Bringing beloved regional landscapes to Amazon’s HQ2

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A Maryland native and University of Virginia graduate, Kate Orff, Founding Principal of the renowned landscaping firm, SCAPE, has deep ties and a longtime love of the regional sceneries of the DC, Maryland, and Virginia regions—the native plants and forested ecosystems of the Blue Ridge and Appalachian Mountains, the dramatic water systems of Great Falls Park, the meadows and deltaic wetlands of the Piedmont and coastal plain, and the summits of Catoctin Mountain Park.

These are some of the same landscapes that inspired SCAPE’s open space design for PenPlace, the second phase of Amazon HQ2, in Arlington, Virginia. The design builds on a long legacy of county planning while introducing new spatial concepts intended to activate the public-facing edges of the site, draw the public into PenPlace, and create a green, walkable, safe, and enjoyable community park for nearby residents, Amazon employees, and visitors.

“Restoring ecosystems, creating immersive ecological spaces and a vibrant public realm, carving out habitat, creating an inclusive process driven by a community vision—the concepts behind PenPlace’s design are all part of our DNA as a firm,” said Orff. “We’re excited to bring Arlington a true community park anchored in the local ecologies that make this place unique.”

The driving force behind SCAPE’s design for PenPlace is a commitment to ecological and community-driven design at all scales, informed by an active and ongoing engagement process with Arlington County. Introducing more than 2.5 acres of publicly accessible, ADA-compliant green space to the center of Amazon’s HQ2, PenPlace will feel different than a typical neighborhood park, with immersive botanical experiences that bring beloved local ecosystems from the surrounding region to the community, with sustainability baked into every design detail.

Diagram of the ‘ecological spine’ and ‘program pockets’ uniting the public spaces across PenPlace.

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Regional ecosystems of the Southern Appalachians, Piedmont and coastal plain that inspired SCAPE’s PenPlace design.

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The historic hydrology of the PenPlace site, including Roaches Run and the Alexandria Canal.

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Historically, the PenPlace site in Arlington was home to two bodies of water—Roaches Run, a tidal inlet of the Potomac River watershed, and the Alexandria Canal. In homage to the historic hydrology of the site and local waterways in nearby Rock Creek Park and Great Falls Park, SCAPE’s design incorporates water features on a north-to-south axis across the park, interpreting the natural elements of cascades and streams at a human scale. These include a Headwaters fountain at the north of the site, bringing a cooling microclimate to the Lifted Forest Plaza; a Confluence Fountain water feature at the center of the park adjacent to the Central Green; and a Stormwater Meadow at the south end of the site, a hotspot for biodiversity that captures and filters stormwater and serves pollinators.

Renderings of Amazon's new, HQ2 building from the outside.

The Forest Plaza provides a densely planted landscape with accessible pathways, seating nooks, and long views to the south while providing a visual enclosure from the north. The immersive, botanical experience offers forest rooms for communal gathering, relaxation, respite, and a cascading water feature that creates a cooling microclimate for all to enjoy.

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The general pedestrian route will be threaded across the site along an “ecological spine” that corresponds with these three water features. This will be overlaid with activity areas, including an expansive, flexible lawn and amphitheater for recreational and program use, and smaller outdoor rooms for recreation and meetings; and plazas along the perimeter with retail including spaces for dining, gathering, and shopping to draw the public into PenPlace.

Retail and restaurants will provide unique amenities and experiences for all who live, work, and visit the area.

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Designed with nature in mind, the office buildings are oriented to maximize natural sunlight with 2.5 acres of public open space and a dog run available for community use.

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Central Green, Amphitheater and ADA-compliant pathway to the Lifted Forest adjacent to the Helix.

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As the public review process continues with Arlington County, SCAPE and Amazon look forward to working alongside the community, and the wider team of top-tier firms in sustainable design, horticulture, architecture, and more to help this world-class community park spring to life at HQ2.

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