Posts tagged with "Amazon":

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How Amazon achieved crystal clarity in its glass domes

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.

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.

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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Amazon, Starbucks, and other Seattle corporations claw back affordable housing tax

After the passage of a tax on mega-companies that seemed like a victory for Seattle’s affordable housing advocates less than a month ago, Amazon, Starbucks, and other Seattle-based businesses have banded together to lobby for its repeal. The strategy seems to have worked, and Seattle’s City Council met today to consider rolling back the tax ahead of a November referendum forced by the business community. Business groups raised over $200,000 after the passage of the so-called “head tax,” which would have billed companies grossing $20 million a year or more $275 per employee (bargained down from $500) for five years, to gather the signatures required for a repeal referendum. Whether the referendum would have been held or not, the pressure generated has caused Mayor Jenny Durkan and the City Council to act. In a statement released yesterday, The Mayor’s office pledged to consider repealing the tax, which originally passed with unanimous City Council support. “It is clear that the ordinance will lead to a prolonged, expensive political fight over the next five months that will do nothing to tackle our urgent housing and homelessness crisis. These challenges can only be addressed together as a city, and as importantly, as a state and a region. “We heard you. This week, the City Council is moving forward with the consideration of legislation to repeal the current tax on large businesses to address the homelessness crisis.” Amazon had originally threatened to halt all expansion in Seattle when the first iteration of the head tax was floated by officials, but backed down and resumed construction on their downtown projects when the measure passed. The tax would have raised $47 million for the construction of 591 units of affordable housing throughout Seattle and services for the homeless. In a late afternoon voting session, it now appears that the head tax has been repealed by a 7 to 2 margin.
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Soccer stadium and music venues coming to Lincoln Yards development along the Chicago River

A new entertainment complex is coming to a former strip of industrial land along the north branch of the Chicago River. Live Nation has partnered with Sterling Bay to create a year-round entertainment district within a proposed 70-acre north branch development project, Lincoln Yards. This announcement occurs one week after Chicago Cubs owner Tom Ricketts revealed that a United Soccer League team and stadium will be the central focus of the entertainment complex, the Chicago Tribune reported.   The complex delivers three to five entertainment venues along with a reported 20,000-capacity soccer stadium. Each of the smaller venues will range from 100 to 800 seats. Beverly Hills, California-based Live Nation is on board to book and manage events, as well as fund construction.  Pending city and zoning approval, Sterling Bay plans to begin construction within 18 months. A corporate parent of TicketMaster, Live Nation adds cache to the complex. No other retail tenants or partners have been announced. The complex is proposed on the former site of the A. Finkl & Sons steel plant site, a steel mill that operated along the Chicago River in Lincoln Park for 112 years before being demolished in 2016. Amazon representatives were spotted at the site last fall, sparking speculation that the 28-acre tract of land could be proposed for the coveted HQ2. The Lincoln Yards site also includes a former fleet management complex Sterling Bay purchased from the City of Chicago, as well as other smaller pieces of land along the river. Renderings released by Sterling Bay for the entertainment complex reveal a series cantilevered pavilions, along with a sloping, horseshoe shaped soccer stadium. The entertainment complex complements other aspects of the Lincoln Yards development, which will be mixed-use retail, office and residential with an extension to the 606 trail.
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Over Amazon’s threats, Seattle passes tax on big business to fund affordable housing

