Preservation NJ nominates Bell Labs to America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places
Preservation New Jersey has submitted a nomination of the iconic Bell Labs building and its landscape to the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s 2010 America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places list. The nomination has been submitted to the Trust with broad support from the community, local, state and national organizations and distinguished Bell Labs “alumni.”
The only New Jersey building designed by renowned architect Eero Saarinen, Bell Labs (1959-1985) is a massive former research and development facility and a major work of mid-20th century modernism. The campus, laid out by landscape designer Sasaki Walker in a 472-acre pastoral setting, would become typical of mid-century corporate campus designs. As home to Bell Labs for nearly half a century, the site spurred incredible technological advancements.
The primary threat to the site is its present complete vacancy and community divisions over possible re-uses. Local political leaders have resisted serious consideration of a proposed mixed-use rehabilitation/ redevelopment proposal by a credible developer with an option to purchase the entire property. The present owner has no intention of implementing a long-term maintenance plan, and the entire two million square foot structure is empty and entering its second winter with all systems turned off. Both the building, with its small windowless offices and laboratories, and the site, which has low-density office zoning, present challenges for adaptive use and viable development. Preservation NJ named Bell Labs in its 10 Most Endangered Historic Sites in NJ list in 2007.
In order to save the site, creative and sustainable design and reuse solutions are needed that answer community fears about redevelopment. A 2008 Design Charrette brought together experts from many fields to discuss the design challenges and opportunities offered by preservation of the site. To date, the local decision-makers have rebuffed all offers of partnership or assistance from community preservation advocates, the Design Charrette consortium or other experts. Preservation advocates must collaborate with local citizens and leaders to find solutions to local concerns about preservation of community character, provision of affordable housing and increased need for municipal services.
The National Trust’s America’s 11 Most Endangered program provides national recognition and visibility to treasures such as Bell Labs, coupled with preservation expertise to assist local communities and a national platform for showcasing development opportunities. PNJ submitted the nomination to the National Trust with the strong support of our partner organizations, including AIA-NJ and DOCOMOMO-NY/TriState.