As the gap between the rich and the middle class widens, the challenge to save midcentury modern buildings becomes even more vexing.
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The lobby of Bell Labs in Holmdel, New Jersey, is part of a five-story, quarter-mile-long atrium. Most of the original built-ins, by Eero Saarinen, are in remarkably good shape.
Courtesy Rob Dobi
The odds of ﬁnding a single tenant for the building were close to zero: Unless Apple decided to abandon Cupertino (where its planned Norman Foster–designed campus is a throwback to the suburban corporate headquarters of the 1950s and ’60s) for Holmdel, Bell Labs would never be a one-tenant building again. So, for more than six years, Zucker worked with the community to ﬁnd an alternative to demolition. “We entered in an environment where people were saying, ‘Tear it down,’” Zucker recalls. Over several years, he persuaded voters that a truly mixed-use property, with ofﬁces, hotels, stores, restaurants, and 400,000 square feet of medical facilities would be an asset. “You can see a doctor, then go downstairs for lunch while you’re waiting for your test results,” Zucker says. (At one point, Zucker even held an open house, at which he mocked up what the building would look like with new tenants; 2,000 people attended.) And, like a town, it now has a town architect, Alexander Gorlin, the New York modernist, whom Zucker calls “the guru.” Gorlin’s role will include not just restoring the building’s vast public spaces, but also keeping tabs on ﬁrms designing tenant build-outs, to ensure that visible interior and exterior surfaces remain consistent. “The challenge is to make it even more vibrant than when it was a research center, but with a design code set up to respect Saarinen’s intent,” Gorlin says. That sounds like a major victory for historic preservation.
But it might not have happened if Zucker hadn’t agreed to sell 237 of the Bell Labs acres to Toll Brothers, the residential developer, which plans to build houses that will sell for $1 million and up. And that deal wouldn’t have been possible without a booming market for high-end homes. Thirty-eight percent of the homes on the market in Holmdel were listed for more than $1 million in late August. Which meant the more than $100 million Zucker estimates it will take to renovate the complex will be realized, in part, through residential sales.
Courtesy Rob Dobi
Courtesy Rob DobiEdit ModuleEdit Module