In a world rapidly being deforested, cities are building living green zones between tall skyscrapers and bustling highways. The recently opened Amazon Spheres is one such sanctuary. Situated in the heart of Seattle on the west coast of the United States, commerce giant Amazon.com constructed a breathtaking office space that houses 40 000 plants from more than 50 countries around the world. It’s quite literally a peaceful oasis in the centre of one of America’s busiest cities.
The structure itself seems to be alive and features rounded, organic shapes that are in sharp contrast to the linear buildings that surround it. Completed under the direction of US-based architecture and design firm NBBJ, the Amazon Spheres consists of three glass ‘roofs’ made of laminated panels that are fitted together to create the illusion of domes. Each of the 2 643 panels absorbs light for the plants inside to achieve photosynthesis, and reflect heat to keep the temperature inside at a cool and constant 22℃.
Since opening its doors to the public earlier this year, responses have been mixed, with some Seattle residents arguing that the structure is an unnecessary eyesore. This isn’t a complete surprise considering that when the design was proposed back in 2012, reviews were also polarised. It took several revisions to the blueprint before the city approved it and gave the go-ahead for construction in 2015, with the first tree only planted in 2017.
Throughout the Amazon Spheres, meeting areas have been strategically placed in nooks and hidden corners, with enough room to seat more than 800 people. Inside, there are three distinctly different spaces, each one inspired by different parts of the world. The smaller of the domes, for example, was inspired by Africa and Asia.
It’s fascinating to watch the rise of nature as an architectural feature. When the Cloud Forest in Singapore was first revealed in 2011, its splendour was almost unfathomable, and its sheer size alone makes it one of the most magnificent structures in Southern Asia. A little further east, Nikunotoriko – a restaurant inspired by forests – is set to become one of the crowning jewels of Japan’s already celebrated culinary world. Even the subtle architectural elements of firms like Charles Cunniffe and the local Malan Vorster Architecture Interior Design are all testament to the fact that nature is becoming an aesthetic tool in metropolitan spaces.