Most technology companies occupy leafy campuses on the outskirts of urban areas, but Amazon has grown up in the center of Seattle and drawn much of its innovative energy from its big-city location. The giant online retailer’s new headquarters doubles down on its commitment to urban engagement, creating a neighborhood of buildings, plazas, and public open spaces that connects seamlessly with Seattle’s existing metropolitan fabric. The most iconic element is the trio of glass spheres housing a multi-level botanical garden filled with 40,000 plants taken from high-altitude cloud forests from five continents.
Set within the landscaped headquarters, the Spheres are a building in a garden and a garden in a building. The plants represent about 400 species, some of which are extinct in the wild and others are quite rare. To select, nurture, and curate the selection of plants, Amazon hired a full-time horticulturalist, Ron Gagliardo, who had previously worked at the Atlanta Botanical Garden. The collection of plants, which will evolve over time, includes a 55-foot-tall fig tree named Rubi, a 40-foot Australian fern, orchids from Ecuador, and carnivorous pitcher plants.
Waterfalls and a pair of densely planted living walls create the sense of a jungle. To keep all of this flora happy, the climate in the Spheres is set at 72 degrees Fahrenheit and 60 percent humidity during the day, then shifts to 55 degrees and 90 percent humidity at night. The 67,000-square-foot Spheres represent just two percent of the Amazon project but serve as a magnet to bring people together. Open to Amazon employees, they offer a range of places to meet, work, and dine—from a wood-slatted “birds nest” to terraces with banquettes and chairs.
Working with structural engineers at Magnusson Klemencic Associates and NBBJ’s own design computation team, NBBJ architects devised a steel frame made of 180 elongated pentagonal modules inspired by the work of Belgian mathematician Eugène Charles Catalan and defined by the points of five welded arches. While the frame is curved in two directions, the panes of clear, low-iron glass are flat. A 400,000-pound ring beam at the base of the building transfers gravity, wind, and seismic forces from the glass-and-steel façade to concrete columns in the floors below and a central concrete core. The Spheres combine the mathematical and the organic, the pragmatic and the poetic.
The Glass (By Vitro Architectural Glass)
Solarban 60 and Starphire Ultra-Clear glasses were chosen by NBBJ for their clarity and ability to facilitate photosynthesis. Maximizing the amount of solar energy entering the building while limiting heat was imperative, according to David Sadinsky, a senior associate with the firm. “Anything we did on the glass or low-e coating that would interfere with that process was a barrier,” he explained. “That led us to look at glass composition, which eventually drove us to low-iron glass and a specific low-e coating that allowed for 480 nanometers of light to come in while rejecting heat.”
NBBJ modeled more than two dozen glass products before specifying Solarban 60 coating on a Starphire Ultra-Clear glass substrate. “The primary performance criteria we were looking for was the ability of the glass to transmit a specific portion of the solar spectrum to facilitate photosynthesis, while still providing a nice architectural appearance and a clean, white-appearing light,” Sadinsky added.
When united in a standard 1-inch insulating glass unit (IGU), Solarban 60 on Starphire Ultra-Clear glass produces visible light transmittance (VLT) of 74 percent and a solar heat gain coefficient (SHGC) of 0.41.
Northwestern Industries, Seattle, a Vitro Certified™ Network member was the glass fabricator. ENCLOS, Seattle, engineered, fabricated and erected the curtain wall.
To learn more about Solarban 60 glass, Starphire Ultra-Clear glass and other high-performance Vitro Architectural Glass products, visit www.vitroglazings.com or call 1-855-VTRO-GLS (887-6457).
Location: 2111 7th Ave, Seattle, WA 98121, United States
Area: 67000.0 m2
Project Year: 2018
Photographs: Sean Airhart Photography, Bruce Damonte Architectural Photographer, Stuart Isett
Project description courtesy of architects