By {{Article.AuthorName}} | {{Article.PublicationDate.slice(6, -2) | date:'EEEE, MMMM d, y'}}
{{TotalFavorites}} Favorite{{TotalFavorites>1? 's' : ''}}

On a bitterly cold day in January, Jeff King seems to be warmed from within. A vice president with Clark Construction Group, he’s project manager for phase one of Amazon HQ2, the sprawling, second headquarters facility the ecommerce giant is building in Arlington, Virginia. When it’s completed, sometime during the first half of 2023, phase one will host 25,000 employees in two LEED Platinum–certified, 22-story towers linked by an underground parking garage, with a more-than-two-acre public park and more than 50,000 square feet of retail, dining and office space.

But that’s next year. Today, HQ2 is still a work in progress, and King is leading Constructive Executive on an exclusive hardhat tour of the busy jobsite. During a pre-tour interview in a conference room at Clark’s field office a few blocks away, King was polite but reserved as he discussed the project, but now that he has boots on the ground in “Metropolitan Park”—Amazon’s name for its new campus—he’s animated and chatty. The site is clearly where he belongs, checking in with everyone he passes and pointing out details large and small as he guides CE from the two-story lobby in HQ2’s South Building, up to the fifth floor and down into the parking garage.

“What I like the most is to walk the job and understand how the trades are working together—where the trades are and where they’re going to be and making sure that next space is ready for them,” King says. “I like to connect with the workers where I can, to make sure that they know who I am and I know who they are. I’m not necessarily in every fire that’s out there every day, but it’s nice to take a step back and try to look at where the blind spots are and help provide guidance to our team.”

There’s the potential for a lot of blind spots on a project as large as HQ2. In fact, the sheer scale of the work is one of three primary challenges King identifies, the other two being operating in the middle of a densely populated community and managing the built-to-suit, turnkey nature of the project. “Those are the three things we’re focused on,” King says, “to make the job successful.”


It’s not as if Clark hasn’t worked on big, Washington, D.C.–area projects before, including CityCenterDC, a 2-million-square foot, mixed-used development downtown; The Wharf, a 19-acre, mixed-use development along the Potomac River, on D.C.’s Southwest Waterfront; and two high-rise office buildings as part of a 1.1-million-square-foot expansion of Reston Town Center in Fairfax County, Virginia. “They do mimic some of the characteristics of this size facility,” says King, who served as senior project manager for CityCenterDC, “but this job is unique in its scale.”

As the project’s lead general contractor, Clark is responsible for all of it—base building, fit out, landscaping and everything in between. After a 10-month planning process, the contractor broke ground in January 2020, demolishing several warehouses on the site and beginning excavation that spring. Today there are about 150 subcontractors on the job, with the labor pool ranging from 1,100 to 1,400 craft workers at any given time.

During CE’s visit this past January, crews were in the process of pouring concrete for the superstructure; they’d been at it since October 2020. Right on schedule, the crews topped out both towers at 22 floors each on March 18, 2022. The two towers contain a total of 200,000 cubic yards of poured concrete. A typical office building in downtown D.C., King notes, might use 30,000 cubic yards.

Needing so much of one material—especially during a time of widespread supply-chain problems—has pushed Clark to get creative about sourcing. All the concrete for the South Building, for example, comes from a temporary batch plant set up less than a quarter mile from the jobsite, on land slated for phase two of HQ2, while concrete for the North Building comes from a separate plant about three-and-a-half miles away.

“It doesn’t happen all the time,” King says, “but on a job this scale, it makes sense.” He adds: “The scale of the job leads to us being super-focused on diversifying our resources as much as possible. Putting all of our eggs in one basket with one supplier is something we truly wanted to analyze.”

Following close behind—or below—the concrete crews are the teams putting in the buildings’ glass façades. Between the two towers, there will be about 10,000 curtain-wall units with nonreflective glass to prevent birds from crashing into them. “When you get the concrete structure up to a certain level, you then want to start the façade right behind it, to get the building closed in as quickly as possible,” King says. “It almost becomes a race.”

Throughout the tour, King shares numbers that underscore the scope of HQ2. There are four tower cranes operating onsite—down from five at the start of the project—moving with skeletal grace around and over the towers. The South Building is 1.1 million square feet while the North Building is a hair smaller, at exactly 1 million square feet. The underground parking garage encompasses another 1 million square feet over four floors. And there will be 62 elevators between the two buildings, “which is a large number of elevators for a complex,” King says. “One of the hardest parts about elevator equipment is it requires so much material—all the rails and the cars, and where do we stage that material so it’s not interrupting the interior work that we’re doing?”

At one point, King stops in a yawning space on the first floor of the South Building. This will be a 700-person event facility, available for both Amazon and community use. It’s striking, with soaring windows and a latticework of skylights high overhead. But what truly draws the eye are the massive timber beams that span the ceiling. Imported from Quebec, each one is 80 feet long, weighs 14,000 pounds and was set in place by a crane right after Labor Day 2021. In their silent majesty, they make King’s point: This is a big project.


Hanging on a wall in Clark’s field office is a poster with Amazon’s 14 leadership principles, including “Success and Scale Bring Broad Responsibility,” which is described this way: “We must be humble and thoughtful about even the secondary effects of our actions.” The principles long predate HQ2, but that one could have been written with the construction project in mind.

