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.'

The new headquarters occupies a prominent site, across Fifth Avenue from the Seattle Center, where the 1962 World's Fair took place and the Space Needle rises. In 2000, the Frank Gehry'designed Experience Music Project (EMP) opened, bringing new energy to a part of town that had grown seedy after the fair closed. The 12-acre Gates campus reinforces the area's comeback, while adding a more buttoned-down sensibility. A pair of curved office buildings, a reception pavilion, and a 1,000-car parking structure anchor three corners of the site and may be joined by a third office building in the future. By burying four of the garage's five levels below grade and creating a plaza in front, NBBJ tamed the impact of the huge structure. A visitor center designed by Seattle-based Olson Kundig Architects occupies part of the garage's frontage on Fifth Avenue, adding another hospitable note to the structure.

Early in the design process, the architects and client decided that a campus was the right model for the project. So they broke the complex into a set of four buildings and collaborated with Seattle-based Gustafson Guthrie Nichol on the landscape. Weaving buildings and landscape together was an essential part of the scheme, says Christian Carlson, NBBJ's lead designer for the project. To take advantage of a climate that is temperate most of the year, the design team created a large plaza one level below the street. (Dropping the plaza below grade allowed the architects to add an extra floor to the office buildings without exceeding the height limit, which is measured from the street.) On nice days, foundation employees work on laptops and socialize here. A shaded courtyard next to the reception pavilion offers views to the plaza below, providing a degree of transparency to people even if they don't have any further access.

From Fifth Avenue, the complex smacks a bit of well-dressed corporate architecture, especially compared to the exuberance of Gehry's EMP and the Space Needle. But once on the campus, visitors can appreciate the office buildings' boomerang forms and 40-foot cantilevers hovering above the plaza. Curving the buildings' arms adds a degree of boldness to the design and expresses the idea of the Gates Foundation reaching out to different parts of the globe, says Steve McConnell, one of the two NBBJ partners in charge of the project. Meanwhile, Gustafson Guthrie Nichol's landscape aligns with nearby streets, knitting the complex into its Seattle context.

The project earned a LEED Platinum rating by applying a range of sustainable strategies, including landscaping and green roofs that cover 40 percent of the site; a 1 million-gallon tank that stores rainwater for use in irrigation, reflecting pools, and toilets; a 750,000-gallon underground tank for water to chill the buildings, and aggressive daylighting made possible by narrow buildings that keep all workstations within 30 feet of sunlight.

A multistory atrium at one end of the north office building serves as a civic space where employees can eat lunch, work on laptops, or gather for special presentations. A floor-toceiling glazed corridor running along the plaza side of each office building lets people see their colleagues from afar and feel connected, says Melissa Milburn, who handles external communications at the foundation. 'It's like Hollywood Squares. We can see who's here.' Open 'hubs' at the elbow of each floor and a variety of casual spaces encourage chance encounters and socializing. Forty-four years ago, Kevin Roche built the iconic Ford Foundation in New York around a hushed indoor garden. NBBJ has updated that model, wrapping the Gates complex around a lively outdoor plaza and greening its roofs.

223 Yale Avenue North
Seattle, Washington 98109
Phone: 206-223-5555

Completion Date: June 2011

Gross square footage:
640,000 gross square feet

Construction cost: $500 million


Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

223 Yale Avenue North
Seattle, Washington 98109
Phone: 206-223-5555

Personnel in architect's firm who should receive special credit:
NBBJ Team for Print and Online:
Steve McConnell, FAIA, LEED AP, Co-Partner in Charge (RA)
William Nichols, LEED AP, Co-Partner in Charge
John Hendry, RIBA, Project Manager (RA)
Christian Carlson, AIA, Lead Designer (RA)
Knut Hansen, LEED AP, Project Architect (RA)
Rysia Suchecka, IIDA, Co-Lead Designer – Interiors  
Anne Cunningham, AIA, IIDA, Co-Lead Designer – Interiors  
Daniel Cockrell, Project Architect – Interiors (RA)
Kelly Griffin, LEED AP, Workplace (RA)
Margaret Montgomery, AIA, LEED AP, Sustainability (RA)
Kevin Frary, Lighting
Eric LeVine, Environmental Graphics

Design Team:
Kate Austin
Sean Airhart
Harry Bairamian
Christopher Dixon
Benjamin Doty
Maggie Hart
Erik Heironimus
Duane Jonlin
Paula Kirkpatrick
Edward Kranick
Michael Kreis
Chris Larson
William Lehtonen
David Leptich
Peter Lorimer
Damien McBride
Kazuya Mizuno
Ana Moseley
Sandra Muhlbeier
Sonya Poland
Jan Ralkowski
Trevor Schaaf
Donald Schuman
Eric Schuman
Robert Sheh
Dan Simpson
Michael Thomas
Keir Vondruska
Hau Vong
Lori Walker
Ashley Widman
Scott Wyatt

Environmental Graphics:
Danielle Gonzalez,
Yusuke Ito
Amanda Morgan
Robert Murray
Celeste Robinette

Margot Rosenberg

Interior designer:

Civil & Structural Engineer: KPFF

Structural Mechanical Electrical & Plumbing: Arup

AV/Acoustics & IT: SMEP

Gustafson Guthrie Nichol


Environmental Graphics:

Seneca Group: Development Manager
AMA Alexi Marmot Associates Ltd.: Workplace Consultant
Hammer Design Associates Inc.: Food Service
Judith Heerwagen: Workplace Consultant
HKA Elevator: Vertical Transportation
Walker Parking: Parking
Morrison-Hershfield: Waterproofing
RWDI: Wind Solutions
McKinstry: Mechanical Contractor
Cochran, Inc.: Electrical Contractor
TechPMgroup: Technology Consultant

General contractor:

Sean Airhart/NBBJ  206-223-5198
Benjamin Benschneider  206-789-5973
Timothy Hursley 501-372-0640


CAD system, project management, or other software used:



Structural system:
Steel frame with composite slabs, seismically detailed concrete core walls, two-way reinforced concrete podium structure

Exterior cladding:
Stone Masonry: Jura beige and Jura dark limestone, supplied by Savema s.p.a.

