Prime Paradise

How Amazon achieved crystal clarity in its glass domes

Case Study Focus on Fabrication West
Folds of glass create a geometric pattern
derived from a Catalan solid, a naturally
occurring shape found in nature. (BRUCE DAMONTE)
Folds of glass create a geometric pattern derived from a Catalan solid, a naturally occurring shape found in nature. (BRUCE DAMONTE)

NBBJ designed a trio of connected glass orbs with living walls at the new Seattle headquarters for online retail giant Amazon. According to an announcement on Amazon’s blog, the spherical design—a project seven years in the making—was “chosen due to its natural occurrence in nature and as a nod to historic conservatories, like Kew Gardens.” This atypical meeting place away from the typical office towers provides a treehouse-like environment for employees, complete with terraces, water features, soaring staircases, and wooden decking.

The construction required more than 620 tons of steel supported by a burly concrete base to buttress the triangular insulated glass units fashioned from modularized Vitro glass. The open floor plan comprised three spherical units enveloped in Ultra-clear Vitro Starphire low-iron glass, which allows for higher visible light transmission, heightening views from multiple angles. “Iron is what makes glass appear green,” said Andre Kenstowicz, Vitro Glass manager on the project. “Low iron Starphire glass eliminates the ‘green’ hue of traditional clear glass so the only green that you see is from the 300 species of tropical plants inside of the Amazon Spheres.” There are around 40,000 plants in the project.

Unconventional work areas span five interconnected floors, including treehouse meeting rooms, waterfall and river features, and a four-story living plant wall. (Sean Airhart)

A tightrope-like footbridge winds around the upper level leading to a benched work area surrounded by a nest-like wall. Below, another refuge is outfitted with various cozy outdoor seating and surfaces. (Bruce Damonte)

Like all three domes, the largest is glazed by the contractor Enclos with Vitro’s Solarban Solar Control 60 Low-E coating in double laminate, measuring approximately 90 feet tall and 130 feet wide. All 2,643 panels of glass achieve 73 percent visible light transmittance and a solar heat gain coefficient of 0.40 across the visibly sinuous surface. This film beneath the surface limits the amount of radiation entering and consequently helps the interior to remain a stable, cool temperature.

NBBJ designed this biophilic environment to “inspire creativity and even improve brain function,” according to the company’s blog. Luckily the public also has year-round access to the stimulating habitat at the base of the garden in the visitor center. There, in the thick of it, Seattleites can experience biodiversity in the heart of the city.

The glass-enclosed environment houses 40-foot trees and more than 400 species of plants from five continents and 50 countries. (Sean Airhart)

620 tons of steel support the weight of over 2,600 panels of glass arranged as five-sided pentagonal hexecontahedron. (Sean Airhart)

Architect: NBBJ

Location: Seattle

Structural Engineer: Magnusson Klemencic Associates

Glass Manufacturer: Vitro Architectural Glass

Glass Fabricator:  Northwestern Industries, Inc.

Glazing Contractor: Enclos

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