Originally designed by renowned architect Eero Saarinen, the two million square foot Bell Works’ is a multi-use development known for its iconic open-atrium scheme, which spans a full quarter-mile. The building served as an innovation headquarters for over 6,000 Bell Labs employees from 1962 to 2007. Slated for demolition for years, the building was saved by Somerset Development who purchased the site in 2013. Bell Labs was then redesigned as a multi-tenant facility that the public could truly enjoy while simultaneously creating an economically viable facility.
Today, under the new development, Bell Works acts as a ‘metroburb’ – a concept inspired by the tenets of new urbanism that combines the density and dynamism of a walkable, downtown ‘Main Street’ in a suburban locale. On site, businesses and workers from across the region can once again roam its unique, open hallways, part of a new dynamic, collaborative workplace complete with a blossoming ecosystem of technology, traditional office, retail, dining and hospitality.
The transformation occurred mainly in the atriums, where the solid metal walls of the scientists’ labs precluded renting office space due to the severe lack of natural light. A balance of the original solid panels and new glass walls were agreed upon as the master plan.
The three atrium floors were modified, as over the years the two outer atriums were choked with ad hoc constructions such as lecture halls and additional office cubicles. These were cleared out and an artificial lawn was installed, as well as planters with trees and greenery. The central atrium had numerous planters, in the way of the developer’s intention for the space to be used as a central plaza and the main pedestrian way. To give scale and character to the atrium, two enlargements of a Josef Albers Bauhaus painting from 1929 were interpreted in porcelain tiles of white, gray and black, approved of and done in conjunction with the Josef Albers Foundation. This pattern complements and relates to the spatial interweaving of the walkways and bridges in the atrium spaces. Ron Arad, the furniture designer, designed a tubular seating system to compliment the Albers pattern.
Over the atriums, the glass of the skylights was replaced with the world’s largest array of clear photo-voltaic cells that maintain the original clarity of the glass while providing for 15% of the electrical needs of the building.
Today, the space has attracted a multi-cultural food hall, run by the executive chef of Tribeca Grill; a Montessori education facility; the local public library, relocated from its municipal offices; a premium fitness center; a beauty salon; several locally inspired restaurants; and plans for healthcare facilities. The building is also equipped with multiple open event spaces, a renovated auditorium, and, by 2020, a rooftop hotel.
In recognition of the great significance of the site, the building was admitted to the National Registry of Historic Places in 2017.