A Crosscut.com collaboration with Seattle Magazine.
Strolling around Blanchard and Seventh in Seattle’s Denny Triangle, I’m taking in the last days of a forgettable block. It’s an easy spot to ignore as one passes by. Nondescript mid-rises commiserate with a Budget Rent A Car, a strip club and a fenced-off dirt lot. Having passed through the area for years, it’s hard for me to believe that by 2016, this block will resemble the set of a sci-fi movie and serve as an epicenter of global retail. But the wheels are already turning, and change is on its way.
Last December, Amazon received the green light to build a 3.3 million-square-foot campus encompassing this entire city block. Even for a city that prides itself on forward-thinking design, the retail giant’s plans are striking.
The headquarters will not only include a 38-story skyscraper, but also a series of interlocking, five-story domes made of glass and steel (which Amazon has dubbed ‘The Spheres”), positioned in the middle of a park-like area. The biosphere-style orbs will be filled with trees and plant life, various retail stores and eateries, and workspaces for Amazon staff.
Initial public response has been mostly positive. The Spheres have been cast as another futuristic addition to the city’s architecture, following the library downtown and EMP Museum, and some of its ground-floor retail will be open to the public.
But as the glow wears off, The Spheres could come to represent other things. Fair or not, some Seattleites may pass the ultramodern facility years from now, consider the workers among their climate-controlled greenery and see a symbol of progress only for the few, disconnected from the rest of the city.