Work Inspires Play at Bell Works

“What if the office became a place to live, create, play, research, entertain, connect, dine, incubate, broadcast, mentor, muse, learn, party, invent?” – David Rockwell, American architect, designer and champion of immersive environments.

Work is changing, and so is the workplace.

At the former Bell Labs, once it’s own universe of telecommunications work tucked away in the trees of Holmdel, New Jersey, the workplace is being reborn, reinvented, revitalized, into Bell Works — a live, work and play space.

But how do you find a balance between these three important things? Do you have to? Or can each meld into one another to create something bigger?

That’s what Ralph Zucker is after in his redevelopment of the space.

Zucker is president of Somerset Development, the organization leading the revitalization of the former Bell Labs building into a place for inspired work and play.

Zucker’s mission is to blur the lines of work and play, past and future, imagination and reality. And this is happening by bringing together a diverse community of innovators, thinkers, makers, and other thought leaders who have one common goal — to bring New Jersey and Bell Works back to their heydey when technology advancements and innovation reigned supreme in the Garden State.

“In order to talk about play you have to talk about work, and we’ve been freed to move about the cabin,” Zucker said. “You can work from almost anywhere, and with that mobility comes a further blurring of the lines of life, work and play.”

When Eero Saarinen designed the 2 million square foot behemoth on 472 acres of land in 1962, his vision was collaboration. A glimpse of the times to come, when the blurring of life, work and play would become the norm. He was ahead of his time, inverting the building, with the hallways on the inside and open space in the middle, spurring collaboration, which in turn allows innovation and creativity to blossom.

More than 50 years after he designed the space, Saarinen’s building is still relevant, even more so now as our work blurs into our personal lives and our lives into our work.

“Physical walls are coming down,” said Zucker. “Our social fabric isn’t isolating.”

Live/work/play used to only be about convenience. Let me live close to my job so that I can get on with my life right after work.

“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,” said Zucker. “Everything is coming together and there really is not a demarcation between live, work or play.”

When Zucker and his team say “play” they’re not talking games, but leisure, incorporated into the workday. Those snippets of time you’re away from your desk interacting with people, architecture and nature. At Bell that means walking along a glass-lined hallway to grab a cup of coffee from Booskerdoo and enjoying the natural light and lush greenery on your way back.

This kind of experience is one modern workers have come to crave and something employers are using to attract and retain talent. Recognizing their employee’s need for this play, employers are moving aways from spaces and people segregated within cubicles and utilitarian office surroundings.

“We want people to get out of the office and bump into people,” said Zucker. “And we have proof that this interactive collaboration is what people are after because we have executives moving hundreds of people here to Bell Works where that collaboration is our focus.”

Bell Works interior designer Paola Zamudio shares Zucker’s dream of interaction. For Zamudio, it’s all about the kind of experience people have.

“I want to create a culture of interaction and movement,” she said. “It’s about wellbeing in all aspects of the word. It’s about your mental and physical health and the stimulation that’s necessary for creativity to happen.”

This experience begins the minute someone enters the massive space. Zamudio wants to create a vibe that allows work and play to live in harmony. She believes in the power of stimulating surroundings to create relaxation that offsets the stress work can bring. Inspiring the people in the building with a great atmosphere makes for happier employees who in turn feel motivated and creative.

“I think this idea of wellbeing is the future of design,” said Zamudio. “Making those spaces that create experiences and empower employees. We don’t live in a fearful work culture now. We have the freedom to trust our employees and think about the results. Happier people give better results.”

There is no lack of office space in New Jersey. But Zucker and his team know that companies, executives and employees have a hunger to be in a place of the future. A place where live, work and play intersect. A place that stimulates the mind. A place that provides an authentic experience in a location that breeds inspiration.

Actual play comes in many forms at Bell Works. From the events that happen on the premises, from a 5K to a drone racing competition, large spaces with colorful pieces of mid-century modern furniture that spark conversations, ping pong and foosball tables that encourage interaction. The goal is to get people talking.

For upcoming events and updates on the progress of the growth at Bell Works, visit Bell Works website

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