Company culture

Amazon HQ1: A Campus Hidden within Urban Life

The scoop on benefits and culture in Amazon headquarters

Amazon's reach is global: it employs 750,000 workers, and in 2019 alone it had over 2.5 billion packages delivered. 2020 was a particularly great year for this tech giant, as the company has established more locations for Amazon Go, released a plethora of new Alexa skills and integrations, and brought many large government departments their AWS technology.

Amazon is located throughout the globe, with a whopping 234 office locations spread across 36 countries. Its main headquarters rests in the “Emerald City”, better known as Seattle, WA. Currently, this tech giant has 110 active fulfillment centers around the U.S. alone for storage and the distribution of products. Amazon has another 185 centers globally to serve other overseas demands.

With such an impressive reach, it comes as no shock that Amazon has an equally impressive headquarters. We'll break down everything you need to know about this massive structure.

Location & Building Design

Photo Credit: The Guardian

If you are ever wandering through Seattle and find yourself around the South Lake Union or Belltown area, there is a chance you are unknowingly standing in front of an Amazon HQ1 building. Vastly different from Facebook or Google's college-campus feel, Amazon’s campus is integrated into the urban life of the city.

The headquarters employs over 45,000 Seattleites and has over 40 state-of-the-art buildings spread all throughout South Lake Union, Denny Triangle, and Downtown. The heart of HQ1 is around 2111 7th Ave, Seattle, WA 98121 and is known as “Seattle Downtown Main Campus”. While it may be difficult to see how impressive the campus is due to its sporadic layout, back in 2018 Amazon held 8.1 million square feet around the city, and they have plans to expand to a net of 14 million square feet in the coming years.

The center of HQ1 lies within three blocks, called Denny Triangle, flanked by Blanchard Street, 6th Avenue, and Westlake Avenue. The central office buildings Doppler, Meeting Center, Day 1, and Amazon re:Invent are known as the heart of the campus. They are arranged around the Spheres of Amazon with foliage and parks between the massive buildings. This notable complex was completed only last summer, spanning around 3.3 million square feet. It has six specific buildings connected through paved paths, shops, lush plazas, dog parks, and eateries.

Photo Credit: Seattle Mag

NBBJ's idea behind the design
NBBJ, an American global architectural company, led the primary design of Amazon’s HQ1. John Savo, principally in charge of this project, took into account Amazon’s desire to be part of the surrounding community. Back in 2011, NBBJ was invited to study the future campus, which at the time consisted of old buildings and crumbling parking lots. Amazon executives requested that NBBJ create a neighborhood feeling, more tight-knit than the college-campus feel of their competitors. To achieve this idea, the architects designed pedestrian connections and common areas for outdoor seating. NBBJ even considered the factor of sunlight: they rotated the Denny Triangle towers in an aesthetically pleasing manner to allow a sun pocket to illuminate the outside areas.

The three high-rise buildings that mark Denny Triangle are impressive as well. Day 1, also known as Amazon Tower II, stands at 521 feet tall with 37 stories. Dopper stands at 524 feet high, appearing parallel to Day 1. At 37 stories, Amazon re:Invent looks across to the other buildings at the last triangle corner. Between these massive structures are three, intersecting 80 to 90-foot glass-and-steel spheres.

Photo credit: Architectural Record

A colorful headquarters
During the construction of Amazon HQ1, it was important to the community for the headquarters to have a variety of color. So the first tower, Doppler, is decorated with multi-hued aluminum fins. This building connects through a footbridge to the Meeting Center. Protected by an 85-foot glass roof, you can head down the main path that leads to the second tower. This building, Day 1, features graphic horizontal banding and parallel fins with blue and orange glass panels. It shares a grassy plaza that may be utilized as a farmer's market or just a nice picnic spot.

Right next to Day 1 is the Amazon Spheres, a 60,000 square-foot exhibit with a greenhouse-like interior, where guests and Amazon employees may go to explore. A few steps to the east is Amazon re:Invent, adorned in hazy orange and floral pink-tinted bands, and is surrounded by seating areas, fountains, and even waterfalls. Next to Amazon re:Invent is a low-rise building garnished with rust-colored striated aluminum in the form of ribbons. This structure, The Summit, houses a daycare center on the first floor with a bonus flexible training area right above.

Photo Credit: UMC

Amazon HQ1 is eco-friendly
On top of being colorful, the Amazon headquarters is eco-friendly. Concealed in Dopper, there is a 2,000-ton District Energy central plant, which provides cooling and heat around the building. At the same time, it captures waste energy from high-rise data centers to provide temperature control for seven blocks of Amazon campus. The completion of this project made this headquarters the first in Seattle with a large-scale district energy system. Nessie, another campus building, is heated by recycled energy. This was the first of its kind after construction and it is four times more efficient than traditional temperature control.

