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The Glass Orbs of Amazon: The Future in a nutshell

Posted by
on November 01, 2014 at 03:55 PM

NBBJ is a multidisciplinary, global firm with 10 offices worldwide. Named among the top 10 most innovative architetcure firms by Fast Company, the firm recently made headlines with their design of Amazon’s proposed office in Seattle, USA. Founded in 1943, NBBJ has locations in Beijing, Boston, Columbus, London, Los Angeles, New York, Pune, San Francisco, Seattle and Shanghai. Their global network of “renaissance teams” includes more than 700 researchers, strategists, nurses, architects, anthropologists, planners and interior designers who generate ideas that have a profound and lasting impact. In focus here is NBBJ's proposed office for Amazon.com, the world’s largest online retailer, to revitalize Seattle’s Denny Triangle neighborhood with the creation of new corporate office space, ground-level retail and public amenities. The much-talked-about trio of glass orbs - biospheres - are intended to create an alternative workspace for the staff and offer relief from the typical high-rise offices all around.

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NBBJ’s design for the Amazon Office is as much of a game-changer as the parent company it is being designed for - the one that has finally been green-lit as a proposal -  why so? Taking into account many principles of sustainability, the dramatically innovative design reflects Amazon’s community-focused culture, and thereby seeks to build a neighborhood rather than a campus. Therefore, urban design principles play a prominent role in the project, with emphasis given to ground-level activity and diversity in building character.

It’s simple. The bold, never-tried-before plan calls for three 37-story towers complemented  with lower volumes, open space, parks, green roofs and art installations to create a whole design unit by itself. Originally, the heart of the campus contained a public park and a low rectangular volume, which was rather nondescript in design – the design studio  however chose to go with a more radical approach with their more striking plan to add three biospheres to the project.

The trio of glass orbs  have a singular purpose -  to create an alternative workspace for Amazon workers and create a change from the existing high-rise offices with their beautiful  glass facades, and monumental scale. The firm  still does beauty and grandeur, but it backs them up with computable data. Data-driven design is about presenting options, not answers, the brains over at NBBJ say. And some options are all about making people happier.

Developed as an extension of the company’s new downtown campus, the project will feature biospheres–made from a steel framework with mullion and overlays of glazing, geodesic domes of sorts, that will be incorporated at the center of the complex, each offering five floors of work spaces for the many employees of Amazon. The transparency of the spheres serves a dual purpose for the designers. By maximizing the amount of sunlight let in — which is usually quite a challenge in  Seattle where the Orbs are being built (considering how it is mostly overcast) — plant life inside the spheres can flourish.

At the same time, the interior spaces fuse with the park and streets directly outside, such that the employees feel like they are not in a working environment, but in a large communal park. This however does not imply that domes are meant to be publicly accessible, they are intended to activate the green space in the city center, and mainly seek to alter the urban experience. The largest dome is expected to be 130 ft in diameter and the smallest about 80 feet in diameter. Inside, the spherical volumes have provisions for a variety of workplaces, dining areas, meeting rooms, lounges and public retail spaces on either end. The scheme also has separate botanical zones  that will feature a range of plants, making the entire enterprise a free-flowing urban garden.

“We know from research that just the act of taking a walk in nature can lessen brain fatigue and stress,” says Andrew Heumann, chief architect at NBBJ of the need to create such an urban oasis in the machine-like density of Seattle’s busy skyline. The hope is that employees will find the unconventional garden experience more natural and relaxing, allowing them to better work and socialize. The design will conclusively enhance public interaction in the outside areas, which is already under order with the addition of a play field and a dog park. The designers believe that doing so will improve the area next to the skyscraper by avoiding dead, blank facades, and help to better define the public spaces in and around the neighborhood.

What is interesting is that the project is also an experiment for openness for Amazon, which has been known to mimic the iron giant that Apple is, in its secretive fortress-like  corporate culture. “It’s a corporate headquarters in a city,” they are quoted, “It’s not a campus with a wall around it.”

Expected to be completed by 2016, the addition will provide approximately 65,000 square feet of open green space and will accommodate the possibility for growth of new and mature trees, changing the face of the office space, and of architectural design.

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