April 22, 2004

Amgen unwraps the landscape at Helix

  • Landscape connects the campus with its environment
    Murase Associates

     bamboo courtyard
    Photos courtesy of Murase Associates
    Bands of black and white concrete accented by bamboo run the length of a second courtyard.

    Amgen's Helix Campus, the company's new state-of-the-art research and development facility, is situated on a 40-acre site on Elliott Bay in the Interbay area between Queen Anne Hill and Magnolia. The waterfront location provides expansive views, and strong connections to the downtown Seattle skyline and regional landmarks such as Mount Rainier, the Olympic Mountains and the Space Needle.

    The client's innovative character, the sophisticated nature of the user group, and strong natural regional qualities of the site gave Murase Associates the opportunity to create simple and elegant landscapes that use abstract forms symbolic of regional elements and processes left to individual interpretation.

    The site's visual connections to regional icons such as Mount Rainier and the Olympics were strengthened by using landscape elements to frame and control views. The scale of these elements was determined by the rugged grandeur of regional geology, hydrology and forests.

    Entry spaces, Elliott Bay and strong edges

    Amgen's campus is organized along a central spine that starts at the north entry and ends at Elliott Bay.

    Vertical cubic basalt stone entry walls mark the site entrance and transition into rugged stone shields flanking linear sculpted earth forms, ending in stone shields as the entry road curves towards the center of the campus. The entry road then becomes formal with large street tree plantings, wide sidewalks, modern street lights and beautifully detailed site furnishings.

    The entry road ends in a vehicular plaza with a central monolithic stone and water feature, and a vista of Mount Rainier beyond the central common space. This feature is composed of large angular basalt plates and wedges with water flowing from clefts into a pool.

    The visitors' lobby is adjacent to the vehicular plaza. The charcoal granite paved forecourt for visitor reception features a semicircular stone seat wall separating the plaza from the garden. Minimalist circular plantings float in the plaza and a tall interpretive glass column stands to one side.

    Linking the heart of the site to Elliott Bay is the central commons space, a wedge-shaped formal lawn. Lab buildings and a promenade provide a strong edge along the east side, and a double row of columnar trees along the west creates a second edge to focus the views towards Mount Rainier.

    Courtyards and connections

    granite slabs
    One of the courtyards at Amgen’s Helix Campus has monolithic granite slabs that run the length of the space.

    Two courtyards between the lab buildings open onto the east side of the common space. Each courtyard has a unique character and provides more intimate sheltered spaces while connecting the building interior to the landscape.

    The first courtyard features bold bands of black and white concrete running the length of the area towards views of the Olympic Mountains. Parallel bands of 30-foot-tall timber bamboo are underplanted with smaller bamboos, sedges and grasses, all of which move with the wind to create a very animated space.

    The second courtyard has an installation of monolithic granite slabs loosely aligned along the length of the space. The slabs provide shelter for staff to relax and use the area's movable tables and chairs.

    Some slabs have been manipulated to create and enhance environmental events. One stone has an angular basin to capture rain water while another features a large vertical slot to capture views of the Olympics or the movement of clouds. Plantings are more softly textured to contrast with the rugged slabs of stone.

    View corridors and public vistas

    The space adjacent to the south building façade is a 100-foot-wide dedicated view corridor aligned with the pedestrian bridge that crosses the Burlington Northern tracks to provide access to the site and Elliott Bay Park.

    The DNA helix was used as the inspiration for the bridge, designed by KPFF. This landmark structure is available for use by both the public and Amgen employees, with an overlook at the west end providing views of the Amgen site and beyond to Elliott Bay.

    basalt stone walls
    The entry road into the campus is flanked by basalt stone walls.

    The east end of the view corridor features a large dining terrace, paved in charcoal granite, with a grouping of oval stone elements of the same granite installed in the terrace. A large pond with gently turned overflow edge contains several large colored leaves of cast glass.

    Smaller oval granite water tables and oval granite seats are placed among the cafe umbrellas, tables and chairs. A medicinal garden adjacent to the dining terrace contains meandering gravel paths and more intimate seating areas.

    Site shelter and standards

    Beyond the west side of the central common, a forest was planted to help shelter the site. It is composed of circular island plantings of cedars and spruces in a sea of gravel mulch with a network of pedestrian paths. Wildflower meadow bands cut through the forest, providing views of the Olympics from the courtyards.

    A large elliptical earth mound has been positioned in the forest out of direct view of the buildings. Concrete stairs and bleachers ascend the mound to a vantage point over the bay.

    Elliott Bay Park runs along the south edge of the site, providing bicycle and pedestrian connections to the city. Significant landscape renovations have been made to the park to extend the beauty of the landscaping to the waterfront.

    Mark Tilbe, ASLA, principal with Murase Associates, has more than 13 years of experience in the planning and design of significant public spaces for urban parks, universities, corporate campuses and recreational landscapes.

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