Amazon has released concept photos of its new headquarters in Arlington County, Virginia, located just across the Potomac River from Washington D.C. The $2.5 billion project has garnered, shall we say, mixed feedback. The Verge comically, although accurately, described the project’s central building as “a glass poop emoji covered in trees.” That is a description that is hard to shake once you have seen the design.
The campus will be made up of three 22-story buildings around the central structure that is said to have been inspired by the double-helix, appropriately earning it the name, The Helix. The Helix Tower will serve as host to a series of “alternative work environments” as well as offering employees and visitors a multitude of indoor gardens and a spiral hill climb that they can traverse on the outside of the building. Per CNN, the Helix will be open to visitors “at least two weekends” per month.
In addition to the gardens and alternative work spaces, the Helix will offer patrons the chance to take in various art installations, enjoy the 2.5 acres of public space and communal grassy areas, and sample food from the on-site food trucks and farmers markets. The ground level will also host restaurants and retailers, making the tech campus a one stop shop for employees and an attractive location for locals.
Lead Architect Dale Alberda has said that with this structure, Amazon is trying to eschew the stereotypical features of a tech campus. He goes into detail about the shift in culture in an interview by saying, “If we do this right, you won’t necessarily even know that you’re on an Amazon headquarters property. People talk about (tech) ‘campuses’ all the time, and that comes with (the impression of) a place that is fenced off … but we are moving away from the campus to what we like to refer to as a neighborhood.”
That cultural shift is evident in the driving ideology behind the campus’ heavy focus on nature. In the same interview, Alberda said, “We’re doing a lot on the site to connect people to nature. But with the Helix we really take that to the extreme. We’re building a series of indoor atriums and gardens that are not a conservatory or a place you just visit, but a place you can actually go and work.”
While the entire Arlington County campus is taking a very forward-thinking approach to employee mental health by addressing work environments and will surely be a major force in the local economy, the initial criticisms of the design itself are not unwarranted. The campus is achieving a lot and is doing so in an interesting fashion, but the final design is slightly weird and carries with it a distinct sci-fi movie vibe. However, balancing form with function is always a challenge and from the descriptions, it sounds like the Helix is something that is made to be experienced in person.
Things that are new are always slightly weird, but that is just because they are new. While there may not be many tech campuses imitating the design of the Helix for their new headquarters, this feels like the start of a trend as far as the amenities are concerned.