The Seattle City Council has unanimously passed a scaled-down version of the tax on mega-companies that caused Amazon to suspend its construction in the city earlier this month. It now seems like Amazon was bluffing when it threatened to pull out if the measure went through, as pre-construction work on the 17-story Block 18 tower is reportedly back on. Seattle is weathering an affordability crisis as rents and homelessness rates continue to rise, and a tax on companies grossing $20 million a year or more was proposed as a way of funding new affordable housing. The proposed tax would have originally hit those larger companies (about three percent of businesses in Seattle) with an annual, $500-a-head charge. After deliberations between the Council, Mayor’s office, and the business community, a leaner, $275-per-employee bill that sunsets in five years was eventually passed. The original measure was expected to bring in around $75 to $86 million a year for the city, which would have built approximately 1,700 affordable units over the next five years; as passed, Seattle will reap $45 to $49 million a year, and only build out 591 units over that same period. Still, even these changes haven’t appeared to sit well with Amazon. Although construction will move forward on Block 18, an office tower in downtown Seattle that could hold 7,000 Amazon employees, Amazon issued a sternly-worded statement after the vote threatening to reduce its footprint in the city. With 45,000 employees currently in Seattle, the tech giant would have ended up paying around $12 million a year. “We are disappointed by today’s City Council decision to introduce a tax on jobs,” Drew Herdener, an Amazon vice-president, told The Guardian. “We remain very apprehensive about the future created by the council’s hostile approach and rhetoric toward larger businesses, which forces us to question our growth here.” Amazon’s statement isn’t just bluster. While the Graphite Design Group–designed Block 18 will rise after all, the company is still debating about whether it will take the 722,000-square-feet of office space it was going to lease in the forthcoming Rainer Square building. As the HQ2 search continues, it remains to be seen whether Seattle’s pushback against Amazon will have an effect on what prospective cities are willing to concede; 40 officials from cities all over the country, including some of those still in the HQ2 running, have signed an open letter throwing their weight behind Seattle in this tax fight.
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Amazon suspends construction in Seattle over possible tax increases

Amazon has put the kibosh on a one-million-square-foot expansion of its Seattle headquarters pending a City Hall vote to raise taxes on the company.  The proposal would tax companies with $20 million or more in annual gross revenue, to the tune of about $500 per employee, with the proceeds going towards affordable housing in the city. Amazon was slated to begin construction on the 17-story Block 18 tower in downtown Seattle and occupy 722,000 square feet of office space it had leased at a 58-story Rainer Square building currently under construction. While the Graphite Design Group–designed Block 18 wasn’t slated to begin construction for another month, Amazon has put the project on hold indefinitely. “Our firm was notified late in the day yesterday to pause the project pending the resolution of the head-tax issue that the City Council is currently deliberating,” Graphite Design Group’s Peter Krech told the Seattle Times, “so we are suspending our work immediately on the project based on that direction.” Amazon has long driven growth in Seattle, but critics have charged that the tech giant’s employees have drastically reduced the amount of housing available in the city, driven up costs and increased income inequality. The proposed tax would bring in an estimated $75 million a year for the city, with Amazon paying $20 to $30 million. The funds would go towards building 1,800 affordable units a year. If Amazon is going to truly kill Block 18, Seattle would lose 7,000 to 8,000 potential jobs. It seems that Amazon has soured on its home city, as the company recently announced that it would be adding 1,000 more jobs at its Boston office, 3,000 at its Vancouver, British Columbia, office, and 200 at its Minneapolis offshoot (not to mention the HQ2 search). The 4,500 employees that were previously going to move to the Rainer Square tower offices may also be relocated elsewhere. Seattle’s City Council is set to vote on the measure on May 14. It remains to be seen if Amazon is bluffing or not, and as the Seattle Times noted, residential developers who were counting on an influx of new Amazon employees may have to scale back their ambitions as well.
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Amazon’s Seattle spheres are set for public opening

Amazon’s triple-domed Spheres in downtown Seattle will be partially open to the public beginning January 30th. The enormous glass bubbles, designed by NBBJ as part of Amazon’s sprawling urban campus, were first approved in 2013. The glass and steel domes vary in size, with the largest bubble spanning 130 feet in diameter and topping out at 95 feet tall. All three Buckminster Fuller-emulating domes are linked, forming a biomorphic greenhouse with 65,000 square feet of workspace and conference areas for Amazon employees. Instead of aping its namesake, the Amazon Spheres have selected plants from a wide variety of sources. The Seattle Times recently toured the Spheres, and gave a rundown of the gardens and 400 plant varieties, within. The garden in the Seventh Avenue sphere holds New World plants mainly from Central and South America, though a 40-year-old Port Jackson fig tree, so large that it had to be craned in, is clearly the centerpiece. An Old World garden grows inside of the Sixth Avenue sphere, where guests and employees will see plants from Africa and Southeast Asia, alongside an entrance-adjacent, 60-foot-tall living wall, and tank filled with aquatic plants and animals from the Amazon. Amazon’s horticulturists have curated a range of plants that could survive alongside the Spheres’ human occupants comfortably. During the day, the spheres will be kept at 72 degrees and 60 percent humidity, which will drop to 55 degrees and 85 percent humidity at night. All of the plants were grown to maturation in a 40,000-square-foot greenhouse offsite and transplanted, beginning on May 1st of last year. Designing offices and meeting spaces alongside climate controls for hundreds of different plant species was no easy task for NBBJ. Fake logs and stumps circulate air from piping within, while the Spheres are warmed in part by excess heat generated from a data center nearby. More details on which companies will be filling the two public retail spaces at ground level are forthcoming. (This is not the first time NBBJ has ventured into novelty office design). Members of the general public can place a reservation to visit the Spheres here, though be warned; the Seattle Times is reporting that 20,000 guests already have the tour booked solidly through April.
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In Amazon’s new store, the cameras are the cashiers

