We have heard the term “Work/Life Balance” a fair amount over the last decade. Finding balance between work and all of our other daily responsibilities is a challenge that most of us face, and if you have children, achieving that balance becomes even harder. The ability to successfully combine work, family commitments and personal well-being can feel impossible. These challenges for the employees at Amazon’s headquarters in Seattle are no different. What is different for them is that they can step away from the screen, the cubicle and the typical sterile conference room and find a bit of natural wonder in their own workplace and recharge inside the Amazon Spheres.
“The Spheres are a place where employees can think and work differently, surrounded by plants and aquariums with exotic fish, in unique, light-filled spaces unlike anything ever seen in a workplace,” according to Amazon’s website. “The Spheres are the result of innovative thinking about the character of what a workplace can be, from extended conversations about what is typically missing from urban offices — a direct link to nature.” The three domed Spheres are home to more than 40,000 plants from the cloud forest regions from over 30 countries around the world, and being inside them, well, you can’t help but feel inspired and rejuvenated.
Some studies suggest that spaces that embrace biophilic design (meaning that humans possess an innate tendency to seek connections with nature) can inspire creativity and even improve brain function. With thousands of plants in a variety of natural spaces, The Spheres provide an immersive and interesting experience for Amazon’s employees and visitors.
The Spheres team knew they wanted an indoor garden from the start and began conceptualizing the idea in early 2013. They first envisioned a curved glass building filled with plants and tall trees and studied the form and function of several other sphere-like conservatories around the world, including the UK’s Kew Gardens, the Mitchell Park Conservatory in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and La Biosfera in Genoa, Italy. The shape and geometry of The Spheres evolved over the course of the design process.
Amazon’s concept was — that the plant collection in The Spheres should feel like “year five on day one.” With this vision in mind, the team sourced plants from botanical gardens, private growers, and universities all over the world many years before The Spheres opened in January of 2018. Plants are still grown in a greenhouse in Woodinville, Washington to sustain The Sphere’s lush and tropical plant environment and are regularly circulated between The Spheres and the greenhouses depending on the season.
I am lucky to have a friend who is a subcontractor for Amazon, and was able to take several friends and former co-workers on a tour in July. The experience was nothing short of magical and all of us were blown away by the architecture, the bright and verdant environment that surrounded us, and the unique spaces to sit and relax. They include a nest like a bird’s that is perched high in a tree, and lush tropical alcoves meant for meetings or quiet personal reflection.
The plants inside The Spheres are organized into different collections. From the vertical gardens of the Canyon Living Wall to the flora-filled Fernery, each collection provides unique green spaces for employees and visitors to be curious and learn about our natural environment. The Spheres’ 50-foot living wall, which spans four floors, features an amazing variety of plants that include ferns, moss and even carnivorous Pitcher Plants on the 4th floor. There you will also find a large open area filled with light, and ergonomic chairs to relax in. A sign that says “The Spheres” with the Amazon arrow hangs in front of the green wall and makes the perfect location for visitors to have their photo taken. At the center of The Spheres is a 55-foot tall tree nicknamed Rubi, a 49-year-old Ficus that is the centerpiece of the 7th Avenue Sphere.
There are also several aquariums and a huge fish tank that preserves freshwater fish in a semi-natural, underwater world. There is so much to see and watch in the large tank that you may find yourself completely mesmerized. Only the call of exploring another floor managed to pull me away from watching for hours.
Although this unique environment is intended for the employees of Amazon, it is also there for visitors to enjoy and experience on the first and third Saturday each month. Start by going to the Understory Museum, just beside The Spheres. Understory is a self-guided, museum-style exhibit and public visitor center where guests can learn everything about The Spheres. It offers interactive exhibits about flora and design, and provides an immersive, 360-degree experience to visitors.
The Spheres and the Understory Museum are both free and open to all ages. Children under 18 must be accompanied by an adult. No matter what time of year you decide to visit, the climate inside The Spheres is a very comfortable 72 degrees and about 60 percent humidity. To make the most of your experience, consider making a reservation in advance and booking a guided tour. And don’t forget your camera, there is natural beauty at every turn that you will want to capture for yourself.
For more information and to book your visit, go to seattlespheres.com.
To learn more about the flora inside The Spheres, you can also check out their Instagram site at @seattlespheres.