Logistics and urban renewal, the new projects that are changing the way cities look

E-commerce and sustainable headquarters: how large companies are redesigning cities' skylines

Logistics and urban renewal go hand in hand. The ever increasing demand for e-commerce has fueled the construction of large logistical hubs, starting a renewal process for cities and the countryside, so that these giants may be better integrated into the urban landscape and, especially, may better respond to citizens’ needs and demands. Another source of change are the headquarters of large industrial groups, often flagships of an innovative and sustainable approach to business.

It’s the case for the new Eni headquarters that the Webuild group is constructing in Milan, Microsoft’s historical Redmond site, or the futuristic Loop that Apple built in Cupertino. New York City started this trend, with large corporations competing to build the most beautiful skyscraper, from Trump Tower to Time Warner Center, home of Time Warner. Since then, large companies have started putting their signature on the architecture of the cities, reaching the current extreme of nursing the ambition of transforming a logistical center into a social venue, born out of not only the corporate will but also t respond to the principle of collective design, that is the participation of the citizenry in the various phases of design and construction. That is what is happening today in Arlington, in the US state of Virginia, where Amazon is building its second US headquarters, a logistical hub and corporate office that aims to transform itself into a social destination for the entire city.

The Amazon case, the headquarters changing Arlington's skyline

It will be a huge logistical hub, an economic engine servicing a city and a region, and an example of how buildings can impose themselves on the market for their capability of being sustainable, efficient and work in the service of the community.

Launched in 2018, Amazon’s headquarters in Arlington, the second largest ever realized by the e-commerce giant in the US, is a site in constant flux.

In the last few days, Amazon announced the building’s second phase, a $2.5 billion investment to transform HQ2 (as the company calls its second headquarters) into one of the greenest and most futuristic in the country. Teams of architects, designers, experts in sustainability and transport science have been working for months on Arlington’s phase 2. The company had already hired 5,000 people and construction companies clocked 2 million work hours on phase one.

“We challenged ourselves to think big and design Amazon’s buildings in a way that helps lead the industry toward net-zero carbon,” said John Schoettler, Amazon Vice President of Global Real Estate and Facilities.

Amazon's goal: zero emissions by 2040

The e-commerce giant has announced it intends to reach its net-zero carbon goal by 2040. The Arlington site is the flagship of this project, designed to reduce emissions right from the construction phase. Operations within HQ2 will be entirely electrified using a complex system of internal and external solar power panels. Additional power will be purchased from a solar power plant in Virginia, generating 172.500 MWhs of renewable energy from the end of 2023.

PenPlace, one of the new buildings planned for phase 2, will have a roof covered entirely in solar panels and other engineering innovations in order to obtain the LEED Platinum certification, the highest sustainability accolade.

Many other steps will be taken to safeguard the environment. Inside the plant, 125 electrical vehicle power stations will be installed. Systems to reduce the consumption of water by half compared to the national standards for buildings of this type will be put in place. And the construction materials of the concrete structure will be selected to reduce the carbon footprint as much as possible.

Collective design at the heart of the Amazon project

The Amazon project is designed to involve the Arlington community. The idea is for the headquarters to become a lively part of the city, a venue for gatherings, sharing, participating in cultural events and socializing. To achieve this, Amazon’s designers plan to build restaurants, stores, children playgrounds and venues for meetings and events.  The most characteristic building of the new headquarters will be Helix, a giant helix covered in crystals that will be a conference center, made available to the city and open to the public, designed to host art shows, concerts and other events.

It will mark a deep change for Arlington and its roads. Together with the local administration Amazon has financed and launched projects to upgrade and expand the main roads, starting with Highway 531 to create efficient transit routes for the increase in traffic the new logistical hub will bring. In fact, Amazon expects the new headquarters to generate 10,000 trips daily to and from its depots, a considerable movement of people and goods that will require new infrastructure.

The Big Box boom, from the US to the European giants built by CSC

The United States of America is certainly the birth place of the big box, the large logistical hubs that exploded in the last decades and became true economic centers. Like Amazon, Nike, Apple and other large companies also have developed their big boxes, which now sprout on the edges or many large cities like Chicago, Detroit, Indianapolis, Atlanta, Dallas and Houston.

In Europe, big box plants are also spreading like wildfire, especially after Covid and the boom in e-commerce. The Webuild group has been operating for years in this sector through its CSC unit, which has realized some of the most important projects of this kind in Italy, such as the Nuovo Centro Logistico Gucci in S. Antonino, or the Parc du Simplon, a huge urban development project in the heart of Lausanne, Switzerland. It also carried out the renovation of the United Nations building in Geneva. These significant projects open the way to a new way of conceiving the construction industry, transforming it into a tool to accelerate the transition process towards a sustainable society with a higher quality of life.