Rather than spending your days in a cramped office, imagine the company you work for built you a workspace akin to a nature preserve. For Amazon workers in Seattle, this dream is their reality. The Seattle Amazon Spheres not only provide a relaxing work environment, they feature hundreds of rare and endangered plants, living walls and even a waterfall- all within three giant interconnected glass domes. The spheres are truly a wonder of engineering, architecture and biophilic design. (And the public can visit them too!)


What are the Amazon Spheres?


Nestled within three blocks of the Denny Triangle neighborhood in Seattle, Washington, are three monumental spherical domes. The impressive looking spheres are a part of corporate giant Amazon’s Seattle campus. But, there’s more to these domes than meets the eye.


The Vision

Within Amazon’s sprawling campus, the spheres were always supposed to be the centerpiece. Amazon envisioned the spheres as a place to “get away from the city” despite the surrounding metropolis. Essentially, the company made the spheres both as a capstone of their Seattle campus and a place for their employees to go that opposed the harsh and sterile environment of traditional office buildings.


Principal designer Dale Alberda and the architecture team at NBBJ, wanted a building that was both beautiful and innovative. Inspired by Victorian era plant conservatories and steampunk aesthetics, the design mixes futurism, fantasy, and industrialism.To achieve this, Alberda and his team of designers got to work creating a complex, architecturally sound, and awe-inspiring design.


The Design 


From the outside, the three interconnected glass spheres look like something out of a sci-fi movie. The glittering, hive-like configuration of the glass panels were inspired by “catalan solids,” a polyhedron shape created by Belgian mathematician Eugène Charles Catalan. To create this effect, NBBJ partnered with structural engineers at Magnusson Klemencic Associates to make a steel frame with “180 elongated pentagonal modules.” To top it all off, peeking out from beneath the glass panes is another steel frame that the designers described as a “fighter jet” shape. The effect is quite unlike a fighter jet though, it looks more like a woven, organic form only found within some deep forest. 


Beyond Aesthetics


This incredible design not only looks complex, it was a challenge to build. The design and engineering team had to ensure that they could build the spheres safely and within budget. To do this, the team worked with experts from various fields including wind and snow consultants and fireproofing experts
Among other safety measures, the structure includes a “400,000-pound ring beam” at its base. This massive beam protects the building from gravity, loads of snow and rain, wind, and earthquakes. It does this by transferring force to specially designed concrete columns and a concrete core below the floor. To protect the building from fires, engineers covered the steel frame with intumescent fire-retardant paint.


What Exactly is Inside the Spheres?


Despite its impressive design, it’s what’s on the inside that counts for the Spheres. The structure is home to some 40,000 plants “taken from high-altitude cloud forests from five continents.”  A team of experts along with horticulturist Ron Gagliardo chose the plants in the multi-level botanical garden. The massive collection of greenery includes 400 species, many of which are rare, endangered, or extinct in the wild.
Among the Sphere’s collection are carnivorous plants, orchids from Ecuador, a 55 ft tall fig tree named Rubi, and a 40-foot Australian fern. Surrounding these rare and interesting plants are waterfalls, living plant walls, and vines climbing upward towards the occasional Seattle sun that shines through the dome. The plants require “72 degrees Fahrenheit and 60 percent humidity during the day” and  “55 degrees and 90 percent humidity at night,”
This unusual atmosphere might seem like it is simply replicating the beautiful and ever-important Amazon rainforest. But, at its core, the project is about workers, right? Burrowed within the sprawling plant life you can find places to meet with coworkers, eat lunch, and work away in banquets with chairs and tables.
While this arboretum style work environment may seem novel, architects have been incorporating nature into their projects for a while now


Biophilic Design

Architects designed the Spheres with something called “biophilia” in mind. Biophilia literally translates to “a love of life or living things.”  When using biophilia in interior design, we call it “biophilic design.” Biophilic architects and designers incorporate nature into our everyday spaces – like our offices. The goal of biophilic design is to create an environment that satisfies our intrinsic need to be close to the natural world. Designers can do this in a variety of ways, from plant features, natural materials and light, and much more.  Plus, biophilic spaces can make you happier, healthier and more productive. 


Biophilic Design is Good for Your Health


Besides just being beautiful, biophilic design is very good for your health:



  • Regulate your circadian rhythm: A 2017 study found that those who got more sunlight in the morning and throughout their day had improved mood and sleep quality. Biophilic designs that include natural light from skylights and strategically placed windows could be instrumental in helping workers get a good night’s sleep. 


  • Boost productivity: Even a view of nature can boost productivity. At a call center in Sacramento, California, a company found that workers who had a view of vegetation from their desks were 6-7% more productive. The company decided to rearrange all workspaces to include views of nature. This resulted in an “Annual productivity savings averaging $2,990 per employee.” 


For office workers who normally spend so much of their time in a drab, gray environment, an office with biophilic design- let alone an entire arboretum, can do wonders for their mental health and productivity. 


*This section includes excerpts from my article on biophilic design, check it out here




It’s not all looks! The spheres have a number of sustainable features. The campus in general utilizes many green methods including salvaged and locally sourced woods, energy-efficient lighting and recycling/ composting initiatives. 


Many of the buildings, including the Spheres have been given the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED Gold certification for sustainable design and construction for their impressive sustainable systems. The spheres are heated using recycled energy which is four times more efficient than traditional heating methods.” They do this by funneling heat from a nearby data center underground through water pipes. This serves the dual purpose of generating energy and keeping harmful emissions out of the air. 


The spheres were also made using sustainable innovator Holcim’s ECOPlanet concrete. Holcim worked with Stoneway Concrete to create a type of concrete that produces less carbon emissions than typical concrete for the spheres. With the help of ECOPlanet concrete and the other green initiatives, the project delivered more than 80% CO2 reduction over the industry average, saving up to 400 tons of CO2.”


How and When You Can Visit the Seattle Spheres


Although the spheres were mainly built for Amazon workers, the public can still visit them the first and third Saturday of every month. The spheres are open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.. Visitors must make a reservation and bring a valid government ID.  



Although some Seattlites were initially skeptical of the buildings, the Seattle Amazon Spheres have become a feature of the emerald city. Be sure to check them out on your next visit! But beware! The spheres are popular. Reserve your time well in advance of your travels.




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