By Jack Stubbs
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has long had an extensive economic and community impact on Seattle and the surrounding Puget Sound region. And the world’s largest charitable Foundation has plans in the works to expand its reach and footprint in Seattle even further.
In mid-June 2018, the company announced its plans for a third building at their current headquarters in downtown Seattle, which is comprised of two buildings located at 500 Fifth Ave. N. across from Seattle Center and the Space Needle. The Foundation will once again partner with NBBJ and Sellen Construction, with whom the organization worked on the original campus that was completed in 2011.
The Foundation plans to break ground on the new 6-story, approximately 385,000 square foot building in Fall of 2019 with completion expected in Spring of 2022. Bill and Melinda Gates have committed personal funding for the construction—as they did with the first phase one of the campus—separate from the Foundation’s trust endowment, according to a statement released by the company.
The third new boomerang-shaped building marks the latest chapter for the $500 million campus completed in 2011 (where the foundation currently employs approximately 1,200 employees) and will allow the foundation to broaden its employee base. The new space will include the opportunities for an up to an additional 800 seats for employees, as well as flexible meeting and community spaces. However, it is still too early to determine how exactly the interior of the building will be programmed, according to Amy White, deputy director of community and civic engagement with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “It is still very early in planning to determine the interior spaces and uses,” she said.
Though only recently announced, the third building has been in the works for some time as part of a larger vision for the Foundation, according to White. “When the Foundation’s Seattle campus was planned, it included capacity for three buildings. While the Foundation has always been designed to sunset, we will operate for decades, so planning for slow and steady growth given payout and staffing requirements is important,” she said.
From a programmatic perspective, workplace design and optimization has always been a priority of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. After the organization moved into its new 1.1 million square foot campus in Seattle in 2011, it invited architect NBBJ to conduct a post-occupancy evaluation (POE) to assess how the new space was working, according to NBBJ’s web site. The objective of the POE was to help the Foundation determine to what degree the new campus would allow it to achieve its workplace goals and optimize its workplace strategy. Data was collected and synthesized using multiple research tools, and the findings helped to assess how the new campus would support the Foundation’s goals of establishing community engagement as part of its global mission, according to the web site. In the longer-term, the evaluation conducted by NBBJ also helped the Foundation to understand the strategies and tactics it would need to deploy to leverage and inform the future design of the campus.
Just as with the original headquarters, the third building will ultimately look to showcase the Foundation’s ongoing commitment to sustainability and will strive for LEED Platinum certification. “The sustainability goals and features will align with the current campus incorporating new technologies that further support sustainability,” White said. “The design team is just kicking off evaluation of systems and equipment to learn how we can further enhance the campus sustainability goals and features.”
Among other efforts, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has long been a steward of environmental sustainability, with efforts around environmental health just as prominent in the underway project, according to White. “Sustainability in the built environment is important to the health and wellness of the region and our employees,” she said. “As it relates to the Seattle campus and the third building, the Foundation continues to focus on three goal areas of waste reduction, energy reduction and reduced single occupancy drivers.”
Across the board, sustainable design in the built environment has become increasingly important, but White thinks that there is more to be learned. “Sustainable design has become more common and cost effective, making it more achievable for many projects. Technology has evolved significantly, and we are just getting started on learning what is available to further enhance the sustainability of the campus,” she said.
The third headquarters building will not only allow the Foundation to expand its employee base and operations internally, but will also attempt to contribute to the region’s wider economic growth in the coming years. According to White, the Foundation’s total economic impact in 2015 was $1.5 billion, taking into account its grants, employee expenses, programmatic and operational services at the Seattle campus and the employee matching gifts program.
Locally, the Foundation generated nearly $550 million in total direct economic activity within the Greater Seattle region of King, Pierce and Snohomish counties, including $300 million in direct grants to non-profit organizations located and doing work in the Puget Sound. Additionally, the Foundation’s work supported 9,100 jobs in the regional economy both directly and indirectly.
In the longer-term, White hopes that the Foundation’s efforts—along with the most recent planned addition to the headquarters—will allow it to continue its extensive efforts in the region. “We anticipate that as time passes, and we further evolve our program work, we will sustain this level of investment in the surrounding region, and are very pleased to be a part of the vibrant ecosystem of the Pacific Northwest,” she said.