Amazon’s New Seattle Buildings: Part Workspace, Part Arboretum

Image courtesy of nathanmac87

Some companies provide employees with rooms full of ping-pong or foosball tables, TVs, and comfy napping pods as a way to relax or kick-back for breaks during the day. Amazon is reportedly taking a more zen approach to inspiring workers: creating a garden/jungle/conservatory-like new workspace.

The New York Times reports that Amazon is currently building a collection of high- and low-rise sphere-shaped buildings in downtown Seattle.

While the buildings will be a place for employees to go about their day-to-day business, the e-commerce giant hopes the dwellings will serve as much more for its workers.

The conservatory-like spheres, which are expected to open in 2018, are intended to use nature as an inspiration to employees, who will traverse the hallways of the building packed with an array of plant collections.

The vegetation in the buildings won’t be the simple planted pots one might picture in the workplace. Instead, they will include 3,000 different species, such as trees that reach three stories in the air and variations of plants that are extinct in the wild.

“The whole idea was to get people to think more creatively, maybe come up with a new idea they wouldn’t have if they were just in their office,” Dale Alberda, the lead architect on the project at NBBJ, tells the NY Times.

With the new buildings, Amazon is looking to have a bit of fun with employees. For example, conference rooms will be known as treehouses, and workers can walk across high-off-the-ground suspension bridges.

“It’s a retreat, a cathedral away from the hubbub of the city,” Margaret O’Mara, an associate professor of history at the University of Washington, says of the new buildings.

The plants won’t begin showing up in the spheres until next spring. Until then, they are being grown and cared for around a one-acre greenhouse about an hour from Amazon’s Seattle headquarters, the NY Times reports.

Amazon isn’t the only company using trees and other plants to influence and relax employees. Apple is also working on a new building that will feature mostly native trees to restore the natural landscape of Silicon Valley.

While some academics say there is evidence such environments are beneficial to employees, just how much nature is too much is unclear.

Ihab Elzeyadi, an associate professor of architecture at the University of Oregon, suggests that too many plants too close to the workplace could be a distraction for employees.

Elzeyadi previously conducted a study that found workers who were provided with a view of nature experienced a 20% reduction in sick leave.

However, incorporating those elements into an actual office is a different thing entirely.

“You’re making a big investment and betting on two big hypotheses,” he said. “Will they leave work and go there and, having that kind of nature-bathing maybe once a week, will it really impact their stress levels?”

Forget Beanbag Chairs. Amazon Is Giving Its Workers Treehouses. [The New York Times]