PHOTOS: Look Inside Amazon’s 2.1M SF HQ2 Construction Site
Amazon selected Arlington, Virginia, for its second headquarters three years ago this week, and while the intervening period has been marked by a pandemic and major disruptions to the supply chain, the team said Wednesday that the project’s first phase remains on schedule for a 2023 delivery.
The HQ2 development team, including Amazon, developer JBG Smith and contractor Clark Construction, were joined Wednesday by Gov. Ralph Northam, local officials and members of the press for a hard-hat tour to share the progress that has been made on the massive project.
The 2.1M SF first phase began construction in January 2020. The team tore down a block of 1950s-era warehouses in Arlington’s Pentagon City neighborhood, part of the newly named National Landing area, and began work on two 22-story office towers.
The towers, being built on parcels 6, 7 and 8 of the Metropolitan Park development site, will include 50K SF of retail space and sit next to a 2-acre public park. Amazon earlier this month announced it signed deals with the first two retail tenants: District Dogs and RĀKO Coffee.
The construction team started pouring concrete for the project around one year ago and has now used 160,000 cubic yards of concrete; 200,000 should be poured by the time it is completed, Clark Construction Vice President Jeff King said. He said the typical Downtown D.C. office building uses about 40,000 cubic yards of concrete.
The towers have now reached 15 stories, and the team expects to top out in April at 22 stories, King said. The team in September began working on the exterior facade, and it expects to finish installing the 10,000 glass panels that make up the buildings’ exteriors by June.
Over the past few weeks, workers began excavating 10,000 cubic yards of dirt to make way for what will be the 2-acre Metropolitan Park at the center of the development. Next year, King said it will plant 300 new trees and 50,000 other plants around the project.
Procuring all of these building materials amid a global supply chain crisis is bound to create hurdles, but King said the construction team has navigated them and kept the project on schedule.
“Construction operations always has its challenges, and they sometimes pop up in unexpected areas, but our team has been able to manage through those and be proactive by planning the job for a long time and making sure we have a Plan A and a Plan B to overcome anything that comes our way,” King said when Bisnow asked about supply chain-related delays.
The massive amount of materials and energy required to produce a project of this size has the potential to create significant carbon emissions, but Amazon has sought to mitigate the environmental impact as part of its climate pledge.
While commercial property owners often focus on the sustainability of a building once it is operating, the construction process itself is a major contributor to carbon emissions. ZGF Architects Managing Partner Tim Williams, whose firm is designing HQ2, said the team has been working on ways to reduce carbon emissions during the building process.
“We’re focused not just on the operational carbon but on the embodied carbon, how we build the building,” Williams said. “When you look at a commercial building of this scale in the D.C. region, the biggest factor of its carbon footprint is the concrete frame, which can be as much as 40% of the carbon footprint.”
The team has employed methods to reduce the carbon emissions of the concrete structure that Williams said are rarely seen in the D.C. area. It is optimizing the concrete mix to use less carbon, and it is using a technology called CarbonCure that incorporates recycled carbon dioxide into fresh concrete to reduce its carbon footprint. Williams said these methods will reduce the carbon footprint by 15%.
The team is also utilizing cross-laminated timber as part of the roof of the development’s 700-person event space. This mass timber method has become increasingly popular in recent years because it releases far less carbon into the atmosphere than other materials.
“You’ve probably seen a lot of wood used in smaller projects, residential projects, it’s almost unheard of in buildings of this scale,” Williams said. “By building with timber, we’re able to push the industry, make them more familiar with it and open the doors to wider adoption.”
Amazon also has several strategies for the operational sustainability of its buildings once they deliver. The company partnered with Arlington County and Dominion Energy to build a 45-megawatt solar farm in Pittsylvania County, Virginia, that will be used to power the development. It will also use low-flow water fixtures, capture rainwater and use all-electric systems in its buildings.
"Arlington and Amazon partnered on a solar facility that’s going to help us reach our community energy plan's goals," Arlington County Board Chair Matt De Ferranti said. "We're thrilled about that part of the partnership."
More than 3,000 workers have amassed more than 1.4 million hours of labor on the project thus far, and King said 90% of the firms that worked on the project have been based in the D.C. area, including Bethesda-based Clark.
Amazon has hired over 3,500 HQ2 employees, though not all of them are going into the office. Amazon Global Real Estate and Facilities Director Joe Chapman said the company still has a flexible approach to its return to the office, with some teams choosing to come in for at least part of the week and others remaining remote.
The company is currently hiring for another 2,500 HQ2 roles, and it said it remains committed to its plan to bring 25,000 jobs to Arlington. The current employees are working out of space it leased on a short-term basis from JBG Smith as it builds out the new HQ2 towers.
The second phase of HQ2, on the nearby PenPlace development site, is still going through the planning process. The team last month released new designs in response to community feedback, and Arlington plans to hold more public hearings early next year.
Phase 2 is planned to include three office towers, a retail pavilion, a childcare center and space for the Arlington County Community High School. Its central feature is envisioned to be The Helix, a spiral-shaped structure that will have meeting space for Amazon employees and be accessible to the public.
The tech giant has continued its community engagement this year. Amazon Vice President of Public Policy Brian Huseman said it has held 100 meetings with community groups this year, and it has also donated to nonprofits and funded affordable housing in the area.
Huseman said having a detailed, long-term plan for its growth enables it to more proactively engage with the community than it did in Seattle, where it expanded organically over more than two decades as it grew to become one of the world’s largest companies.
“Here in Virginia, we know what our future growth plans are going to be, and we have the opportunity from the very beginning to do outreach to the community and to be a good neighbor,” Huseman said. “In Seattle, we didn’t know what our growth plans were going to be 24 years ago when Amazon started. We had no idea we’d have 60,000 employees in one city, but we have the opportunity now to build relationships.”
Jacob Wallace contributed reporting to this article.