Amazon HQ2 Receives County Approval
The Arlington County Board recently announced that it has unanimously approved building plans for American multinational technology company Amazon’s new headquarters (HQ2) in Arlington, Virginia.
Featuring a unique, helix-shaped tower design, once finished, HQ2 is expected to welcome more than 25,000 Amazon workers.
On Nov. 13, 2018, former Governor Ralph Northam announced that Amazon would be investing approximately $2.5 billion into what would be HQ2. Located 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 (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.
Additional work for the project includes extending the Crystal City Potomac Yard Transitway 1.1 miles in order to connect the City of Alexandria through Pentagon City in Arlington. Designs, pricing and contract documents for a new Potomac Yard Metrorail station were expected to be finalized by the end of 2019 with completion of the station envisioned for 2022.
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, Amazon Vice President of Global Real Estate John Schoettler announced that Amazon HQ2 would be striving for a LEED Platinum energy certification.
“We are working to secure renewable energy for the campus which means our Arlington buildings will operate on 100% renewable energy by 2030,” said Schoettler at the time.
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, 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 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 expects to open the building to public tours and is 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.
More recently, in November, 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.
At the time, the project reportedly had 1,000 workers onsite, who’ve 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 comprised of 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. The Met Park will also have a playground, farmers market, dog park and other public amenities.
According to reports, employees of Amazon will have access to “dog terraces” located on the upper levels of the pair of buildings.
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.
Officials report that phase two, which includes the iconic “Helix” isn’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.
Last month, the Arlington County Board unanimously approved plans to build Amazon’s helix-shaped tower on the PenPlace campus in a vote of 5-0. Earlier in April, the Arlington Planning Commission was also reported to be in full support of the ongoing project, voting 9-0 to proceed.
The Helix is noted to be one of several office buildings that were approved for the HQ2 site. Although skyscrapers are banned in the District of Columbia, once completed, The Helix is projected to dominate the region’s skyline, standing amongst some of the tallest buildings in the area.
Once completed, the structure will feature a walkable ramp wrapping around the building with trees and greenery planted to resemble a mountain hike. The Associated Press reports that the green walkway will be open to the public on weekends.
Amazon is aiming to reach project competition by 2025.