Sunday, April 14, 2019

Adventure 9/50 : the Amazon Spheres

In this year of 50@50 adventures, they don't *all* have to be big ones, right? This little adventure is right in our home town.

In June 2015 Amazon broke ground in downtown Seattle not for a new office building, but for a massive greenhouse. The Spheres took shape quickly, with the outer steel structure complete in March 2016. The structure -- made up on repeating shapes known as a pentagonal hexecontrahedrons (phew!) -- was built in pieces in Oregon, then shipped up to Seattle for assembly. Seattleites giggled and called them "Bezos's Balls". Meanwhile, plants were already growing in a greenhouse so that there would be mature specimens from the beginning -- so it would feel like "year five on day one". ("Day one" is a big Amazon phrase...)

The last pane of glass was installed in December 2016, and the first plant installed in May 2017. The next months the Spheres' largest plant -- a Ficus rubignosa nicknamed Rubi -- was installed after a long trip from a nursery in California. Rubi is so large they needed to remove the top of one of the Spheres and crane her inside.

In October 2017 the living walls were planted ... and in January 2018 the Spheres opened.

Now I know what you're thinking -- why did Amazon build them?

Amazonians are known to work really long hours ... and the Spheres are a different kind of workspace, where employees can go to work, collaborate, or just relax. And, really, wouldn't it be great to have a meeting in here?

The Spheres are also open to the public on the first and third Saturday of every month. Reservations are free, but have to be made in advance for specific times -- and they do "sell out". I had been wanting to visit for a while, but the timings never worked out, until the first Saturday in April.

I booked my tickets on the day they became available, just in case -- 30 days in advance. I booked a 3:15 slot, as I wanted to time it in conjunction with something else-- about which more later.

You enter from the lowest level, and immediately the warmth and humidity hits you -- along with a planty-jungley small. Because the plants are all around you!

The structure is interesting, divided up into a number of areas spread over four stories. And this amazing living wall stretches all the way up!

I loved the juxtaposition of the lush greenery with the complicated architecture -- and glimpses of the skyscrapers all around. 

There's a pond or two, and a big fish tank, and even a small cafe (which was closed when we visited) -- but the stars are clearly the plants. 

I apologize for not knowing the names of any of the plants -- but there were horticulturalists on hand to help identify plants if requested! 

Lots of lovely flowers, too:

We went up and up, doing rings around the building to see all the different plants. 

At the top we noticed they were misting the living wall:

After a little break in the "lounge" at the top (how could you not want to nap up there???), we wound our way back down to the ground floor and on to our next stop.

I had wanted to visit Deep Dive -- a swanky little cocktail lounge in the basement of the Spheres -- since I heard about it. So it was the perfect choice for a post-adventure drink. We timed it just right, arriving a few minutes after they opened and getting a nice pair of seats at the bar.

The bar is like a medieval Cabinet of Curiosities -- it reminded us of a high-end Octopus Bar. If the Octopus Bar is a sailor's bar on land, Deep Dive is the Captain's Quarters.

We ordered two of the fancy cocktails -- Wil a Paddington because it had marmalade in it; me a Clover Club because I love a classic cocktail with egg white.

The bartenders were very showy -- lots of exaggerated pouring from the sky, speedy shaking, and a clear enjoyment of their craft. And the results? Spectacular.

I don't know that we'll return often -- largely because the space is small and probably full 90% of the time it's open. But it was a real treat to have such finely-crafted cocktails and quietly talk about our visit to the Spheres. 


  1. All that lovely, freshly made clean air! It would be great to work or take a break in such a setting.

  2. That looks like a great place to visit...we have a tiny sphere here in the Black Hills, at Reptile Gardens. It is amazing to seethe tropical plants they have growing, I can only imagine what 4 stories worth of plants would be like!