HLW and Bell Labs

130 Years of Innovation: Projects from our Archives

This year, HLW is celebrating its 130th year of continuous practice. On occasion, we will be highlighting the firm’s contributions to New York City’s skyline—and far, far beyond on a global stage. Today, we bring you a story of innovation that is over a century in the making.

HLW’s Early Architecture for the Telecommunications Industry

From its inception, HLW has had as its basis the integration of architecture and engineering. This synthesis of architectural design and building technologies has resulted in major contributions to the design of skyscrapers and large-scale building complexes, the development of the telecommunications industry, and even the evolution of the modern laboratory. 

 metropolitan telephone building

In 1885, HLW founding architect Cyrus L.W. Eidlitz, son of a founder of the American Institute of Architects, Leopold Eidlitz, opened his office with a commission to design the first telephone building in Manhattan, the Metropolitan Telephone Building on Cortlandt Street. Significantly, this commission was for Alexander Graham Bell’s newly established company. A little more than a decade later, Cyrus Eidlitz designed the Bell Laboratories Building on a large Manhattan city block, between West Street and Bethune Street. The “building” was actually a multi-building complex and birthplace of a number of technological marvels. 

The Metropolitan Telephone Building and Bell Laboratories Building commissions foreshadowed what became a hallmark of HLW, the ability to combine aesthetics with innovative technical skills in meeting the needs of new and growing industries.

Research and Development (R&D) Architecture in New Jersey

 Research Development architecture new jersey

In 1929, Ralph Thomas Walker (the original “W” in HLW) designed the New Jersey Bell Telephone Headquarters in Newark, NJ. The façade of this Art Deco building features a neo classical bas-relief sculpture of telephone workers. The project was the first of the firm’s many contributions to emerging technologies in the Garden State, contributions that included some of the most powerful research and development facilities in New Jersey and in history.

In the early 20th century, the Bell Telephone Laboratories, now more widely known as Bell Labs, were the research and scientific development arm of the American Telephone & Telegraph (AT&T) Company and the Western Electric company. Although early initiatives focused on the creation of a national communications network, the engineers associated with Bell Labs increasingly turned their attention to even broader scientific explorations, leading to innovations that have shaped today’s information technology and communications industry. 

The idea of relocating the laboratories to rural settings near New York City had for years been an objective of Dr. Frank B. Jewett, chairman of Bell Telephone Laboratories Board of Directors and Dr. O.E Buckley, the organization’s president. Between 1941 and 1945, the first phase of the Bell Telephone Laboratories new research facility was constructed on 250 acres in Murray Hill, New Jersey, a small suburban community 25 miles from New York City. 

Voorhees, Walker, Foley & Smith designed the groundbreaking laboratories in Murray Hill—a concept that realized the R&D facility as the “Idea Factory.” Big design ideas included space for impromptu conversations between specialists from different fields as they traverse the campus, flexibility and autonomy for the individual, and knowledge sharing leading to new ways to think about things... Sound familiar in the context of the contemporary progressive workplace?

This graphic illustrating the history of innovation at Bell Labs was originally included in an article by Jon Gertner, which ran February 25, 2012 in The New York Times Sunday Review.

Bell Labs Today:  Alcatel-Lucent

The Murray Hill Bell Labs received widespread acclaim for introducing the flexible modular approach to laboratory design. It is still considered seminal in the field of research facilities. A second phase of the project was completed in 1949 and set the trend for the postwar movement away from using converted manufacturing plants and toward dedicated, high-tech facilities. Ultimately, the complex has accommodated thousands of scientists, engineers, and administrators dedicated to the study of sound and sound transmission.

In 1996, much of what had been Bell Labs (research divisions, equipment manufacturing business) became Lucent Technologies, Inc. More recently, a merger resulted in Alcatel-Lucent and the integration of Alcatel’s Research and Innovations organization and Bell Labs. HLW is currently working with Alcatel Lucent on the Murray Hill campus to creatively repurpose underutilized office and laboratory space. It is a testament to the rich history of innovation that has touched these grounds that the Bell Labs Nobel Laureate Garden (designed by HLW) was dedicated in April of this year.