December 8, 2011

The coalition of organizations advocating for the preservation of the former Bell Labs building and landscape have been anticipating the proposed zoning changes from Holmdel Township for most of this year. A multidisciplinary Charrette held three ago years by AIA-New Jersey, Docomomo US/NY Tri-State and Preservation NJ developed design approaches for the preservation and sympathetic reuse of the internationally significant modernist landmark. “The Bell Labs site poses many challenges adapting it sensitively to new uses while protecting the landscape,” said Michael Calafati, AIA, of AIA-New Jersey.

“We are heartened to see that Holmdel is acknowledging preservation of the building as a goal in the public’s interest. Permitting new and mixed uses will help achieve this. This news is in keeping with the Charrette’s recommendations,” he added. The Eero Saarinen-designed building (1957-1962) and Sasaski-Walker designed landscape have already been deemed eligible for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places. Accordingly, the site’s overall importance is based on the building and the landscape as a unified entity. The preservation groups welcome much of the Redevelopment Plan’s provisions but an area of concern remains the potential impact to the imposing landscape. “The architect and landscape architect worked collaboratively to create a unique and singular vision for Bell Labs. There is no distinction between the jewel and the setting – it is all of one piece,” said Nina Rappaport of Docomomo New York/Tri-State. “We hope that initial efforts will be placed on preserving and adapting the building so that any impact on the landscape can be considered carefully.” While the groups acknowledge the potential for a change in use, the landscape could be preserved for passive recreation, especially considering the setting and the environmental impact.

The building, shuttered in July 2007 and listed for sale since, is included on Preservation New Jersey’s list of the state’s Most Endangered Historic Places. The coalition that organized the Bell Labs Charrette and published the final report includes the NJ Chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA-NJ), Preservation New Jersey (PNJ), the National Trust for Historic Preservation, DOCOMOMO-US (DOcumentation and COnservation of buildings and sites of the MOdern MOvement), the DOCOMOMO US/NY Tri-State Chapter, the Recent Past Preservation Network, The Cultural Landscape Foundation, and the NJ Conservation Foundation. The charrette report is available for downloading by clicking here.

The Holmdel Township Committee will hold a public hearing December 20, 2011, on the proposed ordinance to adopt the redevelopment plan. The redevelopment plan is available for download by clicking here, and following the link either to the redevelopment plan summary or full redevelopment plan.

For more information, contact:

Michael Calafati, AIA
AIA New Jersey

Nina Rappaport

Stephanie Cherry-Farmer
Preservation New Jersey

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