What if form followed function at Amazon.com?

If Amazon.com designed a headquarters campus that reflects the hidden truth of their corporate behavior, they would be proposing a design that reveals some inconvenient truths they’d rather keep secret. But we’re bringing some questions to the city’s design review meeting on Amazon’s proposed South Lake Union headquarters expansion.

Note: all of these questions cite specific sections of the official Design Review guidelines for downtown development.

Will there be reserved parking for ambulances & car campers?

Working conditions were so rough at Amazon’s Pennsylvania warehouse that they stationed paramedics outside to treat workers who collapsed from heat exhaustion. Their Nevada warehouse is staffed by temporary migrant workers, some of whom camp in the desert during the holiday season. Is this what can we expect to be going on behind the scenes of their glossy corporate headquarters — or are these kinds of conditions only good enough for warehouse workers?

(Design Review Guideline D-4: “Provide appropriate signage”.  If Amazon’s corporate behavior requires parking outside their facilities for ambulances, they should be marked that way for all to see.)

Will the site feature an anaconda terrarium for inspiration?

Last year, Amazon offered a $5 bonus to shoppers who scanned a bar code at a real-world store and then bought the product online — a promotion that seemed designed to squeeze the life out of local community businesses. This is just the latest way Amazon has abused its position to put the squeeze on competitors and prey on independent publishers.

(Design Review Guideline D-3: “Provide elements that define the place.” Putting predatory practices at the center of the building would define the place that is Amazon’s corporate headquarters far better than the “awareness garden” they have proposed.)

Will the development include a dodgeball court in the tax department?

Amazon.com is one of the worst corporate tax dodgers in the country, paying an effective Federal income tax rate of only 5.5% — far less than the 35% rate set in law. They avoid paying their share by exploiting a loophole that gives them a tax break every time they hand out stock options to their top executives — and gives the rest of us that much in budget cuts.

(Design Review Guideline D-5: “Provide adequate lighting”. We are concerned that Amazon does not want their corporate tax-dodging to come to light.)

Does Amazon plan broken mirrors in the executive suites?

A fully-functioning mirror is like an invitation for executives to pause and reflect on their work. But the glossy image of Amazon.com cannot hold when you reflect on how they do business and start to focus on the ugly inconvenient truths hidden behind the screens of the giant online retailer.

(Design Review Guideline B-1: “Respond to the neighborhood context”. Preventing honest self-reflection is directly responsive to the context of a neighborhood which is designed and zoned to cater to Amazon’s corporate growth.)

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