Amazon spheres: new Seattle icon or glorified food court

AmazonspheresSeattle shows off it’s “world class” inferiority complex: gaudy bubbles highlight drab sameness of downtown buildings going up around them

The newspapers, TV, and radio were all agog, as were several county and city elected leaders, downtown chamber types, and other assorted poobahs.  After some saccharine speeches and the prerequisite obsequious genuflection by our Mayor and County Executive to the God of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, the spheres finally were open to view…well sort of….  In keeping with Seattle’s increasingly unaffordable and exclusive character, the city’s newest expression of postmodern architecture (and conspicuous consumption) is not ‘public’ at all. It’s open only to Amazon’s employees and occasional guided tours.

Its been done before and better

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Belfast Ireland’s Victoria Square: a public space

Like the hoopla that surrounded Rem Koolhaas “avant-garde” Downtown Public Library and Frank Gehry’s “MoPOP” mash-up on the edge of Seattle Center grounds, our city’s downtown cognoscenti showered praise on the spheres, insisting they proved ‘once again and beyond doubt’, we are a ‘world class’ city.  Their effulgence over what looks to me more like a glorified employee food court wound up only highlighting our city’s world class inferiority complex.  And attempts by some to compare these spheres to the Space Needle, Pike Market, and other true iconic Seattle landmarks only further drives home the point.

Screenshot 2018-02-01 at 2.25.43 PM - EditedFrom the sidewalk, the garish bulbs punctuate a streetscape increasingly crammed cheek to jowl with taller and taller buildings, uniform in their sameness.  The spheres just remind us of how drab in general Seattle’s architecture has become.  A lot of that has to do with city leaders too willing to adopt land use and zoning rules that pay little or no heed to the existing physical, social, and historic character of our communities.  Instead of encouraging creativity or better yet requiring it, the rules now are geared primarily to accommodating the developer’s profit and maxing out density. Try distinguishing our urban core or South Lake Union from downtown anywhere USA.  Amazon’s supersized terrarium only serves to accentuate that reality.

Cornwall England’s Eden Centers: “Bring the family”

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And Cornwall England’s Eden Project
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Inside one of Eden Center’s spheres open to public

And how about this for a world class public space and shopping mall: 

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View of New York’s Columbus Circle from inside Warner Center Mall, not insular but pointing us outward to a breathtaking streetscape

And ironically, close to where the Amazon spheres now are located, a little over one hundred years ago, a true public space was planned for Seattle but never realized.  Designed by Virgil Bogue, it looks a lot like New York’s Columbia Circle.  That’s no coincidence because Bogue knew and collaborated with Frederick Olmstead who designed Columbia Circle (and later was hired to design Seattle’s park system)

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The Seattle Bogue Plan circa 1912

Amazon, it’s employees, and Seattle’s fawning elite are welcome to enjoy their inflated “bauble”.   Welcome to the new exclusive Seattle.  I’ll look at it and think gentrification, displacement, all their state and local tax breaks (easily over one billion last year), not counting millions of dollars worth of street vacations, and other subsidies we’ve given them; a constant reminder of the continued erosion of anything and everything that makes Seattle affordable or unique.

As for me, I’ll take Mall of America any day….  it’s public and I get to ride the roller coaster!

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Minnesota’s Mall of America

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About John V. Fox

Director, Seattle Displacement Coalition
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