and the rest of Amazon's HQ2 campus will be another impressive feather in this firm's cap, and quite a landmark for Arlington. More photos in the gallery!