Keeping tabs: Bell Labs on the up and up
July 20, 2016
Eero Saarinen’s Bell Laboratories in Holmdel, NJ, had its its heyday as a center of technological innovation before a slow slide to white elephant status as it sat empty and forlorn for nearly a decade as town officials debated its future. Today, thanks to Ralph Zucker of Somerset Development and visionary preservationists who saw great potential in the site’s reuse, this Modern corporate campus is being repurposed for 21st century needs. This is no easy task considering the campus comprises 472 acres and includes a water tower, two man-made lakes and a 2,000,000 square foot building (half of which is offices). Nonetheless, as of June 1, 20 percent of the office space had been leased to a variety of companies. Ten tenants have moved in, including a co-working space and several food vendors. An eleventh, the tech firm WorkWave, will occupy a 72,000 square foot space by next year. The site is proving ideal for conferences and other large events; it hosted a networking event with Holmdel Mayor Eric Hinds, and weekly soccer games take place on artificial turf in the large atrium.
However, it is not all roses. The final agreement with the town included the sale of 103 acres of the campus landscape, which was designed by Hideo Sasaki of Sasaki, Walker & Associates, to Toll Brothers. the residential developer will build 225 mostly age-restricted, clustered cookie-cutter houses. Many see Toll Brothers’ traditional style suburban McMansions as antithetical to the New Urbanist vision espoused by Zucker. It has been described as a Faustian bargain that had to be made.
Meanwhile within the Bell Labs building, which Zucker has rebranded as “Bell Works,” design decisions have been made with what project architect Alexander Gorlin describes as a “preservationist attitude.” This includes restoration of the sunken lobby at the building’s main entrance, and the replacement of light fixtures, glass panes, finishes, and other fixtures with an eye towards the original designs. One intriguing update is the replication of two identical Josef Albers artworks as floor tile patterns in the atrium.
“The Bargain That Revived Bell Labs,” Architect Magazine, May 23, 2016
“Eero Saarinen’s Giant 1957 Masterpiece in New Jersey Restored and Reimagined,” Dwell, dwell.com
“Update: Bell Labs reopened and reimagined,” DOCOMOMO US, June 8, 2016, docomomous.org