Installations

Bell Works Creates New Theater Out Of Classic Architecture

If you had to pick a spot to make into an AV showplace, you’d be hard-pressed to find one as significant as the former Bell Labs headquarters in Holmdel NJ. Finished in 1962, the massive and striking modernist structure was designed by Eero Saarinen, the architect who also created St. Louis’ Gateway Arch and the bird-in-flight-shaped TWA terminal at John F. Kennedy International Airport. At its peak, the two million-square-foot, glass-topped building was home to 6000 engineers and researchers who churned out Bell Labs’ many innovations, including Steven Chu’s Nobel Prize-winning work on laser cooling, as well as critical advances in radio astronomy and cellphone technology

The telephone business changed, and the site fell idle in the early 21st century, even as contention swirled around as to what it should become. Coming at a time when businesses and people were rediscovering America’s urban cores, Holmdel’s suburban location, about 45 miles west of New York City, seemed to further consign it to a past era. However, a $200 million redevelopment of the site, begun in 2013 by Somerset Developers after a campaign to save it for its architectural value succeeded, has transformed what is now known as Bell Works into a city-like oasis—a “Mini Silicon Valley,” according to one newspaper account, and the epitome of a “Metroburb,” said another—with plans including a health center, a hotel, retail and a public library, in a very suburban location.

The Auditorium

One of those amenities, a 350-seat auditorium on the main building’s lower level, might seem a bit quotidian, but it’s actually a central hub in a larger vision that ultimately will include a conference center, which will comprise collaboration and huddle rooms of various sizes and levels of sophistication. Eventually, all of these spaces will be networked together, not unlike the way overflow rooms have connected AV to a church’s main sanctuary.

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