Is this the coolest office building in N.J.?

Is this the coolest office building in N.J.?

The ground floor is where Zucker's mixed-use vision comes to life. 

24 Mayıs 2018 - 02:00

In the mid-2000s, the once-treasured Bell Labs building in Holmdel appeared to be another real estate white elephant — too giant and expensive to maintain, unsellable and, it seemed, bound to be demolished. 

The 2-million-square-foot building on 472 acres had gone from decades as a center for major scientific developments (it housed seven Nobel Prize winners) to one of the state's most endangered historic spaces.

"How much longer can any of these postwar corporate centers — perfect embodiments of a moment in history when cities began to feel pestilential, when suburban flight grew easier on the interstates and when faith in America’s corporate power was unshakable — maintain the architecture and landscaping that made them such landmarks?" asked the New York Times, in a story about Bell Labs and others.


View inside the building in July 2008 after it closed a year earlier. (Tony Kurdzuk / The Star-Ledger)

Enter Ralph Zucker.

The ambitious developer proposed a new vision of a "work, live, play" office campus, with tons of hip amenities in addition to the office tenants, a thriving hub of activity, also open to the public — the antithesis of a boring office building.

Most of his peers told him it was a giant mistake when he bought the building for $27 million in 2013 after five years of negotiations. 


"We went from insane to genius in about six months," Zucker, 56, says with a smile while giving a tour inside. 

Just weeks ago, Architectural Digest dubbed it the most iconic building in New Jersey. And in February, Holmdel granted approval for a hotel to be built on the building's roof. 

Here, a look at the new life that's sprung inside the space now called Bell Works.

The vision: A 'metroburb'

"The suburban office is really a mind-numbing place usually," Zucker says. "You come to your office in the morning. You sort of check your life at the door. You work. You go home. There’s not a lot going on where you are."

He coined the term "metroburb," "a metropolis in suburbia" — essentially a touch of urban life, with all of the things you might see on a city street (shops, dining, things to do). But here. In an office building. In Holmdel, New Jersey.

The busy ground floor

The ground floor is where Zucker's mixed-use vision comes to life. 

Around noon, the main atrium buzzes as workers come down from their offices for lunch or to hang in the atrium. Sometimes there's an exercise class on the turf field. Sometimes someone takes to the grand piano in the lobby to play a tune.

The building was designed by world-renowned modernist architect Eero Saarinen (more on this later), but when Zucker bought it, its main atrium — what he calls the "pedestrian piazza" — had been cannibalized by desks and cubicles. 

Now it's been reopened, a 100,000-square-foot open space, the size of three football fields laid end to end. 

"It was designed to be collaborative," Zucker says. "It’s an inspirational place. You bump into people. You meet people. The office has been inverted inside out."

There's a fancy coffee shop

Booskerdoo Coffee & Bakery Co., a favorite roastery on the Jersey Shore, has opened an outpost.


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