Amazon HQ2 on Pause
7. March 2023
A rendering of the NBBJ-designed Helix that was unveiled in September 2021. (Image courtesy of Amazon)
News reports reveal that Amazon is pausing construction on its second headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, near Washington, DC. The pause includes the spiraling Helix designed by NBBJ.
A lot has changed in the last five years, since Amazon's high-profile HQ2 search in 2018 pitted North American cities against each other — and then upset most of them when Amazon picked not one, but two cities: the borough of Queens in New York City and Arlington, Virginia. Tech's ascendancy was clearly grasped in the competition, which found the winning cities offering billions of dollars in tax subsidies, while the dashed dreams, as evidenced by the tens of thousands of layoffs by Amazon and others in the tech sector this year, were foreshadowed by the community opposition that led Amazon to abandon its plans to build part of HQ2 in NYC.
Still, in early 2020 Amazon started construction on its HQ2 in Arlington — the first phase, at least, and not one architecturally ambitious. An architectural statement followed in early 2021, with the unveiling of The Helix designed by NBBJ, the same firm that designed The Spheres at Amazon's headquarters in Seattle. Even with the pandemic keeping tech workers at home, construction of the first phase of HQ2 progressed; consisting of two office towers, that phase, called Metropolitan Park, is scheduled to open for employees in June, per Bloomberg News.
Plans for PenPlace, the second and larger of HQ2's two phases, include three 22-story office towers in an L-shape formation around the 350-foot-tall Helix, which would contain a corporate conference center and indoor garden. Approvals for the 2.8-million-square-foot second phase were obtained in April by JBG Smith Properties, the developer working with Amazon on the project. A groundbreaking would have taken place at the beginning of this year, but that was postponed indefinitely. Bloomberg and other news outlets picking up the story can only speculate that hybrid work habits brought on by the pandemic, combined with the high-profile layoffs in the tech sector, are leading Amazon to delay construction on the second phase of HQ2.
Amazon's official words on the project indicate it will move forward with construction…at some point in the future. John Schoettler, Amazon’s real estate chief, told Bloomberg: “We’re always evaluating space plans to make sure they fit our business needs and to create a great experience for employees. And since Met Park will have space to accommodate more than 14,000 employees, we’ve decided to shift the groundbreaking of PenPlace out a bit.” Amazon's layoffs this year, it should be noted, are anticipated to total 18,000 employees.
From The Spheres to The Helix