At a time when many people are questioning everything big'government, business, even philanthropy'the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is settling into its big, new headquarters in Seattle. With more than $33 billion in its asset trust endowment, the Gates Foundation is the wealthiest charitable entity in the world. But it wanted to send the right message with the architecture of its new home: bold but not arrogant, global but also a good neighbor. While the 640,000-square-foot complex designed by NBBJ and opened in June 2011 has its flaws, it hits most of the right chords in terms of sustainability, transparency, workplace quality, and image.
Established in 1994, the Gates Foundation had worked out of five buildings, including a renovated check-processing plant with a large footprint but little daylight inside. Modest, perhaps to a fault, the disconnected facilities lent the foundation an unwanted air of mystery, says Martha Choe, the organization's chief administrative officer. 'We wanted a headquarters with more transparency, both internally and to the outside community,' she explains. 'We also wanted to create a place that would encourage collaboration and make everyone feel they worked for one organization.'