To quell my wanderlust between trips to faraway places, I keep an eye open for local activities which interest me.
Seattle is less than 15 miles away, yet since I am retired and no longer need to commute to the city, it’s rare for me to leave the quiet hamlet of Edmonds to venture into the beehive of people and traffic.
When I read an article earlier this year about the opening of the Amazon Spheres to the public, I invited a couple of north-end friends to join me on a new adventure downtown. (We visited Seattle’s International District/Chinatown during winter.)
For the Amazon headquarters’ tour of the spheres, reservations are a requirement, and they are open only two Saturdays a month. Once registered on the website (see below for link), print the free ticket or have it available on your phone. Government ID is required (i.e. drivers license). Take public transportation or if you drive, the garage is across the street. Take note of other buildings as you approach the mind-bending spheres since the architecture and colors of other Amazon office buildings are also impressive.
A greeter welcomes visitors into the large sphere while ushering us inside. I found the check-in process at the front desk efficient. Within minutes we’ve shown our IDs, tickets are scanned, and we are led through a turnstile to the ‘inner sanctum’ of the large sphere. Unlike the zoo, there is no map to guide or instruct us, no arrows pointing the way, so we figured it out as we went. Taking the stairs to the first floor, we gaped at the massive structure, which, although on a much grander scale, reminded me of the geodesic domes Oregon friends built in the ‘70s. We stood there for a few minutes getting the ‘lay of the land’ and wondering where to go next. Guides are stationed on each floor if you have questions. Also, it wasn’t until we were departing much later that we saw an elevator is available.
Looking up at the scale of the sphere I was in awe and once I understood the layout, it’s only a matter of visiting the ‘exhibits’ as you would a museum. Surrounded by roughly 40,000 plants, many of which are labeled, I recognized several tropical flowers and plants from my trips to Costa Rica, which fills my heart with warm memories. The three spheres include plenty of options for sitting (or even lounging) while peacefully inhaling a tropical humidity and imagining the plants are growing happily in such a beautiful environment. I could almost hear birds chattering, butterflies flitting, and hummingbirds clicking in my ear.
Large misters expel clouds of moisture for the trees, plants and flowers on a regular basis. There is a hint of coolness to the humidity reminding me of hiking in Costa Rican jungles and feeling my skin soaking in moisture. In the Amazon Spheres I am relieved there is no apprehension of venomous snakes lurking beneath a fern.
As you gaze around the space, stand quietly amid the plant displays and living walls while breathing in the pristine air of biodiversity. Let the forms and shapes envelope you while your imagination whisks you off to a rain forest somewhere in the world as you stand in downtown Seattle.
On the third floor is a woven straw-like structure called the “bird’s nest,” which is approached by a small suspension bridge bouncing with each step. Cindy, Donna and I sat on the nest’s wrap-around bench for awhile resting and chatting. A group of five or six people arrived and asked if one of us could take their photo. I moved my purse and unnecessary jacket from my lap onto the bench and stood up while Donna scooted over a bit. A man handed me his phone and as I raised it to photograph them, I heard the familiar clatter of my phone hitting something as it fell. I thought it had slipped from the bench to the bottom of the nest, but it had fallen 50 feet or so to the floor below. There was a collective gasp as we all looked at one another.
Peering over the railing I saw a woman sitting in a chair and a young man walking by. They were both staring at my phone on the floor and looking a bit confused. The woman looked up at me and said, “It’s OK, no one will take it.” Cindy dashed downstairs to retrieve it as I resumed photographing the energized group sitting in the bird’s nest.
Cindy yelled up to me, “Your phone is fine!”
We were all astonished my phone didn’t shatter from the fall. One person in the group I was photographing, told us the floors were rubberized and he knew since he was an Amazon employee. A somewhat spongy floor helps tremendously for cell phones flying out of bird nests and eases the impact on walkers’ feet. During the work week, lucky Amazon employees use this space for breaks and probably meetings.
Spending almost two hours looking at these magnificent, and rare, plant specimens was a treat.
Feeling satisfied by our botanical experience, we ventured outside and fell into a conversation with one of the greeters stationed outside the door. I asked her if the partially constructed building across the street was the one involved in recent headlines and was told, “Oh, yes.”
Just two days before on our local news, it was announced that Amazon, with 45,000 employees, paused the construction of their newest building because the City of Seattle is tossing around the idea of a head tax payable by big business employers in Seattle. There was TV coverage of steel-workers chanting “No head tax! No head tax!” while an outspoken council person was voicing her support in favor of the head tax program to provide for the homeless. We were standing in the area where this recent demonstration took place. It looked like only the office building’s steel work was near completion.
After our lively conversation, the greeter pointed us in the direction of the Spheres’ Information Center below. Walking into this open display area, I was immediately impressed by the huge slide show directly ahead on three walls showing flowers and plants from the spheres. I read a little about the process the architects went through to select spheres, settling on what is known as a ‘Catalan’ form.
“…creating a sphere is more difficult than it may appear. While the Spheres bear similarities to, say, a traditional geodesic dome, this structure is far more complicated.
Like geodesic domes, the Spheres are constructed using a repeating geometric module. NBBJ is calling the pentagonal frames used to construct the Spheres Catalans, since they drew on the work of Belgian mathematician Eugène Charles Catalan—who in turn drew from the work of Archimedes—to create them.”
Sarah Anne Lloyd, seattle.curbed.com
Exiting out of the garage, it was a shock to see the cost to park. Knowing how expensive downtown Seattle parking can be, to pay less than $3 was a pleasant surprise!
We drove the back way into Ballard down 15th Avenue, and the weather was warm enough to stop by Red Mill Totem House, across from the Locks, to sit outside and have fish and chips.
Remarking on what a wonderful experience The Spheres had been, we considered Seattle’s Volunteer Park Botanical Conservatory as our next “destination field trip.” It’s been years since I’ve been there.
To learn more about vising Seattle Spheres: www.seattlespheres.com/the-spheres-weekend-public-visits
— By Vivian C. Murray
Vivian C. Murray is a local writer and EPIC Group Writers member who leads the monthly EPIC Travel Writing group. She is currently researching and writing two books. One is historical fiction covering her British and Russian family’s lives in Shanghai from the 1920s through the 1940s, and the other is a memoir of her time during the ‘60s in San Francisco.
All photos copyright of V.C. Murray.