Amazon Opens First Phase of HQ2 Project

FRIDAY, MAY 26, 2023

At the beginning of the week, American multinational technology company Amazon opened the first phase of its second headquarters in Arlington, Virginia. The investment is anticipated to result in 25,000 Amazon jobs by 2030.

“This project is extraordinary in many respects,” said Arlington County Board Chair Christian Dorsey. “It will bring us significantly closer to fulfilling the community's vision of Arlington and National Landing as an urban neighborhood with a better balance of office, residential, and retail development, more and better public spaces, and more and better access for pedestrians and cyclists.”

The project in Metropolitan Park included more than 2.1 million square feet, with the construction of two 22-story buildings. Dubbed “Jasper” and “Merlin,” the structures reportedly stand 327 feet tall and include 200,000 cubic yards of concrete.

Amazon reports that its buildings are named after key moments in the company’s history. Jasper was the code name used for a project to enhance the customer experience for Alexa and Merlin was the codename for its QuickSight product.

According to the announcement, design elements incorporated native flora and fauna, as well as use earth tones and natural materials, such as wood and stone, to create a warm and inviting atmosphere.

Amazon had also released an “inside look” at the sustainability features of its second headquarters, which will reportedly run with zero operational carbon emissions.

According to the company’s release, the campus was built using low-carbon concrete, mass timber, electrified energy-efficient operations, ways to reuse water and two acres of landscaped roofs with native plants.

“Constructing buildings that can house thousands of employees on a daily basis, while operating more efficiently—and not disrupting, but rather enhancing the natural environment—is no small feat. I’m proud of the work our teams have done with HQ2 to make that a reality,” said Kara Hurst, vice president for Worldwide Sustainability at Amazon.

Additional highlights regarding the building design include:

  • 100% powered by renewable energy;
  • 24% overall energy savings relative to a comparable new office building—enough electricity to power 572 homes in the U.S. every year;
  • 20% reduction in the carbon footprint of Met Park’s concrete structures compared to the industry baseline—saving over 14,700 metric tons of carbon, or the equivalent of taking more than 3,200 cars off the road in the U.S. for an entire year; and
  • Certified as Targeting Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum—the highest level of LEED certification. Met Park is on track to be the largest LEED v4 Platinum building in the U.S.

“While it’s not always necessarily visible to our customers or communities, we’re working to decarbonize all of Amazon’s buildings—including our corporate offices, data centers, and fulfillment facilities—given the climate impact of the built environment,” Hurst said.

“At HQ2, we challenged ourselves to push the limits of what’s possible when it comes to sustainable construction and design—and we’re proud to share these features with the northern Virginia community.”

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.

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.

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.

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.

Most recently, in March this year, Amazon confirmed that it was pausing construction on the second phase of its new headquarters. The decision coincided with recent job cuts and a reassessment of office needs to account for remote work, Bloomberg reported.

The first phase of HQ2 was reportedly nearly completion at the time, and it is anticipated to be finished and occupied as planned. Amazon reported that it 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.


Tagged categories: Architecture; Carbon footprint; Color + Design; Commercial / Architectural; Commercial Construction; Completed projects; Design; Emissions; Green building; LEED; NA; North America; Office Buildings; Program/Project Management; Projects - Commercial; Retail; Sustainability

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