Amazon opened the doors of its “store of the future” to the public today. The 1,800-square-foot Amazon Go is making waves over its cashier-less checkout system. The shop, first announced in late 2016 and located in downtown Seattle, uses a vast array of ceiling-mounted cameras to charge shoppers for the items they walk out with, a system that could transform the future of retail. The tech giant has attempted to break into the physical retail world before, to mixed results. But after acquiring Whole Foods in June of last year, Amazon now wields considerable leverage with which to reshape real-world retail, and test-runs of new technology could be a sign of things to come. The inaugural Amazon Go store is even designed like a Whole Foods, save for the rows of turnstiles blocking the entrance and the lack of cashiers. Customers swipe their phone and have to connect to their Amazon account in order to enter, and as they shop, hundreds of overhead cameras track what’s taken from the shelves, with no need to microchip the products. Visitors then have their Amazon accounts charged after leaving, although there are still some live humans on hand to guard the alcohol and restock the shelves. This approach is supposed to cut out the lines, but the system is less than perfect. Linking the shopping to Amazon accounts also places the mini-mart squarely in the boutique market, since Amazon has precluded the use of cash and food stamps. While Amazon has promised that it has no plans to replace any of the staff in Whole Foods stores, Amazon Go is stocked with the grocery chain’s signature 365 Everyday brand and their newly unveiled meal kits. The implication, that Amazon could replace the retail workers it now employs, isn’t without merit. Amazon has already reconfigured the urban fabric outside of its largest markets through the construction of enormous, automated distribution centers, and extending the practices honed in their warehouses into stores would be a logical next step. Amazon has already thrown brick-and-mortar stores into disarray and forced a re-evaluation of physical retail space once, and it may be poised to do it again. Below is a video explanation from Amazon of how the store works.
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Amazon announces the 20 cities that made its HQ2 shortlist

Ending months of speculation and handwringing, Amazon has announced that the company has cut its list of prospective locations for its second headquarters from 238 down to 20. Competition over HQ2, a $5 billion co-headquarters expected to bring 50,000 jobs to the area it touches down in, has been fierce, as cities submitted bids that aggressively gave away land and tax breaks to the tech giant. While Amazon had received offers from all over North America, including Canada and Mexico, their shortlist skews heavily toward the East Coast of the United States. All of the following metropolitan areas met Amazon’s requirements of having at least one million people, and zoning capable of building up to eight million square feet of office space. The full list includes: Atlanta Austin, Texas Boston Chicago Columbus, Ohio Dallas Denver Indianapolis Los Angeles Miami Montgomery County, Maryland. Nashville Newark New York Northern Virginia Philadelphia Pittsburgh Raleigh, North Carolina Toronto, Canada Washington, D.C. The selection is notable not only for the cities it includes but the locales that didn’t make the cut. Los Angeles is the only west coast city on the list despite competing bids from Seattle, which holds Amazon’s current headquarters, and cities throughout California. Detroit is absent, as is Baltimore, even as both cities had promised to give Amazon hundreds of developable acres. Tax considerations seem to have played a major role in the final decision, as the inclusion of two cities in Texas, as well as Nashville and other southern cities and regions might attest to. While none of the Mexico-based bids made it through to the final round, Toronto may have been chosen for the money Amazon could save owing to the weakened Canadian dollar; $1 USD at the time of writing is worth $1.25 CAD. Details on what these 20 metropolitan areas have offered Amazon in exchange for HQ2 have been hard to come by. Muckrock has been tracking down bid packages for all 238 of the areas that submitted initial proposals, and while many of them have refused to release detailed packages, giving away unrestricted development rights or heavy tax breaks have been common. Chicago, for instance, has offered to return 50 to 100 percent of the income tax collected from Amazon employees straight back to the company itself. Newark, New Jersey, has explicitly offered to give Amazon a $7 billion tax break, which is the highest among any of the other finalists. New York, for its part, had offered potential space in four neighborhoods across three boroughs: Midtown West, Lower Manhattan, the Brooklyn "Tech Triangle" between Downtown Brooklyn, the Brooklyn Navy Yard and DUMBO, and Long Island City. The RFP for HQ2 can be read here, and should give some idea of what the headquarters will mean for the winning city when Amazon chooses its final location later this year.
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A revealing look at how cities bid for Amazon’s new headquarters

