The Spheres is the latest addition to Amazon’s downtown Seattle headquarters. The innovative building offers employees a work environment that’s more like a rainforest than an office. To properly explain this groundbreaking new building, Amazon set out to establish a free, public visitor center at The Spheres, called Understory.
The Tech Decision
Amazon assembled an accomplished team of local Seattle companies to design the exhibit space. The group included Graham Baba Architects, exhibit designer Studio Matthews, media experience designer Belle & Wissell, Jill Randerson Exhibit Management, filmmaker The Radisch, Co. (and Strangelife), fabricator Dillon Works, and AV/collaboration technology integrator Whitlock.
The name Understory refers to the lush habitat between the rainforest floor and canopy, and provides a fully immersive, 360-degree experience where visitors can get up close and personal with the science, engineering, and plants behind The Spheres.
Whitlock was thoroughly vetted by the Amazon team and key partners, and after several interviews, was chosen to deliver design, integration and managed services for the complex project.
Other partners involved were:
- Interactive & Media Content Design/Development: Belle & Wissell
- Exhibit Architect: Graham Baba Architects
- Exhibit Designer: Studio Matthews
- Exhibit Management: Jill Randerson Exhibit Management
- Film Production: The Radisch, Co.
- Film Director & Editor: John Jeffcoat
- Film Producer: Lisa Farnham
- Director of Photography: Doug Hostetter
- Film Production Manager: Kelsey Graves
- Media Engine Partner: Andrew Salviejo (YCD Multimedia)
- A/V Systems Design and Integration: Keith Sawka, Zach Cook (Whitlock)
- Fabricator: Dillon Works
- Mechanical Engineer: Arup
- Lighting Designer: Niteo
The greatest challenges for delivering the job were meeting the timeline and pixel pitch requirements for the Amazon team. Whitlock had only a 9-week lead time to deliver these unique LED panels that typically take that amount of time simply to arrive to a job site. Our strong relationship with Planar came into play for expedited shipping and support on their best-of-breed products. With the right planning up front, the installation of all equipment and technologies went smoothly, and the exhibit has been functioning well since the recent opening in late January. A Crestron Pro 3 processor provides the Amazon team with quality controls and automation for the audio, video, lighting and servers throughout the facility.
At a central media installation designed by Belle & Wissell, visitors can take in sweeping interior views of The Spheres above, as well as stunning macro footage of its world-class plant collection. The experience is composed of a large curved LED display, surrounded by LED columns at regular intervals. Interpretive zones within—demarcated by pools of light and featuring directional audio—offer voiceover descriptions of the plants on view. A generative soundscape, composed by Jesse Solomon Clark, enhances the experience.
Five modular exhibits, situated throughout Understory, offer more information about Amazon, The Spheres, and the world-class plant collection within. Each station features an engaging physical interactive (designed by Studio Matthews) as well as a touchscreen interactive (designed by Belle & Wissell)—presenting unique topics through a playful interface, encouraging further discovery.
The most outstanding feature is the large 17’x10’ curved LED 1.5 pixel pitch wall by Planar Carbonlite, with eleven 3’x10’ LED panels set up vertically around it to create graphic columns. Combined, these technologies form a circular setting that offers a 360-degree view into a luscious rain forest with sights and sounds that follow you throughout. The circular experience includes four locations with ultrasonic speakers with spotlights that trigger the audio recordings as visitors stroll along.
The exhibit also includes ambient speakers surrounding the outside of the center area and four ultrasonic beam speakers that are loaded with custom audio narratives revealing interesting details about the facility. Beyond the audio that is presented in unique ways, there are five additional interactive spaces in the exhibit with Planar touch panels, each paired with leap sensors for earlier detection of a visitor nearby. This delivers a more engaging and responsive experience to the Amazon Understory guests. More discovery happens about the exhibit, the plant life and the overarching Amazon brand.
The Spheres Understory is open to the public and is also being used to host special events. All feedback to date from the customer has been positive, with the technology working and delivering the content seamlessly to visitors. The overall experience reflects well on the Amazon brand and engages the public in an immersive and creative way. Whitlock is currently providing managed services to the Understory exhibition, and working on the second phase, which is the restaurant bar area.