The Spheres—the newest buildings on Amazon’s campus in downtown Seattle—have no enclosed offices, conference spaces, or desks, and employees can meet in treehouses suspended under 40+ foot trees or in sitting areas and walking paths alongside cascading waterfalls. Plants, trees, sunlight, soil, and water take center stage – the sound of running water and the scent of flowering plants create an instant botanical immersion that takes visitors far away from the urban landscape. The project is part of Amazon’s more than $4 billion investment in the design, development, and construction of its Seattle HQ.
The Spheres, designed by the architecture firm NBBJ, are meant for internal use by Amazon employees, providing a contemplative break from the boxy shapes and right angles of the surrounding urban neighborhood. They are home to more than 40,000 plants from around the world. There’s no place else in the world quite like it – a spot where Amazon employees can work in an environment that’s more like a tropical rainforest in the clouds than an office. Plants, trees, sunlight, soil, and water take center stage – the sound of running water and the scent of flowering plants create an instant botanical immersion that takes visitors far away from the urban landscape. The Spheres are a result of innovative thinking about the character of the workplace and an extended conversation about what is typically missing from urban offices – a direct link to nature. Studies suggest that spaces that embrace biophilic design can inspire creativity and even improve brain function.
“Our goal with The Spheres was to create a unique gathering place where employees could collaborate and innovate together, and where the Seattle community could gather to experience biodiversity in the center of the city,” said John Schoettler, Amazon Vice President of Global Real Estate and Facilities.
The Spheres feature treehouse meeting rooms, river and waterfall features, paludariums, a four-story living wall, and epiphytic trees. They are home to more than 400 species spanning five continents and 50 countries, and many of the plants have journeyed from botanical gardens, tree nurseries, and conservation programs from around the globe. Many of the plants inside The Spheres are from cloud forest ecosystems, where plants thrive on mountainsides at an altitude ranging from 3,000 to 10,000 feet. Plants in these ecosystems have adapted to cooler temperatures, which makes their climate needs comfortable for people, too.
Amazon is committed to sharing the beauty and biodiversity inside The Spheres with the public and will provide educational opportunities to the Seattle community through tours, field trips and partnerships with local schools and universities. The Spheres also include a visitor center – called The Understory – that is open to the public year-round. The Understory provides a fully immersive, 360-degree experience where visitors can get up close and personal with the science, engineering, and plants behind The Spheres.
Governor Jay Inslee said, “These unique buildings are so much more than a beautiful creative space for Amazon employees. They will help conserve a number of rare plant species from around the world and provide countless educational opportunities for local students – and that’s something Washington can take pride in.” “This unique landscape will bring together students, visitors, and residents in the heart of our City,” added Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan. According to Toby Bradshaw, Professor and Chair at the University of Washington Department of Biology, “The use of plant biodiversity — including the ‘weird’ and ‘ugly’ specimens — to tell the story of interconnections among living things will be an inspiration to all who visit and work at The Spheres.”
About The Spheres
The Spheres were built to create a wide variety of ways to communicate, work and dine on five different levels in the backdrop of dramatic plant installations including living walls, paludariums and treehouse gathering spaces. Below are a few facts about The Spheres, as well as what visitors will find within and around them:
- More than 600 full-time jobs created through the design, build and construction of The Spheres.
- More than 620 tons of steel, or enough steel to build the Space Needle three times
- 12 million pounds of concrete used in the construction, or enough concrete to build a highway from Seattle to Sacramento, CA.
- The exterior façade features a naturally occurring shape in nature called a “Catalan,” which is derived from the face of a pentagonal hexecontahedron Catalan solid – the shape repeats throughout The Spheres with 60 faces per Sphere and 180 total
- The Spheres’ façade contains 2,643 panes of glass that are ultra-clear and energy-efficient, with a film interlayer to keep out infrared wavelengths that produce unwanted heat
- Structural engineers tested The Spheres for all kinds of environmental factors, including 91 different scenarios. At the base of The Spheres, a 400,000-pound ring beam transfers heavy loads of gravity, wind and seismic forces from the glass-and-steel façade to columns in the parking garage below
- The largest Sphere is more than 90 feet tall and 130 feet in diameter
- All three Spheres share a single indoor environment, which makes air flow critical between the buildings. Radiant floor heating and cooling is an efficient way to balance indoor temperature, and also ensures that less hot and dry air circulates through the HVAC system.
- More than 40,000 plants and over 400 species will call The Spheres home at any given time
- The Spheres’ plant collection spans five continents, and includes specimens from The University of Washington and Atlanta Botanical Garden
- Many of the plants inside The Spheres are found in cloud forests, a remarkably diverse type of high-elevation tropical forest that receives much of its moisture from direct contact with clouds rather than from rain
- Cloud forest ecosystems are typically located at high altitudes (3,000 to 10,000 feet), and they are found in tropical and subtropical mountainous regions of the world, where cooler temperatures on mountain slopes cause clouds to form
- Cloud forest plants depend on cool, humid conditions. To ensure that both people and plants can thrive, The Spheres operate on a diurnal cycle – the daytime temperature inside will average 72 degrees with humidity around 60 percent, and the nighttime temperature will average 55 degrees with humidity around 85 percent.
- The space can seat about 800 people.
The Spheres largest inhabitant – a Ficus rubiginosa dubbed “Rubi” – was planted at a tree farm in California in 1969. Today, Rubi is 55-feet tall, 22-feet wide and weighs nearly 36,000 lbs. Caption: Rubi traveled more than 1,200 miles on the back of a flatbed truck, arriving in Seattle after a 3-day journey through California, Nevada, Oregon and Washington. Because of her size, Rubi had to be craned into The Spheres through a small opening at the top. (A video of how Rubi came to The Spheres is at https://youtu.be/bQmJOiuUM6A .)