New 12-acre Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Campus by Gustafson Guthrie Nichol

Gustafson Guthrie Nichol, a premier landscape architecture firm, is working on the new 12-acre headquarters campus of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the world’s largest private foundation. According to the firm, the foundation’s value of “local roots, global misson” has been incorporated into the site design. “The overall campus design concept features upper office buildings with outward ‘world reaching’ arms resting on podium buildings and landscape features that restore a native Seattle character and align with the neighborhood’s street grid.” 

Gustafson Guthrie Nichol will provide campus master planning, as well as the design and development of streetscapes, green roofs, and extensive plantings featuring native and non-invasive, drought-tolerant plants. The site design will also incorporate outdoor work spaces that “direct rainwater from paved surfaces into a million-gallon rainwater cistern.”

According to the Gates Foundation, the site was designed with nine principles in mind:

For Our Neighbors:

  • The development will fit with the size and scale of the surrounding environment.
  • The design will be inspiring and creative and fit within the neighborhood.
  • The campus will be secure in a low-profile way.
  • The edges of the campus must be well-defined and landscaped.
  • The design will integrate sustainable materials and methods.

For Our Employees:

  • The design must create a sense of place that reflects the foundation’s work in health and learning.
  • The buildings will be connected in a campus-like setting designed to facilitate interaction, collaboration, and learning.
  • The campus design will include open green spaces.
  • The design will provide access to natural light for all.

Most recently, the landscape architecture firm organized the planting of a massive Big Leaf Maple in a key spot on the campus. “This specimen has a trunk diameter of almost 8 inches and weighs approximately 10,000 pounds, so a large crane will be used to move the tree into place.” Indeed, the campus is filled with trees: “Of the 135 trees planned for the campus, 63 additional Big Leaf Maples and 43 other Vine Maples will be planted on seven acres during Phase I of what will eventually be a 12-acre campus. Raywood Ashes make up the remainder of the total.”

Gustafson Guthrie Nichol is collaborating with architect NBBJ. Teufel is the landscape contractor, and Sellen is the general contractor. Construction will be completed in spring of 2011.

Learn more about the Gates Foundation campus design and overall sustainability plans.

Image credit: Gustafson Guthrie Nichol

6 thoughts on “New 12-acre Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Campus by Gustafson Guthrie Nichol

  1. MLA studentplantlover 02/16/2010 / 3:23 pm

    Great that they are doing such a high-profile project with lots of sustainable features. 1 million gallons of rainwater storage is a pretty big deal.

    Hard to say without seeing the actual plans or surrounding neighborhood, but it seems they could have squeezed a bit more diversity in the 135 trees. Raywood is just so common . . .

  2. landscraper 02/17/2010 / 3:48 pm

    Great looking project!

  3. Deborah Howe 02/24/2010 / 11:47 am

    Moving an 8-inch caliper tree is completely doable, and one way to do it — that’s better for the tree than digging it the way it was done in this project — is by bare-rooting it. Arborists in Massachusetts have been using compressed air technology for the last 5-6 years to move even larger specimen trees bare root. The advantages include the retention of far more root mass (at least 90% of the root mass remains with the bare-rooted tree, compared to 30% being kept with a hand-dug or tree-spaded tree), the elimination of a moisture/root-inhibitive soil interface, and a nearly stress-free re-establishment period for the transplanted tree. Trees at large as 14″ in caliper have been moved here in this way, and not only do they survive, but they tend to thrive. For more information online, check out, which has pictures and text about Mass. Arborist Association arborists’ work with this method.

  4. Deborah Howe 02/24/2010 / 11:49 am

    You can also check the March 2009 issue of Landscape Architecture Magazine for my American Nurseryman article reprint on this method of moving trees….

  5. Shannon Nichol 03/02/2010 / 5:34 pm

    Dear Deborah,
    Thank you for your letter here and sent to our office presenting your tree-moving method and services. This is a great way to reduce weight in specimen tree transport. However, in the interest of promoting our profession’s successful use of this underutilized native species, I would direct those praciticing in the Pacific Northwest to people experienced in dealing with the transplanting of Acer macrophyllum. It infamously resents root disturbance and many methods of transplanting in any season; nonetheless, seasoned nurserymen and contractors can be found in the local region who are familiar with A. macrophyllum’s sensitivity to exposed/disturbed roots in any season in our mild climate. Keeping the rootball intact has been a factor in many successful transplants. Those wanting to use A. macrophyllum for this region are welcome to contact our office for references to some of the experts and consultants that we’ve used.

  6. Deborah Howe 03/03/2010 / 1:37 pm

    Shannon — Thanks for your good response. Actually, my business doesn’t provide any tree-moving services, and I have no commercial interest in bare-root tree-moving, unless someone wants to pay me for speaking or writing about it. I’m just reporting on it as New England arborists (and now arborists elsewhere around the country) send in their results.
    As you say, bare-rooting is a great way to reduce tree-transport weight. It also tends to be better for the tree, compared to even hand-dug root ball transplant, as most of the root mass stays with the tree — something that doesn’t typically happen even with a hand-dug tree. Because this method is so new, it may be that no arborists in the Pacific Northwest have tried it at all, much less tried it with Acer macrophyllum. Jim Flott, a well-regarded arborist in Spokane has been conducting root-washing experiments for some time now; of anyone, he might have the best idea out there of A. macrophyllum’s response to bare-rooting.
    Massachusetts arborists are performing bare-root transplants on a range of trees as those opportunities arise, in an effort to gauge how trees sensitive to root disturbance or with seasonal restrictions on digging react to losing their soil but keeping their roots. Some trees may be too tender-barked for air-tool bare-rooting, some may not be able to tolerate out of season bare-rooting (though seeing a Cutleaf European Birch, a fall digging hazard, get bare-rooted on a hot August day and then watching it thrive since has triggered excitement about the possibility that those trees considered seasonal digging hazards may not be as temperamental when bare-rooted).
    My own aim is to keep reporting on successes and failures, and so to provide arborists and landscape architects clear information — as new methods are developed and proven — on the best methods of transplanting any given species of tree.
    If any landscape architects out there have used bare-root transplanting on any of their projects and have observations about its efficacy, I’d be delighted to hear of your results, and willing to post text and photos of successful or unsuccessful transplants.

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