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AlcaLu Selling Bell Labs Site

While Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU) sheds some execs, including CEO Pat Russo, the company is also unloading a key piece of real estate -- the old Bell Labs site.

The Star-Ledger of New Jersey reported on Sunday that Somerset Development has signed a contract for the 473-acre site in Holmdel, N.J.

Ralph Zucker, president of the real estate development firm, is quoted saying he's planning on creating retail and residential space -- but doing so inside the 2-million-square-foot Bell Labs building.

That's a big deal, because the building was designed by Eero Saarinen, a famous Finnish architect and champion vowel collector. An earlier deal that would have demolished most of the building led to fierce protest from scientists, preservationists, and architects.

The building has lost its past glory in more ways than one. Physically, it's in disrepair: The Star-Ledger uses words such as "vines" and "puddles" to describe the inside, and a photograph shows a courtyard gone to seed.

Then, there's the history, of course. Bell Labs scientists came up with ideas such as the transistor, the laser, the solar cell, the picturephone (in 1970!), and, of course, fiber optics.

Bell Labs also hosted pure research at a level beyond that found in corporations today. That included studies in fields such as radio astronomy, where researchers inadvertently ended up finding the background radiation predicted by the Big Bang theory.

Much of Bell Labs' work was related to U.S. national defense, too, which is one reason why the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) was so interested in the 2006 merger of Lucent and Alcatel. (See US to Watch Alcatel Lucent.)

— Craig Matsumoto, West Coast Editor, Light Reading

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Pete Baldwin 12/5/2012 | 3:34:59 PM
re: AlcaLu Selling Bell Labs Site Awesome. Thanks, Sailboat. It's great that you got to spend so much time with the guy.

(Yes, I made fun of his name, but Eero is quite famous, for little things like the St. Louis gateway arch.)
DNA-Lorrd 12/5/2012 | 3:34:58 PM
re: AlcaLu Selling Bell Labs Site And then there was the centurion club, it was a club of guys that were able to reach 100mph on the driveway to the building (I think it was more than a mile long). Rumour has it that the club was ceased to exist when one guy wasn't able to brake in time and ended up in the pond in front of the building. This is just what I heard but it's sure is a good story.

DNA-Lorrd
telcofortwo 12/5/2012 | 3:34:58 PM
re: AlcaLu Selling Bell Labs Site While the Holmdel building in such a sorry state cannot be credited with the big inventions mentioned before, it must be stated that Bell Labs had facilities in the Holmdel location way before the Saarinen building.

One real Holmdel "discovery" or "invention" was Karl Kansky's discovery of radioastronomy. In fact, there is (or was) a monument to Jansky's discovery in the grounds adjacent to the building, marking the general area where Jansky's studies and discovery took place.

Regarding Saarinen, he's also the architect that designed the main terminal of the Washington-Dulles airport, but died before it was completed. The walkways from the lower level to the baggage claim area have a similar look and feel to the lower/basement level at Holmdel, with concrete and gravel.

telco
DNA-Lorrd 12/5/2012 | 3:34:58 PM
re: AlcaLu Selling Bell Labs Site I believe many people mistakenly think that the transistor was invented there, maybe because of the water tower next to the driveway that has the shape of a bipolar transistor (white body with three tall legs).

I have visited that place many times, what a shame to see it like this. I agree with sailboat it is not a good design for a prison. It actually looked like 4 huge buildings under one transparent roof. I think that in 1993-2001, when I visited there many times, it looked awesome, for a building with that age, to me that is a sign of a great design.

I attended some of the meetings that Peter Runge organized when Submarine Systems was still part of AT&T. Later some meetings on 10Gb/s where guys like Jim Gordon (known from the Gordon-Haus effect) were present. You could walk into rooms there, to talk to authors of well known text books and ask them questions. Usually, they were happy to answer (as long as the questions were good questions). I also did many experiments there as a preparation for the very first DWDM system implementation in China around 1998. Later Lucent had a 80% market share in DWDM in China. What a shame, they blew it all, and Lucent was acquired by Alcatel (merger of equals, such BS).

DNA-Lorrd
telcofortwo 12/5/2012 | 3:34:58 PM
re: AlcaLu Selling Bell Labs Site Regarding the Saarinen buildings, I meant: rugged concrete walls and granite floors.
^Eagle^ 12/5/2012 | 3:34:56 PM
re: AlcaLu Selling Bell Labs Site Craig,

I was very young and just got lucky. I was selected for a program to encourage young people to go into architecture and while at the time I knew he was a famous guy, I did not appreciate just how great a designer he was until I became an adult. Eero was one of the speakers for the culmination of the program and he generously stayed around after his short lecture and answered all our questions. We thought we were pretty smart kids.. but really we were well coached on what to ask by our teachers and the sponsors of the program. He spent several hours with us. Looking back I can see I was quite lucky. I can't take credit for any of it. But we did ask about several of his buildings and he spoke repeatedly about the same themes... organic structures and shapes and textures and merging the outside with the inside. flipping things around in perception, like looking up from the bottom of a pond.. what would the light on the surface look like at different times of day? (this was one of the puzzle questions he gave us kids to think about).

Sailboat
^Eagle^ 12/5/2012 | 3:34:56 PM
re: AlcaLu Selling Bell Labs Site centurion club... 100mph from the gate....wow... darn it all... sure wish I had tried that when things were still running! but then again, probably good that I didn't... I might have hit Pat Russo or some other mucky muck coming the other way around the loop....

but it does sound fun. Might have to give it a try sometime soon before the "big development" starts! maybe a midnight sprint when no one is looking.. hahaha!

sailboat
Fibre Bundle 12/5/2012 | 3:34:56 PM
re: AlcaLu Selling Bell Labs Site //Everyone is to focused on making large profits (see Exxon Mobil's refusal to even consider investing in renewable resources as another income stream).//

Most S&P companies (that currently aren't banks) have better profit margins than Exxon. If profit margins were the reason for windfall profits taxes, than Microsoft and Cisco are the first companies which should have windfall profits taxes applied to them.

Exxon Mobil is an oil and gas company. Why should they be viewed as bearing more responsibility or expertise to develop alternative energy than Cisco or Microsoft?

Arguably energy efficiency of server farms have more to do with technology and software than it does to do with oil and gas? Solar and wind energy has more to do with technology and software than it does with oil and gas?

Why would a company whose expertise is in oil and gas be suggested as the candidate to invest in alternative energy, when it is clearly not in their area of expertise, which is oil and gas.

Asking oil and gas companies to be responsible for alternative energy is like asking technology companies to build mines.


zzhu32 12/5/2012 | 3:34:52 PM
re: AlcaLu Selling Bell Labs Site Turning Holmdel building from a Lab into a shopping and living space (actually, I really cannot figure how people would "live" there ...) really represents the fate of this industry - which has gone from innovation to commodity ...

Still remember how I got lost in the maze of that building. My first day of working there in late 1998, I parked my car closed to the gate (well I arrived early) and went in without remembering the gate # (and they all looked the same). Imagine how long it took me to find my car at 7 pm that cold winter evening - all the parking lots were still full and I could not remember which one I parked ...
Buzby 12/5/2012 | 3:34:50 PM
re: AlcaLu Selling Bell Labs Site This is very sad. I recall visiting Bell Labs back in 2000 when I worked for a customer of Lucent. The place made an enormous, positive impression on me. It is shocking to see the state that such an globally iconic engineering and scientific establishment has fallen into. Its nothing short of a national disgrace.
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