Metropolitan Park sits in two neighborhoods in south Arlington, just off the Potomac River—Pentagon City and Crystal City. Both are well developed, and on every side the HQ2 site is bordered by condominiums, hotels and office buildings. Major highways crisscross all around, and two Metro stops along with the Pentagon and Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport are close by. Doing heavy construction amid all that existing development generates plenty of secondary effects for thousands of people. In its first conversations with Clark, Amazon stressed the importance of minimizing those effects.

“One of the things they truly care about is making sure that we’re being a respectful neighbor to the community,” King says. “Not that we don’t want to do that, but they put an exclamation point on making sure that was a priority in our plan, more than just building the job.”

Being a respectful neighbor started before anyone put on a hardhat. In December 2019, King and John Swagart, a Clark vice president who oversees field operations for HQ2, went door to door, visiting every residential building and every retail operation to introduce themselves and “really start that personal conversation,” King says. “So, the community has direct access to myself and John—the two leaders of the job—to answer anything they have questions about or concerns they may have.”

Every two weeks, Clark sends an email to area residents and businesses with updates on the project, including any potential disruptions, especially those related to utility work, noise and dust—a particular concern for a job that began driving piles during the first month that everyone switched to working from home due to the pandemic. “We show them that we’re per code and make sure we communicate what the rules are—what we can and cannot do,” King says. “We’re also proactive in telling them about timelines, such as, ‘Hey, you could experience this from here to here,’ because they appreciate that. We don’t want to sugarcoat it. We just tell them how it is.”

But there’s room for niceties, too. Before Clark took over the plot of land that eventually will become HQ2’s public park, the site hosted a farmer’s market every Saturday where King and his team would show up to answer questions and “just show our faces and really be one with them.” The neighborhood is home to a lot of dogs, so Clark team members have designated dog-treat pockets in their hazard vests. And the biweekly email blast often includes a trivia contest about the project, with gift cards to local retailers as prizes. 

For Amazon, this is about more than “making nice” during construction. After the dust settles and HQ2 is open for business, Amazon’s plan is for the campus to be fully integrated into the community. In addition to the event center being available for community events, the park will be completely open to the public, with inviting features such as a central green space, dog runs, a playground, landscaped walkways and tables.

Then there are the buildings themselves. Amazon’s security checkpoints will be on the second floors, meaning the public will be free to access the first-floor lobbies. “The public can meet inside the ground floor and experience the lobby in a meaningful way, which is just really cool,” King says. “It brings the community and Amazon together, which is a huge deal for them.”


For King, managing a project of this size comes down to flow—being able to move seamlessly among stakeholders and timelines, subcontractors and suppliers, as well as processes and priorities without losing momentum. “We were fortunate that we were selected roughly 10 months before groundbreaking,” King says. “It gave us time to focus on what we thought the challenges were going to be and make that a collaborative plan. It’s Clark’s plan, it’s the architect’s plan, the client’s plan and key trade partners’ plan. We all work together, and we hold each other accountable.”

With the pandemic causing supply-chain disruptions and other unpredictable scheduling challenges, that’s meant getting to know not just suppliers but “suppliers’ suppliers and suppliers’ suppliers’ suppliers.” King adds: “We stay very close to our trade partners, and if things do come up, we can coordinate with them on buying things early in bulk and then staging it properly, because it’s not that we can always stage it here; space is limited, and we need to be efficient.”

Staying flexible is also important. Local ordinances allow Clark to operate from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. King generally sticks to one shift, from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., but occasionally will use a second shift—from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m.—for something that makes more sense to do at night or that requires one of the cranes, which are kept busy on the superstructure throughout the day. Placing the timber beams on the event center roof, for example, was a second-shift job.

Internally, King balances the need to keep track of countless details with the importance of giving his team room to maneuver. He tries to walk the jobsite every day, and maintains weekly and monthly check-ins with key areas, changing up agendas and meeting frequencies to keep things fresh. “We have experienced individuals that work really hard,” King says, “and we give them a long leash to learn and grow together and give them the authority to make decisions. Our focus always shifts based on the face of the job and what are the most critical things to keep an eye on.”

If Clark continues to stay on schedule, HQ2 phase one will wrap up by June 2023 and King and his team will move on. Unless they stay put to work on phase two, a proposed 3.3-million-square-foot complex near Metropolitan Park that’s under review by Arlington County; as of press time, Amazon has yet to announce a builder for the project.

King, however, is still locked in on phase one and all its grand ambitions and small details. Leading CE’s tour across the first level of the parking garage, he stops at a seam in the concrete, long and straight, a few inches deep. This, he says, is the dividing line between the North and South buildings—the joint that separates one concrete slab from the next. Representing the end of one thing and the beginning of something else, it’s a neat encapsulation of what King most likes about his job. 

“What’s really important about a successful construction project is managing the transition phases of a job,” he says, his voice echoing lightly off the garage’s cold, hard edges. “As you transition from digging a hole—excavation—to starting concrete, you want to make sure that handoff between the excavation subcontractor and the concrete subcontractor goes smoothly. If it doesn’t, you’re going to hit some roadblocks. Then, when the concrete trades are high enough and the façade subcontractors can start underneath—nailing that transition helps the job progress even more. My favorite part of the job is when those transitions come up and making sure that our team is successful at nailing them.” 


 Comments ({{Comments.length}})

  • {{comment.Name}}


    {{comment.DateCreated.slice(6, -2) | date: 'MMM d, y h:mm:ss a'}}

Leave a comment

Required! Not valid email!