Amazon's New South Lake Union HQ Is Booooring, Says Architecture Critic

amazon HQ01.jpg
"Ponderous." "Sober." "Anonymous." "Concrete cavern." "Ain't pretty."

These are all words that former P-I architecture critic Lawrence W. Cheek uses to describe Amazon's new headquarters complex in South Lake Union.

Writing for Crosscut:

A South Lake Union neighborhood that might have had the Pearl District's personable charm instead goes for ponderous, sober boxes. Exteriors are impeccably executed, but with few whiffs of whimsy or personality. Interiors reflect Seattle's ruggedly informal, improvisatory soul, but they ain't pretty.

Cheek seems to find the retail giant's new four-and-a-half-block multibuilding complex to be a slight step above 1984's Ministry of Truth, in terms of architectural elegance.

The project is the work of some of Seattle's largest design firms: LMN Architects, Callison Architecture, and NBBJ.

Apparently the theme for decorating Amazon's workplace is to "celebrate its fabled cheapness with finishes, furnishings, and art that essentially poke fun at itself."

Yet it's not the decorations that Cheek has a problem with, so much as the lack of them.

The buildings are drab, boring, and without the hint of character one might expect from one of the largest and youngest big companies in the country, he writes in so many words.

There is one area of the complex that Cheek likes. Too bad he has to use the term "trace of humanity" in complimenting it.

The one mildly interesting component here is NBBJ's small centerpiece building at 426 Terry, which incorporates a piece of the 1915 Van Vorst Building, a brick warehouse with a vaguely Mission Revival parapet facing Boren Avenue. The eroded, uneven masonry fa├žade smudges the corporate complex with a trace of humanity, and on the opposite Terry Avenue side, a convex concrete wall provides the lone interruption of the relentless straight lines composing the rest of the campus. There's an energetic glass-tile mosaic swoosh by Seattle artist Ann Gardner decorating the wall. For architectural "fun," this is about it.

Enjoy the digs, thousands of employees.

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