Exploring Bell Works: A Laboratory Turned Community Center

by Jonny Kandell
crawfords corner bell works spot

It’s impossible not to feel tiny when your eyes first land on Bell Works. A behemoth of a building, the sheer scale alone is large enough to hold almost three football fields. What once operated as a premier science laboratory in the 20th century now stands as a one-of-a-kind center for the community to enjoy. So much more than a futuristic hub with booming businesses and busy people, Bell Works in Holmdel, New Jersey is truly a sight to behold. 

More impressive than the size of Bell Works is its dazzling interior. Inside the building’s glass and jet black shell is a cross-shaped atrium flooded with natural light. Modernist architect Eero Saarinen’s exposed hallways, meant to foster a sense of transparency and community, provide a spacious layout that has undergone subtle, yet effective upgrades throughout the last few decades.

A $27 million renovation began in 2013 to revamp the former laboratory as a solution to the area’s need for new bustling downtown. The result was a utopic, multi-purpose facility with everything from dining, auditoriums for community events, a fully stocked library, and an abundance of commercial business space. The first floor essentially operates as a mall, while the upper few are largely rented as workspace out to big companies. Local vendors often participate in pop-up flea markets the space holds often. All of the building’s functionality is complemented by its eco-friendly aesthetic. The towering walls are doused in greenery and plant life, dually vibrant and effective at purifying the air. Altogether, these amenities make up the magic of Bell Works. 

Legacy of Science

Since its founding as Bell Telephone Laboratories in the 1920s, the Holmdel facility has stood as a beacon for ingenuity that has evolved with the ages. Its legacy and dedication to the advancement of science make it an incredibly storied building. Physicist Steven Chu won the Nobel Prize for his laser cooling work conducted at the lab in 1997. 

bell works the block

The Block at Bell Works | Courtesy of Bell Works

Today, an ode to a specific out-of-this-world discovery is a sculpture near the front of the complex. Radio astronomy, which studies celestial objects as radio frequencies and was later used to support the Big Bang theory, was founded at Bell Telephone Laboratories in 1932. Discovered by Karl Jansky through a meticulously bent antenna on the building’s front yard, a metallic statue was built in its place nearly 70 years later to honor his legacy. 

A Budding Ecosystem 

Because Bell Works hosts hundreds of New Jersey visitors, it places a lot of attention on its aesthetics to elevate the experience. While some pop in for a quick bite for lunch, a large number of visitors like to find a cozy spot to settle into and work. They rest on colorful tube-like cushions that line the center of the atrium. Either that or they track down the beautifully designed, string-light adorned area at the back of the building that looks plucked out of a Hallmark movie. Many of these beautiful spaces were designed by Paola Zamudio, Founder of NPZ Style + Décor and Lead Designer of Bell Works.

The thousands of plants along the walls of Bell Works add to the narrative that the building is a buzzing ecosystem. The lively hum of active businesses, raging against the COVID-19 pandemic, is a testament to New Jerseyans and our perseverance. The two-million-square-foot interior offers a variety in retail and dining, as well as a weekly opening for local businesses to sell their goods. Every Wednesday is Bell Works Fresh, which invites artisans from all around the area to set up a booth. Everything from fresh pickles to candles encased in old liquor bottles is being sold at the ever eclectic farmers market, which stays open from 11-4 p.m.. 

Exploring The Grounds of Bell Works

The building is almost a quarter-mile long and has a walking track for visitors to use. Several dog owners bring their pets for a quick workout around the dog-friendly complex. COVID safety signs that enforce mask-wearing, along with a thermal scanner that detects fevers, gives a sense of security in a time we need it most. 

bell works rooftop deck

The Roof Deck at Bell Works | Courtesy of Bell Works

The 472-acre grounds, an ellipses of two huge lawns and lakes, provide a scenic escape from the building Architectural Forum dubbed “The Biggest Mirror Ever.” There’s also a beautiful back patio that leads to a sky bridge on the aptly named Zen Lake. The building and its sprawling property are even available for wedding ceremonies. Several other events occur at Bell Works throughout the year, including a Shakespearean Bard festival, drive-in movies, and community fundraisers, who all find refuge at the all-purpose facility.

Be sure to pack a mask and some walking shoes before going to visit this incredible building. Try your hand at the Virtual Reality gaming store, or you can relax with a sundae from iconic Jersey Freeze. Blend into the college crowd with your laptop and headphones, or just come with friends to shop and hangout. Bell Works understands that people are craving community right now, and their multifaceted facility allows for exactly that. 

Have you visited Bell Works in New Jersey? Let us know in the comments below your favorite part.

Main image courtesy of Bell Works

About the Author/s

Just a 23 year old New Jersey native who loves to write! I just came back from living in Washington D.C. for college, so I'm really excited to see where post-grad life takes me.

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