On October 19, Amazon received 238 proposals from cities and regions in 54 states, provinces, districts and territories across North America, all vying to be the home of HQ2, the $5 billion, 50,000-employee co-headquarters the company wants to build over the next two decades. A decision is expected sometime in 2018. Bidders were asked not to divulge details of their proposals, but information has leaked out about many of them. Baltimore officials held a news conference at the waterfront site they’re touting, saying, “This must be the place.” The District of Columbia identified four possible locations and created a hashtag: #ObviouslyDC. Birmingham, Alabama placed giant Amazon packages all over town. New York City lit up the Empire State Building and other landmarks “Amazon orange.” While much of the news coverage has focused on some of the more publicity-seeking stunts by cities and locales, it is worth sifting through the news to consider how the urban landscape is being imagined and parceled off for a single corporate giant. Some bidders don’t meet Amazon’s criteria for consideration, such as having a metropolitan area of at least one million people or zoning to build up to 8 million square feet of office space. Others are making strong cases for why they should be chosen by combining their forces with other locales. Overall the bids reveal a glimpse of how seriously some cities are taking the chance to host Amazon, and what they believe the strengths of their metropolitan areas are. Some cities put all their eggs in a single basket, offering up a single site within their city boundaries. Boston offered Suffolk Downs, a soon-to-close horse racing track in East Boston, and touted its concentration of leading colleges and universities. “Boston sells itself,” Mayor Martin Walsh was quoted as saying in The Boston Globe. “We have world class colleges and universities. We’re the youngest city per capita in America.” Baltimore offered the 235-acre Port Covington redevelopment area south of downtown. An independent citizens’ group offered a second site in midtown Baltimore, including land currently occupied by the state penitentiary, a proposed Innovation Hub, and State Center, a government office complex. Dallas extended a transit-oriented development surrounding a proposed $15 million Hyperloop terminal that will run between Dallas and Houston. New Jersey offered an 11.5–acre riverfront site in Newark as well as tax breaks worth up to $7 billion. Practice for Architecture and Urbanism would be the master planner for the project, working with Michael Green Architect, TEN Arquitectos and Minno & Wasko Architects and Planners. Surprise, Arizona, the Grand Canyon State’s “newest emerging city,” made an unlikely bid for the Amazon project by offering 100 acres of prime downtown real estate, Bizjournals reported. Offering big city amenities but also a “blank canvas waiting to be painted,” the municipality west of the Phoenix metro area boasts sports training facilities for national teams, a college stadium that hosts professional football games, and a foreign trade zone already being developed by international corporations. The bid sets aside the 100-acre site beside its civic center with the intention of having Amazon “help to create the culture of downtown.” In case Amazon isn’t content with creating a new downtown from thin air, the municipality also offered up the suburban town of Prasada nearby that also has 100 acres of vacant, highway-adjacent land that can be used. Surprise joins Phoenix, Mesa, Chandler, Tempe and Tucson, Arizona as cities making bids for the HQ2 project in the state. Other cities proposed a range of sites, suggesting that their cities were more than equipped to handle the space and tech needs of a headquarters like Amazon. Washington, D. C. proposed four locations for Amazon HQ2: the Anacostia Riverfront, Capitol Hill East; Shaw-Howard University, and NoMa-Union Station. Another promising site would have been the RFK stadium property, but as a federally owned property, leasing terms require that the land be used for sports and recreation, so it wasn’t offered. New York City identified four potential sites: Midtown West, Long Island City, the Financial District and the Brooklyn Tech Triangle, which includes DUMBO, the Brooklyn Navy Yards and downtown Brooklyn. Philadelphia proposed three locations: Schuylkill Yard, uSquare and the Navy Yard. Chicago offered 10 potential sites and an incentive package that could be worth $2 billion.  The sites are the “Downtown Gateway District,” which includes space in the Willis Tower and the Old Post Office; the endangered Helmut Jahn-designed James R. Thomson Center; two separate sites along the Chicago River’s North Branch; the now booming Fulton Market in the city’s West Loop neighborhood; the Illinois Medical District; a 62-acre site along the Chicago River’s South Branch; the now vacant site of the former Michael Reese Hospital in Bronzeville, and two sites outside of the city at the former Motorola global headquarters in Schaumberg and the soon-to-be former McDonald’s headquarters in Oak Brook. Huntington Beach and Long Beach in California offered three sites: the Boeing campus in North Huntington Beach,  the World Trade Center in Long Beach, and a site next to the Long Beach Airport. Another set of cities, perhaps due to their size, offered a regional package, either by applying to be part of a regional headquarters or teaming up with nearby cities and even across international borders to put together an offer. Omaha, Nebraska does not meet many of the company’s stated requirements, but it submitted a bid in the hopes that Amazon may choose to break up the project over multiple cities. If not, city leaders expressed the hope that their bid will be a chance to put the city in front of Amazon executives, and those of other tech companies, for the possibility of future investments. Missouri offered three sites: Columbia, St. Louis and Kansas City, with a Hyperloop transit system connecting all three. In Kansas City, Mayor Sly James purchased 1,000 items on Amazon, leaving reviews and product videos for many of them. Each review included not-so-coded language about the advantages of living and working in Kansas City. Buffalo and Rochester, New York, submitted a joint proposal offering the metro corridor between the two cities. The Buffalo-Rochester team highlighted the region’s contributions to technological research in many fields relevant to Amazon–among others, RFID technologies, drones, and software development. They also highlighted the corridor’s ties to businesses and universities just across the border in Canada. Detroit-Windsor, Michigan and Ontario, Canada teamed up to submit an international bid that presents unique opportunities for Amazon in terms of hiring and wages. Amazon would have more flexibility in building a staff with the option of hiring either Canadian or U.S. employees. There is also the possibility that Amazon could save on wages thanks to the exchange rate. Currently, one U.S. dollar is worth $1.26 in Canadian currency. Finally, another set of city bids crafted multi-nodal offers across multiple cities or scattered sites within city borders rather than proposing a single-site headquarters. In the San Francisco Bay area, the cities of San Francisco, Oakland, Richmond, Concord, and Fremont joined forces to make one bid. The San Francisco portion of the bid offers up the Candlestick Point and San Francisco Shipyard, a stretch of land called “Southern Bayfront” running down Mission Creek to Candlestick Park, and another area in the South of Market district for the development. In Oakland, the Uptown Station, 601 City Center, and Eastline Development sites are offered. Concord is providing the decommissioned Concord Naval Weapons facility, a 2,300-acre site includes 500 acres slated for a potential first phase of the project. Richmond is offering a new research and development facility on the University of California, Berkeley campus that could potentially serve as a brain hub for the tech giant. Fremont is offering a 28-acre parcel at a transit stop that is zoned for 1.8 million square feet of commercial development. The combined regional bid includes adding 45,000 housing units to the area. In Los Angeles, leaders with the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation are offering a dispersed, nine-site proposal. The specific sites have not been disclosed, but according to the Daily News, areas of the San Fernando Valley’s Warner Center complex, Cal Poly Pomona’s campus, and sections of Santa Clarita are up for grabs. Sites in Long Beach are also potentially included as part of the proposal. Colorado pitched what Governor John Hickenlooper described to 9 News as a “collaborative community that works to solve our own problems,” adding that with Colorado, Amazon would be “not just getting a site. They’re getting a community.” The proposal was generated by the Denver Economic Development Corporation, a private entity that works across the nine-county metropolitan area surrounding Denver. The bid involves eight sites across the state and an unspecified number of tax incentives, which Hickenlooper described as being “1/20th” the amount of incentives offered by other states and municipalities. Outside the melee of bidding, at least two cities made a point of announcing they weren’t submitting a proposal. In Texas, San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg and Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff wrote an open letter to Bezos stating, "The public process is, intentionally or not, creating a bidding war,” and “blindly giving away the farm isn’t our style.” Rather than jump through hoops to try and attract Amazon’s attention, Little Rock, Arkansas, took the opportunity both to graciously decline and promote itself. In a full-page ad taken out in The Washington Post, which is owned by Bezos, the Arkansas capital of 200,000 penned a “Dear John” letter to announce its intention not to place a bid. “Amazon, you’ve got so much going for you, and you’ll find what you’re looking for,” read the letter. While Little Rock was a long shot, unable to meet some of the company’s requirements, it’s also the home of one of Amazon’s largest rivals, Walmart. Arkansas was one of only seven states that did not have a jurisdiction bidding for the new headquarters. The others are Hawaii, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont and Wyoming. Additional reporting for this article was provided by AN editors Matthew Messner, Antonio Pacheco, and Jackson Rollings. 
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New York City’s bid for Amazon offers up four neighborhoods, but no extra incentives

