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HOLMDEL, NJ-Plans for redeveloping the sprawling former Bell Labs complex here have taken a step forward with the publication of a final report of a multidisciplinary charrette held in 2008 by a coalition of state and national organizations. That effort “developed design approaches for the preservation and sympathetic and sustainable reuse of the internationally significant modernist landmark,” says architect Michael Calafati, an organizer of the charrette.

The complex designed by Eero Saarinen consists of two million square feet on six floors on 470 acres in this Monmouth County community. Bell Labs completely vacated the premises in 2005, and it’s currently owned by that company’s successor, Alcatel-Lucent. Preferred Real Estate Investments had a deal on the table to buy it for $250 million, but the offer fell apart in late 2007 after PREI failed to get its mixed-use redevelopment plans approved.

The 70-page charrette book summarizes the work of 36 design professionals and scholars who assembled over a three-day period and worked collaboratively to explore solutions to adapting the Bell Labs site to new uses while protecting the site’s landscape. The book provides a history of the Saarinen-designed building and the Sasaski, Walker and Associates-designed landscape, which have been deemed eligible for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places. The book also includes oral histories from former employees at Bell Labs.

Home to the work of several Nobel Prize laureates–including incoming Secretary of Energy Steven Chu–as well as the development of the transistor, microwavetransmission and, more recently, cell phones, the facility is considered one of the most important locations of American achievement in tech R&D. The publication presents alternatives for adaptive use and preservation by charrette participants and drawings by students at the New Jersey Institute of Technology.

Those proposals for reuse, generally speaking, include multi-tenant commercial offices, a center for graduate studies, a healthcare center, multifamily housing and high-tech R&D facilities. “They respect the original building fabric, landscape and integrity of materials and design while adapting the building for sustainable uses,” Calafati says. “The intensive effort of the charrette participants illustrates that the building and site are more significant, more beautiful, more flexible, more sustainable and more adaptable to new uses than previously imagined.

“Now more than ever, innovative interdisciplinary design proposals are required for this complex,” he says. “It is a landmark in the history of planning, architecture, landscape architecture and technology. In order for it to be revitalized for new and potentially mixed uses, it must combine commitment to historic preservation and sustainability.”

The coalition that coordinated the charrette and has now published the final report includes the New Jersey Chapter of the American Institute of Architects, Preservation New Jersey, 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 New Jersey Conservation Foundation.

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