From The Spheres to The Helix
2. February 2021
Image courtesy of Amazon
Three years after Amazon opened The Spheres at its downtown Seattle headquarters, the tech company has unveiled The Helix, part of its new HQ2 in Arlington, Virginia. NBBJ is the architect for both biophilic designs.
The Spheres opened in January 2018, at the start of a year that would see cities across the United States vying for Amazon's attention to be selected as the location for HQ2. The hype turned to frustration when, in November 2018, Amazon selected, not one, but two cities for its next headquarters: New York City and Arlington, outside of Washington, DC. Pushback from local politicians in Queens aggravated Amazon, which subsequently pulled out of New York City and focused its efforts on Virginia.
Construction started on the first phase of the $2.5 billion HQ2 in January 2020, but it was not until today that anything architecturally ambitious, on par with The Spheres, was revealed. Enter The Helix, announced today in a blog post on the About Amazon website, the same day the company submitted plans for approval. Indeed it does resemble a double helix, with vegetation spiraling up the exterior of the glassy tower, but people chimed in on Twitter likening it to a poop emoji, the Tower of Babel, and Tatlin's Tower.
Image courtesy of Amazon
The Helix is clearly the centerpiece of the second phase of HQ2, but it is not alone: it's accompanied by three 22-story buildings containing 2.8 million square feet of office space. The Helix itself "will offer a variety of alternative work environments for Amazon employees amidst lush gardens and flourishing trees native to the region," per the blog post, and "feature two walkable paths of landscaped terrain that will spiral up the outside of the building, featuring plantings you may find on a hike in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia."
At pedestrian level, the second phase will feature a 2.5-acre public space (designed by SCAPE) with a "spacious central green" for events and a "forest grove" for quiet and relaxation. Retail, dining, and other facilities are intended to make the complex more of a neighborhood than a tech campus. Even The Helix will be open to the public on certain days of the year, per the announcement. All buildings are being designed to meet LEED Platinum certification, with the whole HQ2 heated and cooled with 100% renewable energy via a solar farm about 200 miles away in southern Virginia.