Forget office comfort, Amazon is building treehouses for its employees

14th Jul 2016
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Amazon is growing actual plants, more than 3,000 species of them spread over a large greenhouse, a half-hour’s drive from its headquarters in the city of Seattle, USA. There are carnivorous pitcher plants, exotic philodendrons and orchids from Ecuador. Amazon who pioneered internet shopping, electronic book reading and cloud computing is applying some innovations to its new home. The company is constructing a collection of high-rise and low-rise buildings in downtown Seattle that will be arranged around three transparent structures that Amazon calls spheres. They will act as high-tech greenhouses, in flashy architecture that Amazon shunned for the first two decades since inception.

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Image: The New York Times[/caption]

“We wanted it to be iconic, a structure that would be similar to another icon in the city, like the Space Needle, for newcomers to Seattle,” John Schoettler, Director of Amazon’s global real estate and facilities told The New York Times. “It would be a found treasure in the downtown neighborhood.” The point of the spheres is how Amazon wants to use the inside to inspire its employees. When they open in early 2018, the spheres will be packed with a plant collection, allowing Amazon employees to amble through tree canopies three stories off the ground, meet colleagues in rooms with walls made from vines and eat next to an indoor creek. Since Amazon decided about a decade ago to stay in downtown Seattle, the company stated that it has invested over $4 billion in the construction and development of offices in the city. 

The spheres will be accessible to Amazon employees only, but the company may allow public tours later. The spheres will have meeting areas called treehouses, and suspension bridges high off the ground that will quicken the pulses of employees who walk over them. “Amazon said, ‘Make this fun,’” said Mr. Alberda, the architect. Amazon’s architects had to make the spheres welcoming for both plants and people, a space with a conservatory but without the stickiness that will fog computer screens and make people sweat. During the day, Amazon will keep the spheres at 72 degrees Fahrenheit and 60 per cent humidity, while at night the temperature will average 55 degrees Fahrenheit and the humidity 85 per cent, which Mr. Gagliardo said would be optimal for the cloud forest plant specimens it has collected.

A growing body of research points to the benefits of giving employees access to nature. About ten years ago, Ihab Elzeyadi, an associate professor of architecture at the University of Oregon, conducted a study in which workers who were provided with a view of nature experienced a 20 percent reduction in sick leave from their employer, though the real cause was not very clear.

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