Guests mingled and took in the view from the Bell Works rooftop deck at the closing party and dinner hosted by Meridian on Aug. 11. Special guest, Eric Saarinen, son of renowned Bell Labs architect Eero Saarinen, who spoke to guests, a testament to the fact that Bell Works continues to uphold a great legacy of innovation, technology and design.
“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.
If the massive windows that surround the Bell Works facility could talk, they’d tell you enough stories of the history and hijinks of the iconic, 2 million square-foot building to last a lifetime.
Before the facility evolved into the metroburb it is today, it was home to thousands of innovators and creators who transformed the way we communicate across the globe. Simply put, Bell Labs was a technology juggernaut.
It produced eight Nobel Prize winners, developed the foundation for the Internet, created the first transatlantic fiber-optic cable, and connected us all with the first wireless cellular networks.
But it wasn’t all ground-breaking work. There was plenty of fun (geniuses need time to play, too). That’s why the people who worked here during its heyday have such fond memories of the facility, and several of them make pilgrimages back to see what’s become of their beloved building.
“Some people say things are so different now [at the facility], but when we went on the tour, it looked very much the same as when we were there, so they preserved a lot of it,” said Ron Kauffman, a former Bell Labs employee who toured Bell Works earlier this year with former colleagues.
It’s not uncommon to see groups of Bell Labs alumni walking through the building. They have lunch in the café. They point out their former offices. They reminisce about meeting their spouses here. They share laughs and memories. And they’re glad they get to come back to the building that was in jeopardy for so long.
Life At Bell Labs: Young, Fun and Ground-Breaking
Built in 1962 and expanded twice since, the former Bell Labs facility was once one of the largest buildings in New Jersey. And as it is today, it was a place to work and play.
“It was a lot of fun. In particular, there were a lot of young people,” said Kauffman, who began working at the facility in 1977. “They had massive hiring years from 1977 to the early 1980s, so you had a lot of people in their 20s just getting out of school. We would get together in various ways. There were many clubs, for example. They had probably 20 or 30 clubs.”
If you had an interest outside of work, there was a club for you: a French club, magic club, ski club, juggling club, and several sports leagues. They even offered courses in other vocations, such as auto repair.
Of course, there were seminars and world-class speakers coming through the facility. Kauffman recalls hearing of some guy named Steve Jobs giving a talk at the building.
“There were world experts around, and people were rewarded for cooperating across organizational boundaries or within the organization. Everyone was very helpful. I learned a lot there,” said Robert Wilson, the 1978 Nobel Prize winner.
Like any workplace, there were also some odd happenings. Like when you could take a break from work and watch Canadian geese chicks hatch by the pond in front of the building (that happened again recently just outside the windows of the vi Collaboration Hub, the coworking space here at Bell Works). Or the time the building was expanded in 1982, but there wasn’t plumbing installed in the new section.
It wasn’t a problem since there was sufficient plumbing in other sections of the building. But the Bell Labs president’s office happened to be in the expansion section. Needless to say, they installed plumbing for him.
Ending an Era and Revitalizing the Legacy
After the divestiture of Bell Labs and Lucent Technologies eventually taking over the property, things went downhill for telecom companies. The building that was once so heavily occupied that temporary offices were built in the atrium, dwindled in population.
“It was a really big place and it was exciting to be there,” said Kauffman, who worked at the facility until it closed in 2007. “So seeing it start to diminish while you were still there was sad, and after we left, we weren’t too sure what was going to be done with the building.”
Though the building remained vacant for several years, Somerset Development purchased it in 2013 and continues to transform it into a mixed-use facility for people to live, work, and play, something Bell Labs alumni are happy about, giving them a reason to return to their roots.
“When I visited a couple of weeks ago, that was the first time I’d been back since it was abandoned,” said Grace Leonard, who worked as a technical supervisor at other Bell Labs locations in the state from 1969 to 1986, but visited the Holmdel location for meetings. “I think the work and what I understand about the plans is a wonderful use of the space and I’m really glad it is being put to use for people in the community.”
Alumni are also glad to see Bell Works carry on the legacy of innovation, as many tech companies are tenants in the facility.
“I think it’s a great opportunity for hi-tech companies. I know NVIDIA is there and they’re a very well-known tech company. I’m sure the other hi-tech companies in the building are doing a lot of good stuff as well,” Kauffman said.
