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Checking in on the Conversion of Saarinen's Bell Labs Complex

The redevelopment of Eero Saarinen's 1962 Bell Labs complex in Holmdel, New Jersey, is underway, and Design Within Reach's Design Notes blog has a quick update on some of the changes in store for the historic space. Developer Ralph Zucker purchased the property in 2013, and his firm, Somerset Development Companies, is turning the 472-acre campus into a wellness-focused "metroburb" called Bell Works, with a hotel, restaurants, retail spaces, an assisted living facility, a spa, offices, and a public library, with high-end homes and an outdoor sports complex planned for the surrounding land. Speaking to DWR's Gwendolyn Horton, Zucker puts preservation at the forefront of this $100M adaptive reuse plan: "From the conversation pit to the light-filled hallways and atrium to the mirrored glass-clad exterior, we are staying true to Saarinen's vision for a collaborative space that's conducive to wandering and interacting."

Zucker tapped architect Alex Gorlin to help transform the 1.9M-square-foot office park, which in its heyday, was where over 6,000 engineers and researchers worked. To see what they could learn from another such conversion, Gorlin and Zucker visited the former Lingotto Fiat factory in Torino, Italy, which Renzo Piano redesigned as a civic-minded multi-use complex.

So far, little has been said about exactly how Bell Lab's massive, light-filled atrium and surrounding offices will change, but here's a few design notes. The carpet in the conversation pit (Saarinen fans will remember that his also under-conversion TWA Terminal has one as well) has been restored to its original yellow "nested squares" look. While researching the carpet, Gorlin noted that there was a strong resemblance to Josef Albers' "Homage to the Square" paintings, and given that Eero and Josef were fellow faculty members at Yale, the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation thinks it's possible that they collaborated on the floor covering. To inject the space with more of Albers' work, Gorlin commissioned two recreations of his "Goldrosa" pattern for the atrium floor.

"The spatial interpenetration of the building itself can be seen in Albers' pattern," says Gorlin. "We're continuing Saarinen's idea of nested squares." For more photos, and a look at the awesome built-in Eames Molded Shell Chairs in the phone booths, head to Design Notes.

· A new life for Saarinen's Bell Labs [Design Notes]