Creating a New and Inspiring Neighborhood
Amazon’s vision was to build much more than an office complex for its new headquarters in downtown Seattle. Instead, Amazon wanted to create a neighborhood that would enhance the lives of its workers and the wider public, reflecting the company’s community-focused culture.
Starting in 2012, this ambitious project initially was envisioned to incorporate three 37-story office towers, two mid-rise office towers and a multi-purpose meeting center with seating for 2,000 people. Two additional office towers have recently been added to the complex and are currently in design.
The centrepiece of the neighbourhood is unique – three interconnected glass biodomes, housing thousands of plants and trees from around the world. Designed to refresh and inspire Amazon workers, The Spheres represent a total departure from the standard urban workplace.
WSP’s role in creating Amazon’s pioneering work hub has included mechanical, plumbing, lighting and high performance sustainable design services. For example, our engineers devised an innovative heating solution for The Spheres that would meet Seattle’s stringent energy code requirements. This involved piping waste heat from a nearby, third-party owned, data-center directly to the neighborhood’s central utility plant that was designed by WSP to serve the entire development.
WSP provided mechanical and plumbing engineering, high performance design consulting and lighting design services for this glass-encased, mini rainforest. Our challenge was to create an environment in The Spheres that would allow the plants to flourish, while being a comfortable and relaxing haven for people. We worked in close collaboration with the whole project team, including landscape architects, and horticulturalists to understand the project’s complexities and resolve problems, such as the issue of condensation and how to avoid unsightly ducts. We used sophisticated software programs to understand airflow patterns within the structures, allowing us to successfully hide services, with some air supply vents even disguised in the form of artificial tree stumps.
Lighting was another complex area. Detailed planning was essential to strike a balance between light levels that were bright enough for equatorial plants, yet low enough to create a ‘resort like’ feel.
The end-result is an awe-inspiring, ‘cloud forest’ sanctuary in the heart of Seattle’s Denny Regrade area.
Center of Energy
WSP’s architectural lighting design studio’s key focus was to design an illumination strategy for a dynamic, multi-use area housed within each of the three high-rise towers that would act as the unifying heart of the whole neighborhood. Known as the Center of Energy, these connected spaces would provide a series of spaces for retail, dining and meeting, as well as communal areas designed to encourage open, spontaneous collaboration.
Our designers understood the utmost importance of flexibility for the client and the need for the lighting concept to adapt to changes in space use. The wellbeing and comfort of building users were also of paramount concern.
WSP used cable-mounted, LED cylinders to produce an overall level of low contrast ambient light to create a comfortable visual experience, while decorative fixtures and integrated lighting elements enhance visual interest in the space.
Our designers made full use of building information modelling (BIM), clash detection and extensive on-site reviews to ensure that the lighting would complement the architectural design concept, accommodate flexible space use and enhance the overall aesthetic.
Furthermore, the project exceeded the stringent demands of Seattle’s energy code by 20%, helping the building to attain LEED Gold certification. The code permits 0.90 watts per square foot, but Amazon in the Regrade requires just 0.72 watts per square foot.