Understory at Amazon Spheres; Understory at Amazon Spheres;

Understory at the Spheres, Seattle, Washington

Understory below the Amazon Spheres lets the public glimpse the building and plants above

At the core of Amazon’s Seattle campus, itself in the heart of downtown Seattle, lie the Spheres.

Primarily intended as a creative working space for Amazon staff, the eye-catching biospheres are made up of a system of steel frame cells supporting more than 2,500 glass panels. Home to over 40,000 plants, the Spheres reflect the city’s combined technical prowess and connection to nature. 

Below the Spheres is Understory, a space open to the public where Arup and Graham Baba Architects helped Amazon develop a space in which to tell the story of the Spheres’ design and the flora within.

A multi-use space

Understory is a flexible exhibit space, located on the ground floor of the Amazon Spheres. The space is open to the public and currently hosts an interactive and multimedia exhibit showcasing the design and construction of the biospheres above, with an immersive 360-degree experience for visitors. Understory also serves as an event and gathering space. 

Arup worked with Graham Baba Architects on the design for the fit out of the space, providing structural, mechanical, electrical, and plumbing engineering as well as acoustic and audiovisual consulting services. We designed mechanical and electrical infrastructure to support a wide variety of events, all of which hide above in sculptural ceiling clouds or below the concrete slab floor. The bespoke vestibule and suspended ceiling were prefabricated by Spearhead and shipped to the site in modules. 

Acoustic accommodations

Envisioned as an exhibit space by day, with cutting edge audio and visual content, and an event space by night, for which the exhibit technology needs to disappear, the acoustic and audiovisual design of Understory was challenging from the onset. In addition, the low ceiling, circular geometry, and large amount of glazing required innovative problem-solving through both 3-D computer modelling and listening sessions in the Arup m|Lab.

The Arup team focused on the spectrum of uses early on, defining the range of acoustic scenarios and establishing contexts for the level of background noise, for everything from acoustic performances to exhibits to cocktail parties. We brought the design team and owner into Seattle’s m|Lab to listen to the range of design options to empower the owner to make informed decisions about the acoustic design.

The owner also requested a hidden door between the main exhibit area and a speakeasy/library space. After the listening session in the m|Lab, the team opted for a design with a high level of acoustic separation and privacy, without needing to understand the alphabet soup of acoustic design metrics. Although the door was eventually scrapped for cost reasons, our overall recommendations in terms of speech intelligibility, reverberance, and musical clarity were tailored for each space type and usage.

Delivered on a tight schedule, Arup exceeded Amazon’s expectations.

Experts in acoustics

Arup is one of the world’s most respected acoustic consulting firms. With teams in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Seattle, and Los Angeles, we leverage the practical knowledge of over 30 years’ experience as an industry leader in planning and design. Enhanced by the innovative SoundLab, Arup provides clients with practical acoustic design guidance for the built environment.

Discover more about our team