Last night, major buildings and billboards around New York City, including the Empire State Building and One World Trade, were lit in orange, the color of Amazon's logo, in support of the city's bid to host Amazon's HQ2, its headquarters outside Seattle. Overall, the application submitted by the New York City Economic Development Corporation is unremarkable. It points out that Amazon can hitch on to the tech industry already in the city, and highlights the talent, the city's infrastructure as a "proven ecosystem for innovation" and its track record of implementing grand plans. The application also underscores New York City as a bastion of higher education and a host to thriving industries beyond tech, including fashion, media, and manufacturing. What the bid did not do is provide a plan for how the company would integrate with a single neighborhood in the city. Unlike other candidate cities, it did not offer extra subsidies or tax breaks for the tech giant. Four neighborhoods are forwarded as potential sites for HQ2: Midtown West, Lower Manhattan, Brooklyn Tech Triangle, and Long Island City. All of these neighborhoods applied for inclusion in the EDC's application through an RFP released by the city, and were selected largely due to their access to public transit lines and housing markets ripe for expansion. New York's application was accompanied by a letter to Jeff Bezos, the Chairman and CEO of Amazon, co-signed by more than 70 elected officials from New York. The letter focuses on the city's role as a transportation hub for the East Coast and Mayor Bill de Blasio's commitment to sustainability through the city's OneNYC plan. In the EDC's promotional video accompanying the application, a mouse scrolls through a faux Amazon page for the city, listing "product details" like 2.3 million residents with bachelor's degrees or higher, the largest number of Fortune 500 companies of any city, and 9,000 startups. Near the end of the video, Mayor Ed Koch is even resurrected in the form of a customer review dating from 1986: "New York is the city where the future comes to rehearse." Rehearse for what exactly, we wonder. HQ3?
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Robotics and fulfillment centers are reshaping retail—and cities could be next