Stone/metal/glass curtain wall: Enclos

Cable net glass wall: Enclos

Stone handset wall: Western Tile

Aluminum and Copper wall cladding: McKinstry

Membrane roofing and waterproofing:  American Hydrotech

Copper roofing: McKinstry

Metal roof and wall weather barrier: Soprema

Glass:  PPG Solarban70, Insulated units manufactured by Oldcastle BuildingEnvelope

Glass revolving doors: Crane

Balanced entry doors: Ellison

Atrium exterior doors: Kawneer

Interior moveable partitions: Modernfold

Corbin Russwin ML2000 Series Mortise Locks

Corbin Russwin DC 6000 Series Door Closer,
Rixson L27 & 327 Series Floor Closers

Exit devices:
Corbin Russwin DC 6000 Series Door Closers

Trimco 1161E 1-1/4” Diameter X 1” Diameter Posts

Security devices:
Corbin Russwin ML20905 Electrified Mortise Locks
HID Proximity Readers
Corbin Russwin ED5200S Alarmed Exit Devices
Folger Adam Electric Strikes
Medeco SFIC KeyMark x4 Key System

Special hardware:
McKinney Mechanical and Electrified Hinges
Soss Invisible Hinges
Markar Continuous Hinges
Rixson Mechanical and Electrified Pivots
CRL Exit Devices for all glass doors
Rixson Overhead Stops
Rixson Wall Magnets
 Trimco Custom Kickplate

Interior finishes:
Acoustical ceilings: Armstrong Optima, Techzone, Decoustics

Acoustical drywall: Expert Drywall, Danoline

Acoustical wood ceilings: Decoustics, Rulon

Suspension grid: Armstrong Interlude, Prelude

Demountable partitions: Teknion

Cabinetwork and custom woodwork: Custom Interiors, Heartwood, Meyer Wells

Paints and stains: L.C.Jergens, Benjamin Moore, Scuffmaster

Wall coverings: L.C Jergens, Maya Romanoff, Susanne Tick

Stretch Fabric Wall Covering: Snaptex NW, Knoll, Kvadrat, Maharam

Paneling: Custom Interiors, Alder

Plastic laminate: Custom Interiors, Wilsonart, Pionite, Laminart

Solid surfacing: Custom Interior, Vetrazzo, Pental, Richlite

Special surfacing: Custom Interiors

Glass: Goldfinch Brothers, Viracon, ICD, Bendheim, Skyline Design

Floor and wall tile (cite where used): Restrooms- Pental, Ann Sack, Dal Tile; Servery-  Dal Tile: Brix

Resilient flooring and base:Forbo, Expanko, Armstrong, Roppe

Carpet: Interface, Tandus

Terrazzo flooring: General Terrazzo

Wood Flooring: Oregon Lumber- Alder Endblock

Raised access flooring: Haworth TecCrete

Special metals: Banker Wire

Toilet partitions: Thrislington

Floor recessed linear uplights: Specialty Lighting

Light poles in Campus Heart: Louis Poulsen

Square downlights in Reception: Erco

Reception core wall wash: Edison Price

Atrium track fixtures: LSI; stem mounted cylinders by Edison Price and Erco

Dimming System or other lighting controls: Lutron

Elevators:  Otis

Water fountains: Elkay

Water Closets: Sloan Dual Flush 1.6/1.1gpf 
Showers:  American Standard 1.5gpm

Unique: ~1,000,000 gallon rainwater tank feeding all non-potable requirements on the site (WC flushing, Irrigation, Water Feature Make-up)

Mechanical: Underfloor air distribution throughout office spaces

TES Tank (Thermal Energy Storage Tank) to reduce chiller plant size by 50% 

High Efficiency Chillers and Heat Recovery chillers: Airstack/Multistack

High Efficiency (Condensing) Boilers & Low-temperature hot water heating system: Hydrotherm

Building Automation System: ATS Automation (Alerton)

Solar Hot Water System:  Apricus/Mckinstry

Site Construction and Landscape:
Stone Paving: Coldspring Granite, Coldspring, MN

Trench Drain Grates: Iron Age Designs, Burien, WA

Custom Formliners: Fast Formliners, St. Clair, MO

Integral Color Concrete: Cadman Concrete, Redmond, WA

Integral Concrete Waterproofing: Hycrete, Carlstadt, NJ

High Performance Steel Coatings: Tnemec Fluoronar, Eureka, MO

Wood Decking: Matheus Lumber Company, Woodinville, WA

Water Feature Filtration and Control Systems: Seimens Water Technologies, Seattle, WA

Custom Hand Rails: Aluminum & Bronze Fabricators, Seattle, WA

Soils: Pacific Topsoils, Bellevue, WA

Plants (contract grown): Teufel Landscaping, Portland, OR