From Retrofit to Community Center, Bell Works Gets Better With Age

Ten year transformation challenges are a risky endeavor for people. Regrettable decade old fashion choices and the volatility of the scale make these the territory of the brave (or the incredibly fit). In architecture too, 10 years of wear can mean faded signs and faded relevance. But not at Bell Works.

When Ralph Zucker of Somerset Development made the brave leap to purchase and redevelop the defunct Bell Labs building in Holmdel, NJ, there were more naysayers than cheerleaders. Now a decade after it sat vacant and overgrown, the iconic structure is an adaptive reuse – part office building, part retail center, part pedestrian gathering place. Zucker’s brainchild is now a little city in the suburbs called the metroburb.

See how Bell Works has changed in 10 years

The most obvious physical changes are in the atriums. See below, the once cluttered and closed off atriums and the solid walls that separated the offices from the expansive, light filled atrium. For the adaptive reuse, they were replaced with full glass walls – as architect Eero Saarinen had always intended.

The neglected and overgrown atrium after Bell Labs (and then Lucent) closed its doors. 

The three atriums here are now wide open gathering spaces. The center atrium features a custom furniture project called  The Tubes, the brainchild of a talented team of creatives: world-renowned furniture designer Ron Arad, 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.

 The custom-designed atrium furniture are intended to be as much sculpture as they are a space to sit and enjoy the surroundings.

Now home to 2,000 workers from more than 75 tenant companies (and counting), Bell Works is also a community center for Monmouth County where every week it welcomes hundreds from the local community who use the Holmdel Library, visit the Wednesday farmers market and now, come for breakfast and lunch at Bell Market, The Hummus & Pita Co., and coffee shop Booskerdoo. Along The Street, the indoor pedestrian walkway, shoppers enjoy home decor store City Barn | Country Penthouse, a convenience store, Salon Concrete and fitness concept The Bar Method.

Six more retailers are under construction with openings planned for 2019 including Jersey Freeze ice cream shop; Alchemist Jewelers; Holmdel Florist; restaurants Mezza Luna and Estrella Azul. About 10 more retail leases are expected to be announced in the coming weeks. Click here for more on retail news at Bell Works.

Step into Bell Works on any weekday morning and you might expect to find the trappings of an office park – workers drinking coffee and queuing up to the elevator to disappear until noon.

Bell Works is for everyone, even the littlest ones. And it may be cold outside but it’s always warm and sunny in the atrium. Moms and dads, escape the cold and come by for a coffee, visit the library and stay for lunch. (You can even squeeze in a hair cut and a little home shopping.) Photo by Lauren Foti. 

Instead, children are skipping across a turf field, a UX team is huddled together in front of a World Cup viewing station and a local vinter is uncrating her chardonnay for that afternoon’s farmers market. There are those workers drinking coffee and taking the elevator, but you almost don’t notice them among the flurry of activity on what appears to be an indoor pedestrian street. Actually four distinct buildings, Bell Works is centered around three open atriums, two with green spaces, along the quarter mile indoor street.

The evolution of the public cafe area, from Bell Labs to Big Bang at Bell Works. Design by NPZ Style & Decor.
Local residents stop here for lunch and shopping after a workout. The building is open to the public Monday-Saturday.

The Street at Bell Works is a component of the metroburb concept. Coined by the New Urbanist movement, and popularized by Zucker, the metroburb is an urban hub, a core, a little metropolis in a suburban location. Zucker describes it to visitors like this, “A large-scale mixed use building, with great access, office, retail, entertainment, hospitality, residential, health, wellness, fitness, everything you would find in a metropolis but in a great suburban location. Think Red Bank, Morristown and New Brunswick.”

The luxury conference center serves tenants and guests with flexible meeting spaces and sleek design.

Bell Works now includes a full service luxury conference and event center for small and large scale corporate and hospitality events. Inquire about hosting an event. The transformation continues inside the world’s largest mirror as Bell Works builds a new coworking space, experience based entertainment concepts, and a rooftop boutique hotel slated to open in 2020.

On The Street where a week has a time lapse effect for visitors, office tenants can see changes daily. Many take walking meetings, host informal meetings in the atrium or find a quiet seat on the turf to think through a project. Working here means being a part of the state’s largest, most dynamic adaptive reuse project, and that has its perks.

“Work used to have to happen at a desk, and play was everything outside of being at that desk. Today, live/work/play means something totally different,” Zucker said. “Everything is coming together and there really is not a demarcation between live, work or play.” 

See how The Street at Bell Works will grow. Download the retail map.