Amazon has swallowed Downtown Seattle

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The Space Needle in Seattle, left, near Amazon's new office tower and spheres
The Space Needle in Seattle, left, near Amazon's new office tower and spheres

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The Space Needle in Seattle, left, near Amazon's new office tower and spheres
The Space Needle in Seattle, left, near Amazon’s new office tower and spheres

Having colonized the South Lake Union neighborhood, Seattle’s largest private employer is building three giant spheres filled with trees—the better to connect employees with nature.

Walk down Seventh Avenue in downtown Seattle and you can’t miss them: three gigantic spheres resembling melted-together Milk Duds rising in the shadow of Amazon’s new 500-foot-tall office tower. The architectural oddity has already become a tourist attraction and social media phenomenon. Passersby snap photographs and watch construction crews attach glass panes to the steel frames. Images stream through Instagram and Twitter.

When they open in 2018, the 100-foot-tall orbs—Amazon calls them Biospheres—will host more than 300 plant species from around the world, creating what the company sees as the workplace of the future. Amazonians will be able to break from their daily labors to walk amid the greenery along suspension bridges and climb into meeting spaces resembling bird nests perched in mature trees, where the company expects them to brainstorm—and perhaps even invent the next billion-dollar opportunity.

Amazon’s new headquarters was designed to project a forward-thinking company eager to help employees be more productive, creative and happy by providing a connection to nature. But the most trend-setting and appealing feature of the new complex is most likely its location: plopped between glass and steel high-rises on a busy street in downtown Seattle where food trucks are abundant, apartments are within walking distance and Happy Hour greets employees at quitting time.

Over the years, founder and Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos has made clear his disdain for the free lunches, massages and other perks commonplace in the suburban enclaves of Google, Apple and Facebook. His big advantage in the amenities arms race is a commitment to preserving an urban campus, no matter how big his company gets. […]

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