Deep into a pandemic that's seen many organizations reconsidering the necessity of in-person work, Amazon is reaffirming its commitment to physical offices. The company today unveiled designs for its new Arlington, Virginia-based outpost featuring a wild tower called the Helix, a 350-foot structure that sees two spiraling outdoor walkways twist to the top, with trees and plants running around it like green ribbons.
Besides the Helix, Amazon's Virginia headquarters will feature three more-traditional 22-story office buildings, smaller retail buildings surrounded by woodlands, an outdoor amphitheater, a dog run, and parking for 950 bicycles. The combined spaces should be able to accommodate around 13,000 employees. It's going to be a glorious, glass-clad reminder of just how well Amazon has done during the last year, as consumers have turned to it to help limit how much time they need to spend in physical stores... and for mood-boosting retail therapy.
Make your jokes — The Helix's unique design "will be an opportunity for people to literally go on a hike in the city," said Dale Alberda, a principal at architecture firm NBBJ, which is designing Amazon's new headquarters in the Crystal City neighborhood. “You feel like you’re in a lush garden in the middle of winter in D.C.,” he added of the interior design.
But sometimes referred to as "Crystal Shitty" for being such a boring area of D.C., the Helix isn't doing any favors with its design that looks, to some people like... well, like an excrement emoji. Charitably, we're going to say it looks like an ice cream swirl.
The Helix concept builds on Amazon's Seattle headquarter's "Spheres," three conservatories made of glass that comprise part of the company's headquarters there. The three glass domes — which are covered in glass hexagonal panels — serve both as employee workspaces and as greenhouses that are home to 40,000 plants from 50 countries.
Eco-friendly branding — Amazon isn't the only corporation that has created new "outdoorsy" office projects. Apple's latest headquarters in California, which opened in 2017, features a circular building with a center courtyard containing drought-resistant plants and trees indigenous to the area. These companies aim to make their campuses look less like drab office parks and more like nature refuges, both to appeal to eco-conscious employees and make their workspaces feel more pleasant.
Amazon has committed to making its business environmentally sustainable by, for example, investing in electric shipping vans. But today, its vast logistics network continues to generate significant amounts of pollution. Some ecologists have also raised concerns that glass buildings like the Helix aren't actually environmentally friendly because they kill millions of birds each year.
Coming in 2025 — The Arlington HQ won't be ready until 2025, and Amazon believes the world will have moved past the pandemic by then. Still, the company expects some employees will go to the office only occasionally. As many people have discovered over the last year, working from home is actually pretty great, even if they often work more as a consequence, not less. Amazon plans to incorporate more collaborative spaces into its offices so that employees think of them less as conventional offices and more like a coffee shop they visit to workshop ideas or projects face-to-face with colleagues. At least, that's how it's billing the changes.
Other tech giants including Facebook and Google have also invested heavily in new office space throughout the pandemic, suggesting they still believe in the value of physical, centralized workspaces too. Game developer Epic Games even used the depressed property market to buy up an entire shopping mall for its new headquarters. If things do return to some degree of normalcy, the deals they got during a downturn will look like a steal.
Amazon hopes to break ground on its new headquarters early next year.