Amazon reveals an updated design and timetable for PenPlace at its HQ2 campus

HQ2, Take Two

Amazon reveals an updated design and timetable for PenPlace at its HQ2 campus

PenPlace as seen from the adjoining I-395. The three towers surrounding the Helix have been given overhauls to better delineate between them. (Courtesy NBBJ)

Eight months after e-commerce and web hosting behemoth Amazon revealed a spiraling glass tower to anchor the second phase of its HQ2 campus in Arlington, Virginia, the company has gone back to the drawing board. PenPlace will hold 3.3 million square feet of office space across four buildings with the NBBJ-designed Helix at its core, and after receiving public feedback, Amazon has reconfigured the master plan to create a more porous campus.

Citing the desire to make PenPlace feel more like a neighborhood than a corporate campus, Amazon has overhauled the pedestrian and bike connections to the site to make everything easier to access from the street. Protected bike lanes have been added, and sidewalks will be widened at where Amazon predicts the heaviest flow of pedestrians.

rendering of amazon's PenPlace showing people walking on a path
Wider pedestrian pathways and a new shared east-west pathway will improve mobility across the campus. (Courtesy NBBJ)

One of the key public draws of PenPlace is the 2.5 acres of open green space that will flow around the base of the Helix and connect all four of the 22-story towers. SCAPE has been tapped as the landscape architect, and the new scheme adds another 5,500 square feet of plantings and will cut down on the amount of impermeable paving. Another set of stairs has been added at the northern edge of the site to create an additional entrance and dialogue with the stairs leading up to the base of the Helix.

The biggest (visible) change will come to the three other NBBJ-designed glassy office towers that bound the 11-acre second phase parcel. One of the most requested changes, according to Amazon, was to diversify each tower and give them individual identities. To that end, NBBJ has further accentuated the tripartite composition of each, breaking each building into distinct bases, middles, and tops. Amazon also claims that each building now features differently patterned and colored facades (though they remain glassy affairs, and it’s difficult to judge how unique each is from the renderings released thus far).

At the base of the helix, a snail shell-shaped spiral tower
The base of the Helix, which will include integrated lights and seating. (Courtesy NBBJ)

As part of Amazon’s sustainability initiatives at the site, the number of rooftop solar panels has been doubled, creating shaded canopies atop each of the three non-Helix towers. Each building will gain outdoor terraces, and the retail pavilions at ground level will now all feature “roof meadows”; all in all, the changes to the landscape should help further sequester stormwater runoff more efficiently.

The $2.5 billion PenPlace campus is still expected to hold 100,000 square feet of retail across 12 storefronts, a 20,000-square-foot community center, a 250-seat public amphitheater, dog run, and underground vehicle access to keep cars off of the surface. That includes 1,984 subterranean parking spaces.

Base of the PenPlace development with a car access point and 4 glass towers
Vehicle access will be entirely underground, including parking. (Courtesy NBBJ)

Amazon is also touting the project’s sustainability bona-fides. Apart from the LEED Platinum certification, it’s shooting for at all of the towers, 100 percent of the electricity consumed will be created through a combination of on- and off-site renewable power generation. Other plans include construction with 10 percent less embodied carbon than the average for a project of this size, with a pledge to offset the rest. A 50 percent reduction in water consumption and wastewater recycling are also in the cards.

Public feedback on the new scheme is now open until November 7 through the Arlington County website. The changes have reportedly pushed the approvals expected from the county to 2022, though it’s not clear if this will impact the company’s plans to open the campus by 2025.