The city of Leonia refashions itself every day: every morning the people wake between fresh sheets, wash with just-unwrapped cakes of soap, wear brand-new clothing, take from the latest model refrigerator still-unopened tins, listening to the last-minute jingles from the most up-to-date radio. On the sidewalks…the remains of yesterday’s Leonia await the garbage truck. - Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities

I just learned that my underwear, my mattress, and most of my wardrobe all came from the same place. I didn’t purchase them from a one-stop, big-box retailer, but from a no-stop, small-box room—my bedroom, to be specific (from my bed to be more precise). All I had to do was open up a web page, pick, click, and then wait as my underwear, my mattress, and most of my wardrobe were shipped from a warehouse located in a Massachusetts exurb to arrive at my doorstep in two days or fewer. The maker of this mundane miracle is a company called Quiet Logistics, a third part logistics (3PL) provider that helps online retailers like Mac Weldon, Bonobos, and Tuft & Needle reach customers as quickly as possible. They and companies like them, along with online retailer behemoth Amazon, are using new technologies to redefine retail and transform the architecture of fulfillment. And if they don’t bring about the birth of Skynet and the robot apocalypse first, they might also transform cities and towns across America.

Open up any newspaper (or newspaper app) and you’re likely to read an obituary for the shopping mall. While the reports of its death may be somewhat exaggerated, malls are indeed changing as more and more people buy, well, everything online. Some are being transformed into mixed-use “town center”-style developments; others are filling vacancies with new tenants who lean into recent consumer habits like “showrooming,” an industry term for trying on clothes in one store and then buying them online from another at a lower price. While showrooming may be the bane of many a salesperson, retailers like the aforementioned Bonobos design and build stores as showrooms: comfortable environments where customers find the right-size pants and then leave empty handed; two days later they’re delivered to their home. Any longer than that and customers might not be so quick to leave without those slim-fit chinos. Thanks to the proliferation of fulfillment centers, no one has to wait for anything anymore.

