One of the most talked-about developments over the past several years have been a trio of glass domes nestled between high-rises on Amazon’s downtown Seattle campus. Under construction for years now, the structures, officially the Spheres, have captured both positive and negative interest as they’ve taken shape.
With construction finished, Amazon has spent the past year or so filling the domes with plant life. That work is finally done.
The facility had its grand opening, complete with Jeff Bezos giving an Alexa command to “open the spheres,” this morning. The domes open to employees tomorrow, on Tuesday, January 30. Here’s a handy guide on what we know about these futuristic, glassy lumps.
What are the Amazon Spheres supposed to be?
Inside the domes are botanic gardens, designed as part of Amazon’s growing downtown offices. The idea is to cultivate office space that fosters a connection to the natural world with biophilic design.
When will the Amazon Spheres open?
The facility, along with their visitor center, the Understory, opens on Tuesday, January 30.
Construction of the structure was completed in March 2016, and the final glass panel was installed in December 2016—completing the structure itself. Since then, Amazon’s just been building out the insides.
What’s inside the Amazon Spheres?
The short answer: Plants. Lots and lots of plants. Plus meeting space, seating, and a few grab-and-go restaurants.
More specifically, the Spheres have a few different plant exhibit, including a vivarium, or a habitat for both plants and freshwater animals. A “fernery” features cloud forest plants that thrive in conditions pleasant to people. One living wall features carnivorous pitcher plants.
Even more specifically: The Spheres’s first inhabitant was an Australian tree fern. The tallest plant is a 55-foot-tall, 48-year-old Ficus rubiginosa nicknamed Rubi, viewable from a “canopy walk” high up in the domes.
All together, the facility’s living walls consist of 4,000 square feet of space containing around 25,000 plants.
Outside of the botanical gardens, the Spheres also feature a visitor’s center where the public can learn more about the project, and a bar and Italian restaurant run by local culinary darling Renee Erickson.
Where do the plants inside the Amazon Spheres come from?
While plants came from a few different sources—Rubi came from Berylwood Tree Farm in Somis, California—the bulk of the plants have been cultivated in a massive greenhouse on the Eastside.
Can the public go inside the Amazon Spheres?
Yes, there are opportunities for the public to see inside—but since it’s not really designed for public consumption, not everyone can visit the whole facility on a whim. Even Amazon employees have to reserve an entry time in advance.
Most of the facility is part of the Amazon offices. But there are some elements of it that will be open to the public, and the public can get inside the whole facility as part of the company’s 90-minute Amazon HQ tours, which happen most Wednesdays and need to be booked in advance.
Here’s what the public can see without booking that HQ tour:
- The visitors center, the Understory, and its “The Spheres Discovery” exhibit.
- The restaurant.
- The public plaza around the spheres.
Who designed the Amazon Spheres?
Surprise: It’s architecture firm NBBJ. The firm is designing the bulk of Amazon’s expanded campus in the downtown and Denny Triangle area. Influences of the project include the United Kingdom’s Kew Gardens, the Mitchell Park Conservatory in Milwaukee, and La Biosfera in Genova, Italy.
Of course, the focus of the space is the plant life—which is why landscape architecture firm Site Workshop collaborated with NBBJ on the space. Some of Site Workshop’s more visible projects include Seattle Center’s Artists at Play and Fisher Pavilion, the revitalization of Westlake’s Thomas C. Wales Park, and Wright Park in Tacoma—in addition to the landscape work on other Amazon buildings.