The 295-ft spire crowning Copenhagen’s Church of Our Saviour is another distinctive helix. The black and gold baroque tower, completed in 1747, is said to have been inspired by the exterior of Rome’s Sant’Ivo alla Sapienza church, another baroque helix-shaped structure.

Church of Our Saviour in Copenhagen and Sant’Ivo alla Sapienza in Rome
Church of Our Saviour in Copenhagen and Sant’Ivo alla Sapienza in Rome

Contemporary cities, meanwhile, are enamored with dramatic, twisty glass skyscrapers. The blog Urban Hub explains that one reason developers appreciate helical structures is that they can be made more energy-efficient than standard towers: “[T]hose twists can lower energy consumption in a building by placing windows in such a way as to reduce solar heat gain.”

Malmo, Sweden has the “Twisted Torso,” a neo-futurist condo tower designed by the revered Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava. The 2,000-ft Shanghai Tower currently holds the record as the world’s tallest twisting structure. But Saudi Arabia is trying to erect an even taller and twistier engineering marvel. If completed, Jeddah’s Diamond Tower will be 3,200 feet tall and will have a 360-degree twist along its height.

Tel Aviv’s Azrieli Spiral Tower; Panama City’s F&F Tower; Malmo’s “Turning Torso”
Tel Aviv’s Azrieli Spiral Tower; Panama City’s F&F Tower; Malmo’s “Turning Torso”

Singapore’s helix is horizontal. The 900-ft DNA-inspired pedestrian bridge is a highlight of its Marina Bay district.

the Helix Bridge in Singapore
Singapore’s “Helix Bridge”
Image: Reuters/Edgar Su

The world’s most-photographed helix-shaped building is Frank Lloyd Wright’s Guggenheim Museum in New York City. In fact, America’s great architect was obsessed with helixes. He used it in the two parking ramps of Wisconsin’s Monona Terrace Community & Convention Center, and even injected a dramatic spiral feature into the design of his son’s home in Arizona. Wright also proposed a colossal helix for an unrealized project in Pittsburgh.

The Guggenheim Museum in New York City.
The Guggenheim Museum in New York City.

The rise of vertical gardens

Amazon’s Helix also evokes a more recent architectural trend: vertical gardens. Seen as a marquee for green architecture and an antidote to polluted urban centers, high rises with greenery-lined façades have sprouted in places like Australia, Colombia, India, Sri Lanka, and Taiwan. Beyond climbing ivy, balcony plants, and crawling vines, a new stock of buildings factor in plantings as the central part of the design.

Italian architect Stefano Boeri for instance, is on a mission to erect “vertical forests” in dense cities around the world. Starting with the Bosco Verticale in Milan in 2017, his architecture practice is working on green tower projects in several cities, including a low-cost housing project in Eindhoven, the Netherlands. Clad in live trees and local plant species, the quality of these buildings change with the seasons. The goal, Boeri explains, is to bring back biodiversity in cities. Vertical forests have also created a class of workers called “flying gardeners,” arborists who use mountaineering techniques to scale buildings twice a year to tend to the plants.

Anticipating that most employees will return to the office after the coronavirus pandemic in some capacity, Amazon is proposing to build 2.8 million square feet of office space across three 22-story buildings in Arlington. A spokesperson tells Quartz that the buildings will feature natural ventilation and have operable windows to ensure healthy air flow, which is an important facet given the heightened awareness about airborne pathogens. HQ2 will also include several spaces for outdoor meetings.

If the plans pass muster with Arlington county officials, Amazon’s East Coast office complex is projected to be completed by 2025.

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