“It’s exactly like we envisioned it!”
Ralph Zucker, President of Somerset Development, the company that bought the abandoned AT&T campus in Holmdel, NJ had this ‘Aha!’ moment when he saw the first photos of the July 6, 2017 fireworks celebration here. It was a night time fly over shot with the building aglow in the woods, alive once again with activity. “I really was so surprised and delighted to see how the reality of our Bell Works matches, almost perfectly, the renderings we first presented to key partners to start the project approval process. We are accomplishing exactly what we set out to accomplish with our metroburb.”
Alexander Gorlin, President of Alexander Gorlin Architects, lead architect and co-visionary with Zucker of the adaptive reuse project, said, “I always saw it as this glass box — reflecting the sky and sunlight during the day and glowing like a lantern at night with Manhattan, also glowing at night, visible in the distance.”
The iconic building was designed by famed architect Eero Saarrinen in 1959 and built in 1962.
You can get that same perspective of the realization of their vision by watching the earliest ‘film’ of the project, an animated piece created by partner digital agency in Shanghai. Without ever seeing the building in person, animators used detailed specifications, print renderings and the insights of Zucker and Gorlin,to create a future rendering that turned out to be incredibly accurate..
“It really is exceptional that we have been able to implement our ideas, our vision, so faithfully to how we first conceived the building,” Gorlin said. “Part of that success is attributed to the fact that we had a very clear, informed vision of what we wanted. There were storyboards and an animated film that showed it all; from coming down the driveway, past the transistor water tower and up the alley of trees — right up to the building and then crossing through the glass exterior into the building.”
Gorlin also attributes the fidelity of reality to original vision to the fact that he and Zucker share a deep, mutual respect and admiration for the other’s work. “We valued the same, crucial points of the experience (of the re-development),” he says. “ And there’s a unique chemistry between us. We both have a great love of architecture and urbanism and all it represents. All of this has allowed us to work together in a way that I would say is unique between architect and developer.”
Moshe Gross, Director of Special Projects for the metroburb, gives VIP tours of the building and has since it opened. He is intimately aware of how much time and energy the project’s leadership team spends to make sure the history of the building is honored and represented, even as construction has opened up offices, replacing concrete walls with glass and upgrading the technology infrastructure to serve an evolved work style and different needs. “It’s not a museum,” he says, “but we have the same respect for history and preserving important stories of accomplishment as museums do. So tenants and visitors will see mini installations with the building’s history, drawing connections between important people and events that mattered then and still inspire and motivate us today. Like the Josef Albers inspired floor. That’s an enormously important part of the building we took great care to get right. We’re proud of that and people respond to it.”
Gorlin agrees with Gross, and adds that the renovations honor the famed architect’s own vision. “Saarinen would have been happy with every single thing we’ve done, here,” he says. “We took his masterpiece which accommodated a different type of work, for people with more solitary minds who needed seclusion, and we just expanded on that; updating features to accommodate a contemporary way of working and allowing connection across very distinct barriers that existed in concrete and other elements of the old building.”
See the vision unfold. Watch the original Bell Works animation.