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Amazon Delays HQ2 Second Phase Construction


American multinational technology company Amazon recently confirmed that it is pausing construction on the second phase of its new headquarters (HQ2) in Arlington, Virginia. The decision coincides with recent job cuts and a reassessment of office needs to account for remote work, Bloomberg reports.

However, John Schoettler, Amazon’s real estate chief, says that the company is still committed to the project.

“We’re always evaluating space plans to make sure they fit our business needs and to create a great experience for employees,” he said in a statement.

“And since Met Park will have space to accommodate more than 14,000 employees, we’ve decided to shift the groundbreaking of PenPlace out a bit.” 

Featuring a unique, helix-shaped tower design, once finished, HQ2 is expected to welcome more than 25,000 Amazon workers.

Project History

On Nov. 13, 2018, former Governor Ralph Northam announced that Amazon would be investing approximately $2.5 billion into what would be HQ2. The location in National Landing—an area that includes parts of Pentagon City and Crystal City in Arlington County, in addition to Potomac Yard in the City of Alexandria—was selected after a 14-month-long competitive site selection process.

JBG Smith Properties (Chevy Chase, Maryland) was chosen to be a partner to Amazon in the development and housing of the HQ2 location.

Early designs for the Amazon campus, also called “PenPlace,” involved a 2.1 million-square-foot office complex complete with two 22-story office towers and an additional 67,000 square feet of ground-floor retail. In total, Amazon plans to occupy more than 4 million square feet of energy-efficient office space.

Curbed reported earlier that year that Virginia lawmakers had already approved hundreds of millions in tax incentives for the project’s development. Northam also announced that Virginia signed an agreement with Dominion Energy to purchase 30% of all energy used by the state government’s buildings from renewable sources—two months after Arlington committed to reaching carbon neutrality for all public and private buildings by 2050.

At the end of 2019, the decision was made to have the facility go beyond its intended LEED Gold certification and strive instead for the LEED Platinum. During a Site Plan Review Committee meeting on Oct. 14, 2019, Schoettler announced that Amazon HQ2 would be striving for a LEED Platinum energy certification.

For the project to reach LEED Platinum, the U.S. Green Building Council will look at the structure’s sustainability, water efficiency, indoor environmental quality, materials and resources, as well as energy and atmosphere. Based on points given from a 0-100 scale, Amazon HQ2 will need at least 80 points to be awarded the Platinum status.

To achieve these goals, Amazon reported that it was looking at forgoing natural gas in its kitchens and cafeterias, greener landscaping and upping its percentage of electric vehicle parking spaces and charging stations. The company was also considering building an offsite solar or wind farm to power the facilities with renewable energy.

In 2021, Amazon unveiled the proposed design plans for the second phase of the HQ2. The new designs revealed the crown jewel of the project, dubbed “The Helix,” which is modeled after the same concept of biophilia that is seen at the company's Seattle headquarters’ Spheres.

“The natural beauty of a double helix can be seen throughout our world, from the geometry of our own DNA to the elemental form of galaxies, weather patterns, pinecones and seashells. The Helix at our Arlington headquarters will offer a variety of alternative work environments for Amazon employees amidst lush gardens and flourishing trees native to the region,” Amazon said at the time.

“A true double helix in shape and structure, this unique building will feature two walkable paths of landscaped terrain that will spiral up the outside of the building, featuring plantings you may find on a hike in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. And because innovative technology often derives from the intersection of art and science, we’ve planned an artist-in-residence program to be hosted within The Helix. Local artists, in collaboration with our employees, will be inspired by the nature within the building as they create their pieces.”

The company expected to open the building to public tours and was also planning 2.5 acres of public-use space that will include both an amphitheater and forest grove. Retail pavilions and restaurants will also be located throughout the site with a 20,000-square-foot community space.

In November that year, Amazon invited reporters and local officials to the construction site of its HQ2, revealing that the campus’ first phase at the National Landing was on track for completion in 2023 despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

During the construction tour event, Northam was reported by the Washingtonian to credit Amazon with revitalizing the neighborhood formerly known as Crystal City and playing a major role in the record $77 billion in capital investment over the last four years.

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At the time, the project reportedly had 1,000 workers onsite, who had been working on installing the facades of the office towers and building the park. Once phase one is completed, National Landing will be home to two, 22-story buildings comprising more than 2.1 million square feet, dubbed “Met Park,” in addition to a two-acre public park. The development reportedly costs $2.5 billion.

The new spaces will feature 50,000 square feet of restaurants and retail, two of which have already been confirmed: petcare company District Dogs and coffee and cocktail café RAKO Coffee. Met Park will also have a playground, farmers market, dog park and other public amenities.

In terms of energy-savings and eco-friendly materials, the company also reported that HQ2 will house some of the most “green” buildings in the world. Electric power will come from a new solar farm in Pittsylvania County and the buildings are designed to exceed Paris Climate Agreement goals.

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Officials reported at the time that phase two, which includes the iconic “Helix,” wasn’t expected to be completed until sometime in 2026. The entire National Landing is expected to be transformed into an 18-hour, mixed-use neighborhood once both phases have reached completion.

Then, in May last year, the Arlington County Board announced that it unanimously approved building plans for the headquarters. At the time, Amazon was aiming to reach project completion by 2025.

Project Delay

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The first phase of HQ2 is reportedly nearly completion, and it is anticipated to be finished and occupied as planned. Amazon reported that it now has more than 8,000 workers in the area and expects to start moving them to the two nearly completed office towers in the 2.1-million-square-foot Met Park.

However, the delay affects the 22-story office tower and 350-foot-tall Helix project across the street.

Now that work has paused, there is currently no updated timeline or specified start date. Schoettler said that Amazon and JBG Smith Properties have been discussing modifying the plans for PenPlace, but will now likely have to modify these arrangements.

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According to reports, plans for the site approved by the county require the company to meet construction and permitting milestones by April 2025, unless the officials grant an extension. The company expects roughly three years between groundbreaking and the arrival of the first employees in a completed office tower.

Arlington County Board Chair Christian Dorsey said while there is no new construction timeline, Amazon indicated that they would proceed this year with permitting on the second phase of HQ2 and that they could begin construction in 2024. 

Additionally, he said the company is ahead of schedule on its local hiring goals and that he’s confident that Amazon will proceed with the second phase as planned, including the public benefits it has promised. 

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“Our second headquarters has always been a multiyear project, and we remain committed to Arlington, Virginia, and the greater Capital Region—which includes investing in affordable housing, funding computer science education in schools across the region, and supporting dozens of local nonprofits,” Schoettler said. “We appreciate the support of all our partners and neighbors, and look forward to continuing to work together in the years ahead.”

Tagged categories: Architecture; Color + Design; Color + Design; Commercial / Architectural; Commercial Buildings; Commercial Construction; Construction; Design; Good Technical Practice; Office Buildings; Ongoing projects; Program/Project Management; Projects - Commercial


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