FutureWire - futurism and emerging technology

Friday, July 14, 2006

Fabled Bell Labs Facility Sold, Faces Wrecking Ball

The Holmdel, New Jersey headquarters of Bell Labs, the legendary R&D organization that gave the world the laser, the transistor, LED lights, the Unix operating system, fiber optics, microwave communication and cell phone technology, has been sold. The real estate investor who bought the site wants to use it as an office park and plans to retain its pastoral charm, but says that the unique building is outdated and cannot be renovated, and therefore needs to be demolished.

The massive facility has been a part of the Holmdel community (approximately 30 miles south of New York City) for 44 years, and at its peak held 5,600 employees. In the '90s, Bell Labs was folded into Lucent Technologies, which was hit hard by the 2000 tech bust. Lucent continues to maintain two smaller labs in northern New Jersey, and remains active in emerging fields such as nanotechnology.

The demise of the Holmdel facility marks an end of an era for corporate R&D, as well as for elaborate corporate facilities in general. In an age of aggressive cost-cutting, outsourcing, globalization, mobile workforces, mergers, decentralization and rapid business change -- all practices that Bell Labs helped make possible in one way or another -- monolithic R&D organizations have lost much of their relevance. Yet without the innovations they produced, the world would be a much different, and poorer, place.

Source: New York Times