Gates Foundation’s new digs soon to officially open

Bill Gates and Bill Foege, at new campus

The Seattle Times, and reporter Kristi Heim, on Sunday published a big spread on the new headquarters of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation set to officially open in early June.

As is often the case in restaurants, where the appetizers are better than the main entrees, I think the most interesting story in this package is the sidebar with the terribly dull headline Bill and Melinda Gates: Adjoining offices, contrasting styles.

“We’re constantly in learning mode, but learning from different directions and nudging each other,” Melinda Gates said. She explained that she works from observing what people need and then goes to the statistics while her husband prefers to start with statistics and then move to examining the human factors.

I got a sneak peak at this spectacular campus in April when I attended an event at which Bill and Melinda Gates honored two other Bills — Bill Foege and Bill Gates Sr — for their guidance in making the philanthropy what it is today. Here’s a photo of Bill Gates and Foege in the main commons room:

Bill Gates and Bill Foege, at new campus

As I noted when I snuck in, Bill Gates didn’t seem to want to talk to me. That appears to have been the case for the Seattle Times as well. The interview is only with Melinda Gates, who took the lead in planning and approving the design of the philanthropy’s new complex:

“I wanted something that’s rooted in the Northwest,” Melinda Gates said. But it also needed “to be iconic and represent the work we do. And the work we do is global; it reaches out to the world.”

As the Times’ article notes, Melinda Gates sent the architects back to the drawing board after their first proposal failed to capture this spirit — including the Seattle philanthropy’s goal of becoming more “transparent” to both the local community as well as to the rest of the world.

That change of mindset is reflected in the new headquarters. Melinda Gates said she chose a location in the heart of the city to be more visible and to help connect the campus with the surrounding neighborhood. Some foundation events, including its annual meeting, will be held across the street at Seattle Center.

The campus entrance along Fifth Avenue includes nearby benches, bike racks, an outdoor screen for video art and a viewing pavilion for the public to look in on the inner campus. “We really wanted the foundation to feel transparent to people when they came here,” Gates said. “The idea was to have a place where people could understand our work but also understand what they could do.”

It’s a good overview of the Gates Foundation and this milestone. It’s an incredibly beautiful complex of buildings, I have to say. I only got an abbreviated view of the place, because I felt a little out of place at the staff event.

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Here’s another photo from of the Gates family, with Foege, admiring one of two trees planted to honor the contributions of the two Bills:

Gates family and Foege, tree

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Tom Paulson

Tom Paulson is founder and lead journalist at Humanosphere. Prior to operating this online news site, he reported on science,  medicine, health policy, aid and development for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Contact him at tom[at]humanosphere.org or follow him on Twitter @tompaulson.