It may have been abandoned for a while, but the Holmdel facility is buzzing again with ground-breaking work, inspiring events, and plenty of fun activities. And now, it’s not just those windows that have stories to tell, but Bell Labs alumni can return home to walk the halls and talk about its history.
When Christine Zilinski first stepped foot into Bell Works, she knew she had finally found the perfect place. For several years, the owner and leader of Red Bank’s Salon Concrete had scoured the state looking for a space to open a second location, but she had yet to find the right spot. After three clients came into her salon raving about Bell Works in a week’s time, she felt compelled to see the building for herself.
“The moment I pulled up and first saw the building, I got goosebumps,” said Zilinski, “I just felt like this was where we were meant to be.”
Zilinski founded Salon Concrete’s first location in Red Bank 18 years ago, focusing on community, entrepreneurship, and leadership as the foundation for both her business and her professional life. She knew that opening a location at Bell Works meant joining an inspiring community of entrepreneurs and visionaries.
Salon Concrete’s new location at Bell is a 2,400-square-foot space located on the ground floor of the building 1 nearby the west atrium. When it came to finding an architect to execute her vision, Zilinski said she couldn’t imagine anyone better for the project than Mike Pond, an award-winning architect and owner of Solid & Void Design.
Pond and the Solid & Void team work on commissioned spaces in the central New Jersey area, delivering custom design and building expertise to each of their clients. Coincidentally, Zilinski named her first location “Salon Concrete” long before meeting Pond, and Pond and his business are particularly well recognized for their creative work in concrete. This made the opportunity to work together on Salon Concrete’s second location all the more exciting for them both.
The two met when Pond was working on a project in Red Bank near the salon. After a conversation about the relationship between haircutting and architecture, Zilinski and Pond quickly realized that their design philosophies, though expressed through different mediums, were one in the same.
“I believe it’s the simplicity of things that makes them beautiful. Mike had the same philosophy,” said Zilinski. “I could feel his passion for architecture and design through my conversations with him. I felt that if I ever opened another location, I would want to work with him to build it.”
“We had a great symbiosis before we even started working together,” agreed Pond. “That rapport is what made the difference. We have a different approach to some things, but at our core, we’re very similar.”
Perhaps most importantly, Pond understood Zilinski’s mission to bring back the principles of simplicity in design favored by stylists like Vidal Sassoon and build a community of hairstylists who understand the craft. His passion for the project only grew stronger when he discovered that the Bell Works building was designed by one of his favorite architects, Eero Saarinen.
Despite the fact that Pond was entirely new to the salon industry, his expertise and passion for the project made his fresh perspective a strength instead of a weakness. He immersed himself in the industry, from traveling to New York to study the architecture of a famous salon to observing the entire process of a haircut at Salon Concrete, start to finish, so he could examine a stylist’s needs every step of the way.
By approaching the project from an angle of design and simplicity instead of convention, Pond made suggestions to Zilinski that blatantly opposed the industry standard. But Zilinski’s trust in Pond’s expertise led her to embrace his suggestions with an open mind.
The result of their collaboration will be a space unlike any salon you’ve seen before: A wall will cover most of the outside entrance, giving passersby only a glimpse into the transformations unfolding inside. Students and visitors will flow into the salon’s multi-use area for classes and art shows. A curving concrete wall—an architectural feat—will stretch through the center of the salon. And, perhaps most importantly, employees and clients alike will enjoy a beautiful space custom-designed for Zilinski and Salon Concrete.
Pond’s experience in concrete work, coupled with his passion for working with the material, resulted in a beautiful translation of the name “Salon Concrete” into a physical space designed around the use of concrete as a material element.
“Concrete is possibly the only commonly used material that has a naturalistic quality to it, but whose existence is fully dependent on the intervention of humans… It’s a fusion of raw materials, but is often held in the same regard as those naturally occurring materials,” Pond said. “It’s this concept that I was exploring a bit, with the cavernous openings in the concrete (walls) being treated the way they are. This idea that this wall can be ‘reenacted’…, but never duplicated. This concept is remarkably similar to how Christine approaches hair.”
As the leader of her salon, Zilinski’s passion and dedication to helping people transform sets her business apart from others. “The transformation can come from me educating my team, pushing them to be better hair stylists and better people. It’s about understanding what’s underneath the hair, and it’s about serving people.”