Fulfillment centers are massive warehouses where the ephemera of our lives is stored until we call upon it with a wave of our hand. The typical fulfillment center is a rectangular box built from precast concrete slabs or tilt-up concrete panels that are poured on-site and lifted into place. They range in size from 300,000 square feet to more than a million, feature hundreds of loading docks, 30-to-40-foot-tall-space-frame ceilings (cubic volume is key), and towers of nearly endless shelves containing rainbow Slinkys, Swiffer Wet Jets, Hello Kitty pencil cases, and literally everything else. “The picking towers are like mini-buildings, only without mechanical systems,” said architect Greg Lynn, who has visited two Amazon facilities and has long been interested in the formal and spatial possibilities presented by new technologies. “Then there are the massive sorting areas and areas where they compress boxes. It’s like a little world. Or a theme park.”

While large distribution centers aren’t new, the growth of online direct-to-consumer shopping has prompted a building boom of the fulfillment center. For better and worse, no company is better known for these buildings than Amazon, which has built more than one hundred fulfillment centers in America alone, totaling over 77 million square feet in size. Amazon uses a few different types of these centers, each designed to accommodate a specific type of item: small sortable items, large sortable times, large non-sortable, expensive specialty items, and apparel, as well as newer facilities designed for perishable and nonperishable food. Some are conventional centers, where products are picked and packaged by human pickers who can walk up to ten miles a day; some use mechanized conveyance and sorting systems; others are automated with robots handling most of the heavy lifting.

While Amazon is the standard-bearer for this new model of retail, it’s not alone. Logistics real estate is booming. Online retailers, 3PLs, and traditional big-box retailers like Wal-Mart, Home Depot, and Target have all invested heavily in new fulfillment centers to more quickly reach online customers. Target’s online sales tripled from 2013 to 2016, and in that time it nearly doubled the amount of space dedicated to e-commerce with two new fulfillment centers totaling 1.7 million square feet. According to Colliers International, in 2016 e-commerce prompted the construction of 74 million square feet of new warehouse space in the United States, with 93 percent of that space occupied. Already this year is on track to deliver another 55 million square feet, according to research firm Reis Inc., with Dallas, Chicago, Kansas City, Central New Jersey, and San Bernardino, California, as the top markets, although warehouse construction is also booming in Atlanta and Indianapolis.

As with all things real estate, it’s about location. Many of these fulfillment centers are built on former farmlands in centralized locations with easy accessibility to highways and airports. For example, Quiet’s new facility in Hazelwood, Missouri—its first outside Massachusetts—is part of a larger development of fulfillment centers built near St. Louis, where ground shipments can reach anywhere in the United States in two or three days. Amazon initially followed a different tact, building its warehouses in locations selected to take advantage of state tax policies. But those policies have changed as the industry has grown and states have grown savvier. Since 2013, Amazon has focused on building smaller fulfillment centers closer to major urban areas—sometimes even in cities—rather than building larger fulfillment centers in farther-out, less populated areas. The ultimate goal is same-day, and even same-hour, delivery.

But fulfillment isn’t just about fast delivery; it’s also about fast packaging. And that’s increasingly done by robots. In 2012 Amazon purchased Kiva Systems, now Amazon Robotics, whose rechargeable orange robots might look like a 1970s ottoman but can find anything in any warehouse instantly, and lift up to 3,000 pounds. They’re designed to move proprietary shelving “pods” along a predefined grid to workstations where real-live humans pick, pack, and prepare the items for shipment—often working on multiple orders simultaneously. Among other benefits, the Amazon Robotics system is flexible, scalable, and it’s five to six times more productive than manual picking. Plus, without the need for human-scale aisles, a fully automated warehouse requires half as much space as a traditional warehouse, and can use purchasing data to constantly rearrange itself so that the most frequently bought products are closer to the picking stations. The downside of this robot revolution? The robots can only be used to transport relatively small items that fit in the pods, and the systems requires a large and expensive investment in infrastructure—as well as a very, very flat floor.

