It’s Always Sunny at Bell Works: The Metroburb Brings the Outdoors Into The Great Glass Atrium

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

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.

JGS Insurance takes a break for a match in the World Cup viewing lounge.

If you’re like most visitors, you think. What kind of office building is this?

The answer is, it isn’t an office building, or even an office park. Bell Works is a metroburb, a little city in the suburbs centered around three expansive atriums along a quarter mile indoor street. You are in the largest, most dynamic mixed use community in New Jersey.

And the hub of this community is the center atrium where the space thrums with activity every weekday.

Bell Works Fresh, a farmers market every Wednesday during the summer.

When world renowned architect Eero Saarinen set out to design the building in 1961 (when it was a home to over 6,000 Bell Labs employees), he knew he wanted to create an open-atrium scheme with this one-of-a-kind pedestrian street. The building is actually four distinct buildings connected by the “street” and covered by a great glass roof. Saarinen disliked the idea of working in a skyscraper where employees take the elevator up to the 50th floor and have little interaction with those around them. Instead, the open-atrium design encourages people to gather in one central location. Think a piazza in the middle of Florence, Italy or the great pedestrian thoroughfare Lincoln Road in Miami Beach. Saarinen’s architecture was designed to facilitate these kinds of interactions within the then Bell Labs community. And that’s exactly what’s happening here today in the adaptive reuse.

In just the past few months, the atrium has played host to a try-your-hand-at-the-sport-of-fencing day, artisan markets, silent yoga and a lightsaber class (you never know what you’re going to see at a maker’s festival). That means workers who come down from the office for lunch have more to look forward to than a long walk to the car and a drive to Houlihan’s.

 The team at Vydia trying out fencing during Atlantic Fencing’s demo day.

“They’ve brought the outdoors inside Bell Works. It looks like kids are playing on the grass. There are literally farmers selling produce in the atrium,” says Kelly Gliatta, VP of Talent at WorkWave. “It’s not some kind of illusion like when you’re at the mall and they’re trying to make it feel open with fake plants and artificial light.”

 Spirent Communications (along with some of our other tenants) use the turf atrium for afternoon soccer games.

One of the unique aspects of Bell Works is the kids. What other business center has little girls in tutus and cowgirl boots running to story time at the library?

Middletown moms Nicole and Dana with their little ones Zeke and Reagan enjoying a morning on the turf.

Part of Ralph Zucker’s vision, (developer of Bell Works and president of Somerset Development), was that the building would become a town center where parents, kids and business owners could commingle, share ideas and create a community.

“We’re providing a heart to the surrounding neighborhood and communities,” he said.

 Yoga classes on the turf during one of our Be Well @ Bell wellness days.

The atrium plays host to conferences, galas and private parties, but most events here are open to the public. The most popular have become recurring events like WorkWave’s speed networking job fair, Bell Market’s weekly Wednesday happy hour (now outside for the summer), and Bell Works Fresh, a farmers’ market, also on Wednesdays.

The WorkWave team during their quarterly career fair.

Fronting the pedestrian street are soon-to-open retail spaces like Bell Market, Salon Concrete, Hummus & Pita, and jeweler, The Alchemist. They’ll join Booskerdoo, the coffee and bake shop, and the Holmdel Library, now open six days a week.  Bell Works expects to announce another round of retailers in the coming months.

“It’s been incredible to watch the pedestrian street take shape,” Sabre Real Estate Group’s Senior Vice President Justin Korinis said. “It all stems from a recognition that, even in suburbs like Holmdel, we can create incredibly diverse and captivating urban-style experiences, where visitors and workers alike can encounter a wide variety of retail options in a centralized, urban-style location.”

There’s always something going on at Bell Works.

To stay up to date on the latest events and happenings, visit our events page.

SEE MORE: Covered Events & Happenings