On Tuesday, the online everything store Amazon.com submitted a new proposal for offices in downtown Seattle, featuring three biomorphic, spherical buildings.
The central element of NBBJ’s proposal for Amazon’s headquarters is a trio of conjoined Catalan-sphere modules, each built with a structural-steel skeleton. According to the proposal, which is the second submission to reach Seattle City Hall, these spheres would range from 80 to 95 feet in height and contain five floors of office space. The rounded, pentagonal facets of the spheres would meet in star-shaped intersections.
Yet as alien as the water molecule–shaped building is, the proposal—a revision from architects NBBJ, who submitted the first version back in May—was far from the weirdest news to come out of Amazon HQ in August. That happened earlier in the month, when it was announced that Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos had purchased The Washington Post from the Graham family.
The same day that the Post announced the $250 million sale, the newspaper also reported on a number of proposals from developers for its new office building. Gensler, HOK, and EE&K a Perkins Eastman Company are among the firms tapped by developers looking to bring on the Post as an anchor tenant. Representatives from several of the firms involved in these bids declined to comment on what the sale means for any plans to move The Washington Post—whose relocation was announced months prior. Most of the development schemes made public would take the region’s paper of record from downtown, where its now-former parent company will retain offices, to a transitional neighborhood.
The contrast between the possibilities is stark. Whereas the proposal submitted to Seattle for Amazon pledges to “stretch the boundaries of architectural innovation,” the building designs for the Post are more restrained—in part by Washington’s building regulations, but also by the diminished size of today’s newsroom. As the Washington City Paper's Aaron Wiener reports, a Post staff separated from its parent company might not field more than two floors' worth of office space.
With any luck, the sale means an opportunity to rethink the newspaper’s office, small though it may be. The dour newsroom is an almost built-in part of newspaper culture today. (Squat office buildings are a similarly regrettable feature of the nation’s capital.) So long as Bezos is rethinking how newspapers work, perhaps he should start from the ground up.
Amazon's headquarters certainly shows the way. In fact, the Post's smaller office requirements are not necessarily a strike against a better-designed building. The Seattle Timesreports that Amazon's new headquarters will total 65,000 square feet. One of the smarter office buildings to come online in D.C. in recent years—an office by Cunningham Quill Architects, with a ground-level church by Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects—boasts more than 170,000 square feet of space. The new Amazon headquarters would fit under D.C.'s height restrictions.
One question is whether the newspaper's new owner wants a statement building. And to guess at that answer, we'd need to know more about why Bezos bought The Washington Post in the first place.