 Aside from Amazon HQ1, NBBJ has designed a plethora of architectural structures. In addition to corporate buildings, the company dabbles in landscape architecture, interior design, and even urban design. Examples include The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation HQ in Seattle, and Tencent Net City in Shenzhen, China. NBBJ also plans to construct Amazon’s second headquarters, HQ2, in Arlington, Virginia. This 2.8 million-square-foot future campus will be dubbed “PenPlace” and is expected to be completed in 2023. This design was developed through Amazon’s desire to have a sustainable and healthy campus for both its employees and surrounding neighbors. 

In essence, the Amazon HQ1 holds special meaning for those who are part of its culture. Buildings like Day 1 even echo the history of the company. After its completion, Jeff Bezos announced that “this is Day 1 for the Internet and, if we execute well, for" This shows the company's commitment to constant innovation and technological development for its customers.

Workplace Culture

Photo credit: GeekWire

The intensity of Amazon's campus is reflected in its culture, which is not to be taken lightly.

Susan Harker, one of Amazon's top recruiters, advises “this is a company that strives to do really big, innovative, groundbreaking things, and those things aren’t easy...when you’re shooting for the moon, the nature of the work is really challenging. For some people it doesn’t work.”

While this may be discouraging to some, those up for a challenge may want to learn more.

👍 On the bright side, Amazon's culture promotes autonomy and teamwork. The company builds small teams and discourages unnecessary meetings. They also tend to mix their groups, allowing departments in different buildings to stay connected. These interconnecting teams are small enough to be fed by two pizzas. Today called the “two-pizza rule” by Amazonians is known as a company custom.

👎 On the downside, employees long complained about the company's Pivot plan. Under this plan, low-performing employees are given the option to accept severance or be put on a Performance Improvement Plan. Amazon notoriously issues these to the bottom 5% of performers each year, making it a competitive environment to operate in. Other commonly cited issues include poor work-life balance and a lack of perks, as compared to other tech giants.

Perks of Amazon Headquarters 1

There are many perks that are inherent to living in the city. In Seattle, you would be living in one of the nation's top tech hubs. Nearly half of all office jobs in Seattle are tech-related, meaning connections for employment are boundless. Other notable companies that share the area are Microsoft, Google, Apple, Facebook, and Snapchat. With such a central location, delicious restaurants and iconic spots are well within reach. For example, the Space Needle is less than a mile from Amazon’s headquarters!

Bring your dog to work

Photo credit: Yahoo Finance

Because Seattle is one of the most dog-friendly cities in the U.S., it is no surprise that life in HQ1 will also center around your most loyal friend.

Not only does this campus have a public dog park between Day 1 and the Amazon Spheres, but employees have access to a private, dog-friendly area inside the Spheres. And as there are over 6,000 dogs accompanying employees every day, you and your pup will never be alone at work again. 

Work from the jungle exhibit

Photo credit: Curbed Seattle

This structure, highlighting the advancement in engineering and horticulture, is the company’s dominant contribution to the city of Seattle. Within these three interlocking balls, there are over 40,000 plants throughout the four stories picked from the cloud forest region.

There are plenty of places to sit down and work, and even a restaurant to stop in! This jungle exhibit is open to the public and employees who are looking for a spot to eat, relax, or work.

Art studio, Harry Potter library, and tons of games

Photo credit: Curbed Seattle

Within the larger buildings, there is still plenty to see. Whether you're looking to let loose or seeking to relax, Doppler has what you need:

  • A personalized video game room if you’re in the mood for some PVP play
  • The Expressions Lab art studio boosts Amazonians' creativity and morale
  • A small Harry Potter-themed library

Inside Day 1 on the 16th floor, you will find an open space area for both fun and work-related activities. This area contains foosball, a rotating art display, bean-bag toss, a comically large chess board, a ping pong table, and pleasing views of the Seattle area.

Food options galore

Photo credit: Seattle Mag

While employees are encouraged to explore independent restaurants nearby, they still have food options within the building.

Doppler boasts:

  • Six different eateries for employees to decide from
  • A small coffee shop to up those caffeine levels
  • Local markets that sell items such as bouquets, frozen foods, and even kombucha growlers

If you’re an Amazonian at the Oscar building, just down the street from Denny Triangle, then you may enjoy lounging at the panoramic cafe on the 21st floor to view the city of Seattle.

More workspace than you know what to do with

Photo credit: Amazon

Once it’s time to get into work mode, there are many spots to which employees can focus. On the second floor of Doppler, you will find community stairs where employees go to work and people watch.

The building also holds a workspace with dividers that have been repurposed from the fulfillment centers' conveyor belts. If employees are in need of a private space to focus on a project or host a meeting, there are many small office rooms provided to workers.

Photo credit: Amazon

One unique aspect of the campus is the phone-booth style pods. These spaces have a small desk and seating area with large glass panels on either side. The primary use of these pods is for Amazonians to focus in a space they will not be interrupted; however, they can be utilized for a private phone call as well. 

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