In designing and building a space that reflects these values, Zilinski and Pond have created an environment that elevates a routine haircut into an immersive and transformative experience that is much more than the sum of its parts.
In Pond’s words, “People won’t see this, they’ll feel it. Some details aren’t meant to be seen. They’re meant to be felt.”
Salon Concrete’s Bell Works location is scheduled to open this Spring. Stay tuned for updates on the Salon Concrete’s website and Instagram, and learn more about Mike Pond and Solid & Void via their website or Instagram.
As the metroburb continues to grow, an increasing number of employees at Bell Works are seeking nearby housing options. This spring, the buzz is building around a new location for Bell Workers – or just members of the surrounding community – who might be looking for a beautiful place to live, convenient surroundings, and a short commute to work: Glassworks. The 55-acre site is expected to house 500 new residential units in Cliffwood (Aberdeen), just a 15-minute drive up the Garden State Parkway from Bell Works.
“It’s a very viable target for workers (at Bell Works) that might be stuck with long commutes, who might be looking for something in the area that is more affordable than the housing in Holmdel,” said Thomas Michnewicz, vice president of Somerset Development. Somerset is the master developer of Glassworks, as well as the developer behind Bell Works.
In addition to its proximity to Bell Works, Glassworks is adjacent to state highways and bus stops, surrounded by a wide range of local amenities and attractions, and only 10 minutes away from the Aberdeen-Matawan train station. But the development has much more to offer than a great location alone.
The site, which was once the location of the abandoned Anchor Glass manufacturing facility (hence the name ‘Glassworks’), had been left vacant and deteriorating for over 20 years. Seeing potential in its future, Somerset Development bought the property and obtained approvals for a mixed use project to include residential units, retail space and a hotel. The company then sold a portion of the site to Ingerman, a Mid-Atlantic based multi-family developer, contractor, and property manager, to build apartments.
The former Anchor Glass manufacturing facility was abandoned 20 years ago.
Currently Glassworks includes two communities, The Forge at Glassworks and The Willows at Glassworks, which together house 280 units total. As the development continues to expand in the coming years, additional apartments will become available on the property.
The Forge at Glassworks consists of 170 premium apartments. Each unit features stainless steel appliances, hardwood floors, and an in-unit washer and dryer. Residents can enjoy a community building which houses a game area, fitness center, lounge pool, sauna, fire pit, and barbecue.
The Forge offers one- and two-bedroom apartments, starting at 796 square feet and 1074 square feet, respectively, as well as three-bedroom townhomes which start at 1472 square feet. One of its most attractive features is its reasonable price point, which ranges from approximately $1,500 to $2,500 per unit.
Ingerman’s second development, The Willows at Glassworks, is an affordable family apartment community with 110 units. Like The Forge, The Willows features a community building with a fitness center and other amenities, as well as beautiful in-unit features. The exteriors of The Willows and The Forge buildings look identical to one another, reinforcing the cohesive sense of community Ingerman is cultivating at Glassworks.
“Something we’re very proud of at Ingerman is that we’ve set a new standard for what people think when they think of ‘affordable housing’,” explained Todd Stecker, director of leasing and marketing for Ingerman. “These are beautifully made apartments (at The Willows). They have granite countertops, hardwood cabinets, and spacious housing.”
The communities at Glassworks were designed as a mixed-use project encompassing rental and for-sale homes, public space, along with a retail component – all created with a wide range of residents in mind. The Forge features one and two bedroom apartments, as well as over 50 townhomes, to accommodate different demographics.
The apartments cater to millennials in their 20s and 30s, specifically to employees at Bell Works who want to be close to the metroburb without the expense of Holmdel housing. The townhomes are aimed toward beginning families, as well as older individuals who are looking to downsize.
“With the combination of rentals and for-sale properties, we wanted to have that mix to appeal to a variety of residents,” Michnewicz said. “This affords the workers here at Bell Works, especially the millennials and people in their first jobs, a lower cost of housing.”
Glassworks Park, a two-acre public park in between The Forge and The Willows, will be completed in the spring. The park will feature walking trails, basketball courts, and sections of the original smokestacks from the historical glass factory site.
“We are ‘new urbanists’; our goal is to build communities. We build communities as opposed to just building homes,” Michnewicz said. “Green space is important for communities as places that all can use to congregate and places to walk.”
