Amazon has enlisted a trio of firms deeply involved with the development of its Seattle campus to help shape the plans for its second headquarters, an early indication the two campuses could share some common design elements.
The Seattle-based company has been mum on what its new buildings will look like, but emails obtained by the Washington Business Journal reveal representatives from architecture firms NBBJ and IA Interior Architects, as well as development management firm Seneca Group, have been involved in a series of HQ2-related meetings with county officials and Amazon’s development partner, JBG Smith Properties.
The three were also part of the team that worked on many of Amazon’s new Seattle buildings, including the 37-story Day 1 tower and 36-story Doppler building. What’s more, there are some architectural similarities between the design of those buildings and illustrative renderings on JBG Smith’s National Landing website of PenPlace, one of the development sites Amazon plans to buy for its new headquarters. Seneca and NBBJ are based in Seattle, while IA is based in New York but has an office in Amazon’s back yard.
Representatives for Seneca and NBBJ did not respond to repeated requests for comment and a representative for IA declined to comment.
A representative for Amazon said the firms have been trusted partners for many years. Seneca, specifically, has helped Amazon develop its corporate offices globally, not just in Seattle. Those firms, the representative said, “understand our commitment to design, our commitment to sustainability, and our commitment to the aesthetics of the community.”
The Amazon representative said that HQ2 will likely share some design elements with HQ1 but that Amazon hopes to reflect some of the architecture of Crystal City and Pentagon City and create a vision in consultation with county officials.
Will that include Amazon’s iconic spheres? Probably not, the representative said, but Amazon anticipates creating some sort of iconic elements to HQ2 in conversation with the community and other interested parties. And, based on feedback from neighborhood groups, it will feature a heavy dose of green space.
“To reiterate Andrea’s note, thank you for organizing such a successful, positive kick-off meeting last week,” Leber’s email read in part. “(I have never been in a project meeting with public officials where there was so much laughter!)”
Leber, responding to a request by Winn, declined to forward a copy of the slide deck NBBJ showed during that kick-off meeting, noting that “the project team does not share that deck and prefers to share it in person as we did last week.”
Another email identifies Seneca Development Manager Gina Grillo as being involved with a meeting on renovations to 1800 S. Bell St. and 241 18th St., two of four buildings Amazon has agreed to lease from JBG Smith. In the email, from Feb. 11, Grillo wrote: “We are beyond pleased to forge a new relationship with Arlington County and commence the beginning of both 1800 S. Bell and 241 18th Street projects.”
It shouldn’t come as any surprise that Amazon is showing loyalty to the firms that helped it shape Seattle’s skyline. As the Puget Sound Business Journal’s Emily Parkhurst and Marc Stiles noted in their January 2018 HQ2 primer, Amazon has shown an inclination to develop long-term business relationships with the likes of NBBJ and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s Vulcan Real Estate. That article noted Amazon has also started up business relationships with firms it hasn’t worked with in the past.
Locally, it also retained D.C.-based Hickok Cole Architects and Falls Church-based Hitt Contracting to design interior renovations at 1800 S. Bell. Representatives for Clune Construction Co. and Ramco of Va. Inc. also attended the kick-off meeting for 1800 S. Bell St. and 241 18th St.
Stiles also wrote an in-depth article in December 2017 on the man who’s been behind so much of Amazon’s real estate plans, John Schoettler. The Arlington emails reveal Schoettler either attended or was slated to attend a big kick-off meeting held in January along with Leber from Seneca, NBBJ Principal John Savo, and several other Amazon execs including Fava and Holly Sullivan, Amazon’s head of worldwide economic development.