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Inside Amazon’s new Bellevue office tower, where the company is testing evolving workplace designs

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Nobody dropped the tech industry’s tried and true “fail fast” mantra, but during a tour Wednesday of Amazon’s newly opened Sonic office tower in Bellevue, Wash., the theme was definitely about experimenting, learning and evolving.

And that’s not in relation to new products or services. It’s about how the people who make those things will actually work and interact with one another in a space that’s a testing ground of sorts.

Despite a pause in construction that’s impacting Amazon’s ambitious growth plans in Bellevue, the 42-story skyscraper rises to be the tallest building in the city. It looks like it could have been plucked from the tech giant’s headquarters campus across Lake Washington in Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood. Amazon’s three towers near The Spheres share a similar look, and Sonic is no different.

It’s inside where the company has shifted the thinking a bit, moving away from the idea that all communal space needs to be concentrated near the bottom of a building. Instead, Amazon has dispersed so-called “Centers of Energy” to a few different floors.

“We’re learning that employees are working a little bit differently than before,” said Gina Klem, an Amazon global real estate and facilities director.

The view from street level as Amazon’s newest officer tower rises 42 stories in Bellevue, Wash. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

Klem admitted that Amazon’s return to office, in which the company has asked its corporate and tech employees to be in the office at least three days a week, has been “an adjustment.” She’s focused on what types of spaces Amazon can deliver for how people are working after being gone for three years of the pandemic.

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“What we are hearing is enthusiasm in the ability to connect and collaborate with one another, and in the different types of spaces for the different types of work,” Klem said.

Those spaces rely on a myriad of buzzwords, including lounges, breakout spaces, meeting rooms, focus spaces, communal centers, team suites, head-down spaces and more.

And there was another familiar term that came up: home.

“I think we tried to lean in and make it feel a little bit more like home maybe than it had in the past. So it’s a comfortable place,” said Steve Erickson, principal at the architecture firm SABA+BA, who helped lead Wednesday’s tour.

Sonic features a number of elaborate plant displays as the building is “grounded in nature,” according to the company. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

Plants are definitely homey, and Amazon has plenty of its signature horticultural touches throughout the building, mimicking the look of The Spheres and Climate Pledge Arena and other spaces.

There is also lots of artwork, colorful hallways, wood accents, modern lighting and furniture, and coffee bars and eateries throughout.

And there are views. At 600 feet, the building is currently the tallest in Bellevue, and from a 32nd floor communal space, employees and visitors can easily gaze south at Mount Rainier.

At the ground level, building owner Vulcan Real Estate is leasing 21,000 square feet of retail space to Pinstripes, an Italian-American bistro with bocce and bowling.

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A “Team Suite” for focused meetings and collaboration is one of many new workplace layouts Amazon is testing. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

The building, at 555 108th Ave. N.E., isn’t finished though. Amazon has built roughly half of Sonic — about 450,000 square feet — up to the 19th floor, and is waiting to proceed with the interior buildout of the remaining floors. The testing of different layouts and work modes will give the company the opportunity to learn and adjust before it builds out the rest. There’s no timeframe on when it will be completed.

Sonic (previously referred to as 555 Tower) is part of Amazon’s ambitious growth plans in Bellevue, where the company has said it plans to put 25,000 workers across various buildings in the city, matching the headcount it plans for HQ2 in Arlington, Va.

But the pace of that growth slowed as Amazon paused construction to get a better idea of what impact hybrid work would have on its need for office space. Other buildings include Dynamo (West Main) Tower One, which will be the next to open; Bellevue 600, where the core of one tower is currently rising and another tower is paused; and The Artise, where construction is also paused.

A diner with a genuine lunch counter is one of the eateries in Sonic. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

Amazon employs roughly 75,000 people in the Seattle area and 10,000 in Bellevue. Sonic is currently home to 1,000 workers primarily from operations support and technology.

Like most Amazon buildings, the name has a backstory. Klem said Sonic was the code name for when Amazon was launching Prime Now delivery in Canada and France.

Keep scrolling for more images from GeekWire’s tour of the building:

The main reception desk in Sonic. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)
A van converted into a snack cart. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)
Outdoor spaces, with covered areas, are accessible at various levels of the office tower. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)
Soundproofing material zig zags through the ceiling at a bank of elevators. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)
These aren’t Jeff Bezos’ door desks! Team areas are designed to be flexible. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)
Skip the elevator at this main communal space, where there’s food, drink and the ability to retreat to different floors for quiet. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)
A waterfall feature near the base of Sonic. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)
A tile art piece by Seattle collaborative artist group Electric Coffin. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)
A meeting room designed to look like a Northwest cabin, also by Electric Coffin. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)
Can’t forget the dogs at Amazon. One Sonic floor features a workspace with fancy dog beds and an outdoor potty area. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)
The wallpaper is, again, a reminder not to forget the dogs at Amazon. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)
Amazon’s sustainability push means no natural gas in the building — this “fireplace” relies on electricity and steam. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)
The halls are decked at the main entrance to Sonic. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)
An octopus sculpture in the main plaza at Amazon’s Sonic building in Bellevue, Wash. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

Source: Geek Wire

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