Correction appended August 13, 2009

After a decade spent operating out of a pair of nondescript offices in Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the world’s largest charity organization, is building a proper headquarters.

Located a few blocks north of downtown—under the iconic Space Needle and across the street from the Frank Gehry-designed Experience Music Project—the $500 million Gates Foundation headquarters will encompass an entire city block, approximately 12 acres. The project was announced in the fall of 2005 and is expected to open in the spring of 2011.

In Seattle, NBBJ has designed a new 12-acre headquarters complex for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Image courtesy NBBJ
In Seattle, NBBJ has designed a new 12-acre headquarters campus for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The first and largest phase of construction—two 6-story office buildings designed by NBBJ—is more than halfway complete after breaking ground a year ago. Meant to resemble “arms reaching out to the world,” the L-shaped buildings will sit face-to-face around a private, landscaped courtyard to encourage employee interaction, describes NBBJ managing partner Steve McConnell, AIA. Aside from the ADA-required elevators, the building’s light-filled interiors will connect floor-to-floor via open staircases, which McConnell hopes will spur an inter-departmental flow of ideas.

Despite totaling some 900,000 square feet, the buildings won¹t have a bulky presence because of mostly glass exteriors. The Gates Foundation hopes the transparency will elicit public confidence in its mission. “It was really important to the foundation that people see what’s going on, what type of work they are doing, and how they can get involved themselves,” says McConnell.

Sustainability also was key. The facility’s many green features include an underground concrete basin capable of holding a million gallons of rainwater, which the designers say will significantly reduce the facility’s dependence on the city water supply. Ultimately, the foundation is targeting LEED Gold for the buildings. Next door, a completed four-story parking garage has already received its LEED Gold certificate. The garage boasts a roof covered in sedum—spongy plants known for absorbing storm-water runoff. At 60,000 square feet, or 1.4 acres, it is the largest green roof in the city.

Correction: Due to inaccurate information provided to the writer, the original story said the building will total 600,000 square feet and will be finished in late 2010; in fact, it will be 900,000 square feet and will open in the spring of 2011.