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Is it an office, or is it a rainforest?

The Spheres is the result of innovative thinking about the character of the workplace and has no enclosed offices or desks

Plants, trees and sunlight take centre stage in The Spheres. Picture: Jordan Stead, Amazon
Plants, trees and sunlight take centre stage in The Spheres. Picture: Jordan Stead, Amazon

Amazon has opened its newest Seattle headquarter buildings that are home to more than 40,000 plants from around the world.


There are no enclosed offices, conference spaces, or desks and the working environment in The Spheres is more like a tropical rainforest in the clouds than an office. Plants, trees, sunlight, soil, and water take centre stage and 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. Amazon says studies suggest spaces that embrace biophilic design can inspire creativity and even improve brain function.


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.


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 project created more than 600 full-time jobs, and is part of Amazon’s more than $4 billion investment in the design, development, and construction of its Seattle HQ.


"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 centre 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 programmes 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 are sure to become an iconic part of downtown Seattle, and I applaud Amazon for its latest innovation," 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."


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