After purchasing Kiva, Amazon took it off the market, forcing competitors who previously used them to find a new solution. This has resulted in a robot arms race as new companies rush to fill the void. One of those companies, Locus Robotics, was founded by Quiet Logistics, which was the first 3PL to use Kiva’s technology. Locus’s robots, which look like the love child of the Jetsons’ Rosie and a hat rack, can be integrated into any standard warehouse, cutting startup costs and accommodating the unpredictable nature of e-commerce. In a Locus-equipped warehouse, human pickers work in specific areas and the robots zip around each other from zone to zone, following the most efficient path to fill an order before taking it to the shipping station. Sensors, cameras, and LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) help the robots map the warehouse and keep them from running into anything or anyone. Locus markets its robot as a more collaborative, worker-friendly solution that plays to the unique skill sets of both: The robot, with its infinite spatial knowledge, limitless stamina, and complete lack of self-doubt, quickly locates and delivers items, while the nearby human, with his or her prehensile hands, picks it up and puts it in the basket. For now, anyway. The robot arms race is becoming a robot hands race as companies work to develop reliable grasping mechanisms to replace human pickers who have annoying habits like going to the bathroom and going home at the end of their shift.

These two automation systems have very different implications for warehouse design, but denser solutions like Amazon’s automated ottoman seem ideally suited to the smaller fulfillment centers encroaching into our cities with carefully calculated products selected to get more people more things in less time. Lynn believes they could do a lot more than cut down shipping time on your Crest Complete Multi-Benefit Toothpaste with Whitening + Scope. “The level of spatial intelligence in these buildings is remarkable,” he said. “It’s clear that every item is being tracked at all times. In terms of localization and knowing where things are, it’s a hyperintelligent space.… [But] how do you take that kind of spatial thinking and apply it to other building types—a library or market or university?”

Lynn has been exploring that question with architecture students at Yale and UCLA, but we may not have to wait long to find out. Amazon is already experimenting with brick-and-mortar bookstores and grocery stores. Could Amazon U really be that far out? Could logistics save the shopping mall? Should more architects and planners consider these interconnected systems and design for robots as well as people? It may only be a matter of time before automation becomes integrated into our daily lives outside the warehouse and the architecture of fulfillment becomes the architecture of the city. Beyond packing and shipping, could fleets of autonomous vehicles transform cities by making parking garages and parking lots obsolete—creating new space for fulfillment centers, perhaps, or putting a new premium on curb space for drop-offs and pick-ups? I haven’t even mentioned drones yet. As technology evolves to meet the demands of our on-demand lifestyle, what else will change? Perhaps all cities will come to resemble Calvino’s fictional Leonia, whose opulence was measured “not so much by the things that each day are manufactured, sold, [and] bought…but rather by the things that each day are thrown out to make room for the new.” Ultimately, Leonia was threatened by a looming mountain of its own leftovers. But I bet they could get new underwear delivered in less than an hour.

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A return to brick and mortar, Amazon.com opens first bookstore in Seattle

November 3 was a big day for Amazon, with the opening of its first brick and mortar store, Amazon Books. The location? Seattle, of course. The 5,500-square-foot store inside the upscale University Village shopping mall replaced the former Blue C Sushi restaurant. Who designed the store? Amazon relied on its in-house design team in collaboration with external partners, Amazon.com spokesperson Deborah Bass told AN. Materials and layout are pretty traditional: there's light wood, dark trim, brick, and narrow aisles. Many have made comparisons to the typical bookstore aesthetic of yore. "The store, in Seattle’s University Village, is notably (and, of course, ironically) Barnes & Noble-like in its aesthetic. There’s a lot of wood. There are a lot of shelves. There are a lot of books! The dream of the 90s is alive in Seattle, apparently," writes The Atlantic. But forget the typical spine-out book layout. Instead, books are arranged cover-out, many alongside unedited (but oftentimes truncated) customer reviews from Amazon.com. There's an overt fusion of books and tech. Titles are stocked, influenced, and arranged by Amazon.com data and curators: customer ratings, top sellers lists, niche audience ("Most-Wished-For Cookbooks", "Gifts for Young Adults", "Coloring Books for Grown-ups"), purpose ("100 Books to Read in a Lifetime") and of course, by genre. There are Amazon devices throughout: Kindles, Fire Tablets, Fire TVs, Echo. Prices are the same as online. But there's a catch: Amazon prices are not listed on the books themselves. Browsers must either download an Amazon app to scan the books for current prices or use one of the price-checking kiosks in the store. Amazon Books is the second bookstore to open in U-Village, after Barnes and Noble closed in 2011.