Amazon unveiled plans Tuesday to build a futuristic building modeled after a double helix to serve as the centerpiece of its Arlington, Va., headquarters.
In artists’ renderings, the 350-foot-tall building — designed by Seattle-based architectural firm NBBJ to reflect nature’s fondness for the helix in areas from DNA to the Milky Way galaxy — climbs above its National Landing neighborhood like the swirl on an ice cream cone or the tip of a giant screw that has punched through the Earth’s surface. NBBJ also designed the Spheres that anchor Amazon’s principal headquarters, in Seattle.
Amazon officials said the structure is intended to be an alternative workspace, not a traditional office building, where employees would be able to air out ideas and find downtime beyond their cubicles. Trees dot terraces along two walkways that spiral upward, evoking the feel of a stroll through the Blue Ridge Mountains. The streetscape below, with wood-frame retail pavilions and green space, is designed to appeal to people and keep them around when the workday ends.
Company officials said they want the corporate complex to blend with the neighborhood, offering features such as a community center, an amphitheater, a dog run, new bicycle lanes and 2.5 acres of green space that would be open to anyone. The Helix would include an artists-in-residence program and on occasional weekends would open its doors to the public.
“This isn’t just about work. It’s about how you interact with your community,” architect Dale Alberda, a principal of NBBJ, said during a news briefing.
Amazon, which submitted plans Tuesday seeking county approval for the second phase of development, said the project emphasizes sustainability, including environmentally friendly buildings that maximize natural light and eventually would rely entirely on solar power for energy. (Employees would be able to open windows if they want.)
The Helix, together with three traditional office buildings in the PenPlace area of the second headquarters, would create about 2.8 million square feet of office space. The Helix is the tallest of the planned buildings and plays off the bio-inspired architectural design of the Spheres.
Construction on the Helix and related office complexes is expected to begin in 2022 and wrap by 2025.
Meanwhile, construction is already underway on two eco-friendly office towers in the Metropolitan Park section of the complex. That area of the Arlington-based headquarters will create 2.1 million square feet of office space and about 65,000 square feet of retail space and other community features.
(Amazon founder and chief executive Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)
As of December, Amazon had already moved in more than 1,600 employees. The Arlington County Board signed off more than two years ago on development of the site, which has been dubbed National Landing and includes neighborhoods in Crystal City, Pentagon City and Potomac Yard. The Arlington headquarters is expected to accommodate 25,000 employees.
Amazon has said it intends to invest more than $2.5 billion in the county over the next decade. The expected influx into National Landing has already inflated housing prices in the area and sparked several new transportation projects, including expansion of Amtrak and Virginia Railway Express services. One booster organization has estimated that the new headquarters will create a $4 billion boom in public and private investments.
The tech company, which has been criticized in Seattle as a domineering neighbor that has overlooked the side effects of growth such as gentrification and homelessness, has taken steps to win over Northern Virginia. The company donated $9 million last year to local nonprofit organizations, including health clinics, literacy projects and groups seeking to advance the cause of racial equity.
This month, the company’s Housing Equity Fund teamed with the nonprofit Washington Housing Conservancy to purchase Crystal House, an 825-unit apartment complex in Arlington, as affordable housing.
“These are the areas that we call home, and it’s very important to us that we don’t just create an island unto ourselves, that we bring the community in,” said John Schoettler, Amazon’s vice president of global real estate and facilities.