Ingerman is wrapping up construction of both The Forge and The Willows, which Stecker calls “a flagship community for (the) company”. The company expects The Willows at Glassworks to reach full occupancy by March 1, and expects to complete The Forge in late spring. The Forge will be leased out through the summer.
Somerset is in the process of obtaining approvals to build an additional 99 townhouses beginning this spring, as well as 75,000 square feet of retail space and a hotel later in the development process.
It was a long-anticipated installation in the Bell Works community: The tubular sofas known as the Bell Works Tubes in our atrium.
The completion of the furniture marked the end of a two-year project to create a collective space that is simultaneously artistic and functional, dramatic and comfortable, historic and modern. Whether you’re entering the atrium for the first time or simply passing by on your way to work, the Tubes set the stage for the creative and collaborative environment that makes Bell Works so unique.
With its sharp lines, bold patterns, and bright pops of color, the work may appear to be something straight out of a modern art museum; yet its open layout and unexpected design create a fun and inviting atmosphere that welcomes regulars and newcomers alike. The custom-designed atrium furniture project is the brainchild of a talented team of creatives: world-renowned furniture designer Ron Arad, and the team behind the Italian artisan furniture company Moroso and the creative team of Bell Works – Master Architect Alexander Gorlin, Creative Director and founder of NPZ Style + Décor Paola Zamudio, and Ralph Zucker, President of Somerset Development and the visionary behind the building’s adaptive reuse.
“It became immediately clear (after meeting Zamudio and Arad) that we have a mutual understanding of design and quality,” said Moroso’s Jens Rodieck. “Throughout the project, intensive discussions, meetings, and site visits helped us design a work that contributes profoundly to an iconic building.”
“This was a collaborative effort,” Zamudio said, “but the furniture designer is Ron Arad and it was his vision for the round tubes as a contrast to the squares within the space. He insisted on creating his own custom design after he visited. I love his aesthetic, everything he makes is sculptural art.”
Zamudio turned to art history as the starting point for the project, selecting a 1926 work by textile artist Anni Albers as her inspiration behind the furniture design. She thought the colors and the story would be a perfect complement to the existing atrium tile work, which had been designed by Gorlin after the work of Anni’s husband, Josef Albers. It was Gorlin’s architectural perspective that helped Zamudio create the layout. “I selected Anni Albers’s work because I wanted to connect the history of their artwork as pioneers of twentieth-century modernism, as well as their relationship to one another.” Zamudio was also drawn to the yellow and red pops of color in Anni Albers’ work that would brighten and enliven the space.
Zamudio’s next step was to find a furniture concept that would complement the floor while also contributing to the innovative design of the atrium. Arad was so captivated by pictures of the building that he visited Bell Works to see the stunning architectural feat for himself. He was then inspired to create his custom-designed tubular sofas, which made their debut at Milan’s Salone del Mobile Milano and went on to be featured in the New York Times. The artisans at Moroso provided the functional component to Arad’s design and manufactured his work for commercial use.
Despite attracting design attention from around the world, the space is so much more than just an artistic display—it also serves as a common area for the building that cultivates a strong sense of community and sets the tone for the creative and innovative environment of Bell Works. “Paola and Ralph’s vision for an interactive place to work, relax, and meet gave way to a design which is simultaneously functional, beautiful, and fun,” Rodieck said. The openness of the space—and lack of corners and walls to hide behind—creates an accessible setting that encourages people to interact with one another. The unique design of the atrium and the Tubes is something you couldn’t find anywhere else, and this originality inspires the surrounding community to think boldly and imaginatively.
The creative team behind the Tubes attributes much of the successful creation of the space to Ralph Zucker and his openness to new ideas. He encouraged the group to try new methods and experiment stylistically throughout the project. “Ralph believes in the importance of great design and encouraged me to take artistic risks,” explained Zamudio, “A lot of the time, developers want something safe; Ralph wants the future.”
Zamudio takes pride in the legacy of design that the Tubes will leave at Bell Works, and she especially enjoys seeing the community gather in the atrium around the new furniture installation. “Now you can see people sitting at the Tubes and talking to each other. This is why people come to Bell Works—it’s not just the building, it’s because they want to feel connected, they want to meet the people here. That connection is what we’re nurturing in each of the areas we create.”
See how Bell Works tenant JGS Insurance takes a break on the Tubes. Click to watch.