Arlington Journal: Amazon’s design proposal for HQ2

by Ron Bernthal

It was November 13, 2018 when Amazon announced its new co-headquarters (with Seattle), known as HQ2, would be built in Arlington, Virginia, a 26 square-mile suburb of Washington, D.C., located on the southwest bank of Potomac River. In early 2021 the company offered information and renderings of what the campany’s new campus would look like.

The Helix and other new buildings are proposed for Amazon’s HQ2 location in Arlington Virginia. (all images courtesy NBBJ)

After Amazon began its nationwide search for its HQ2 location, Arlington became one of the favorites to win the competition as Arlington County, with a population of about 240,00, already had many of the prerequisites that the company was looking for. Other than being close to a major airport (Arlington has two…Reagan National and Dulles); have an excellent public transportation system (DC area has the Washington Metro and Metrobus / WAMATA); proximity to residential housing, highly rated public schools and universities; and access to other technology companies (Arlington offers a great number of assets to technology companies looking to start up, expand or relocate, see below). And, of course, being just a stone’s throw from the nation’s top political leaders and national organizations doesn’t hurt.

In recent years Arlington’s startup ecosystem has been rapidly expanding, which, along with its established high-tech firms, has contributed towards the Arlington’s recognition as one of the country’s top innovation hubs. Since 2015, Arlington-based companies have generated 250 venture capital and merger and acquisition deals totaling over $35.7 billion covering several industries including software, cybersecurity, fintech, big data, digital media, and more. Amazon’s HQ2 is expected to add another 25,000 high-salaried tech employees, and an investment of $2.5 billion in over the next decade.

The project started with the demolition and excavation of several 1950s-era warehouses that once stood on the HQ2 site, located near the intersection of South Eads Street and 15th Street South. The over 3-million square-foot HQ2 project will also include ground-floor retail and more than two acres of open public space.

Although Amazon has already started some site demolition, the major construction work will begin in early 2022, with three 22-story office towers, and the HQ2 centerpiece building known as The Helix.

The Helix, an indoor-outdoor building designed by the international architecture firm NBBJ, will be a spiral-shaped glass tower covered in trees and walking trails that will merge alterative workspaces with two spiraling, “green” fresh air “hill climbs” that will, according to Amazon, foster creativity and wellness. A 2.8-acre public Metropolitan Park, 200+ seat amphitheater, and an artist-in-residence program in The Helix will encourage places for local residents and employees to connect. In addition, unique spaces throughout the project will provide restorative water elements and native trees for visitors and staff to recharge. With a focus on sustainability, the three new office buildings will be LEED Platinum certified and run on 100% renewable energy. Plans call for the complex to be powered entirely by renewable energy from a solar farm in Pittsylvania County, Virginia.  The green trail will be landscaped with trees and plants native to the state, specifically the Blue Ridge Mountains, the 550-mile range that runs through the western part of Virginia. When it opens in 2025, workers will be able to step outdoors on every floor and use the path to access other levels. The green spaces will be watered by rainwater runoff.

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NBBJ, which also designed the dome-shaped greenhouses for Amazon’s Seattle headquarters, known as The Spheres, said the company asked it to create an “environment that prioritises healthy work.” Amazon is expected to open The Helix and its green spaces to the public on certain weekends.

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Amazon employees will have access to onsite amenities including a childcare center, and retail shops, restaurants and a farmers market will be located in a plaza at the base of the glass spiral, and employee bike parking for 950 bicycles will connect to a quarter of a mile of protected cycling lanes. There will also be electric vehicle charging points on site.

Several community benefits were part of the HQ2 development proposal approved by Arlington County leaders, including the following:

  • Over two acres of public open space
  • A $20 million affordable housing contribution
  • Two new public streets
  • Sidewalk and streetscape improvements
  • Protected bike lanes on South Eads Street and 15th Street South
  • Floating bus islands with shelters
  • Street-level retail space
  • A shared underground parking garage
  • $225,000 for public art