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Inspire Innovation with Nature

Wellness Feature

Written by Samantha Lund

Photography by Taryn Emerick

Entering the Spheres, guests are first greeted by a 55-foot-tall “living wall” of plants. The temperature is consistently level at 70 degrees, water is flowing in each corner to assist with noise cancellation, and plants from around the world are thriving alongside cafes, workplaces and sitting areas.

The plants line each workstation, organized into a number of collections. Each collection provides green spaces for employees and their visitors to learn and be curious. Vivariums (living wall / aquarium hybrids) feature freshwater critters in seminatural conditions while other wall installations exhibit colorful succulents growing along the edges.

High up on the fourth floor, pitcher plants having carnivorous leaves filled with water and enzymes to digest their prey live on the walls. Not too far away is a canopy walk that oversees the forest below. Walking through each floor, rare plants from across the world thrive and grow in beautiful shades of every color.

Malaysian golden orchids are blooming, nearby is the bright pink Passiflora antioquiensis (the Colombian cousin of passionfruit), and staghorn ferns grow on the sides of trees, looking like giant green antlers.

The Spheres, a project created by Amazon, were inspired by the concept of “biophilia,” which is the hypothesis that humans possess an innate tendency to seek connections with nature and other forms of life.

Amazon created The Spheres as an experiment to improve productivity and employees’ work-life balance. It stands as a testament to employee wellness.

Each inch of the structure was designed with a work-life wellness balance in mind. The climate-controlled structure sits at 60 percent humidity, which is perfect for plants and also safe for computers, cell phones and other electronics.

Amazon also hosts an Expressions Lab in the Spheres, where employees create art projects using plants and natural elements. Amazon also works with urban gardening projects, cooking classes and plant camps for kids.

“The Spheres informally impacted company culture,” Amazon spokesperson John Sa says. “People are inclined to do plant-themed things like terrarium building or plant-themed painting activities.”

The technology behind the structures is impressive: a steel pentagonal hexecontahedron structure forms the frame, with 2,643 panes of ultra-sheer and energy-efficient glass completing the walls. Once the structure was finished, after four years of planning and construction, it still needed to be filled with plants. The biggest tree stands 49 feet tall and 22 feet wide, weighing nearly 36,000 pounds.

The tree, named Rubi, made a 1,200-mile cross-country journey to its final destination. Because of its size, the top of the Seventh Avenue sphere was removed and the tree was craned in through the top of the building.

The only thing arguably more impressive than the technology behind the Spheres is the benefits to employee production and wellness.     

Studies show plants provide important benefits in workspaces, referring back to the principle of biophilia.

People who work indoors complete tasks 12 percent faster when they have plants in their line of vision, compared to people who work without plants in the room, according to a study done by Washington State University. With the addition of plants to the workplace, there is a reduction of health complaints (coughing, fatigue, etc.) among office workers. Other health benefits include lower blood pressure and stress reduction with visual exposure to plants.

Workspace landscaping goes far beyond health benefits. Plants also reduce noise levels by absorbing sounds (rather than insulating against noise pollution). They can also boost creativity by up to 15 percent.

Landscaping and office greenery can even affect the way potential employees feel about your space, according to the 2015 Human Spaces report by psychology professor Sir Cary Cooper: “The benefit of design inspired by nature, known as biophilic design, is accumulating evidence at a rapid pace. . . . A third of us say that workplace design would affect our decision to join a company.”

The Spheres are closed to the public during weekdays and are reserved specifically for employees and their guests, truly making it a work-centered environment in the middle of a greenhouse.

The Spheres are open two Saturdays each month for public tours to inspire creativity, wellness and education for everyone.

Not all workplaces can build a functioning greenhouse-turned-workspace, but adding greenery into your office might be just the thing you need for that boost of creativity at work.

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