Repetition: Severance and Bell Labs

Repetition: Severance and Bell Labs

Last Fall I binged, Severance, Created by Dan Erickson, Red Hour Productions and Fifth Episode, 2022 (Apple TV+). It was unlike anything I had ever seen. I always try to deliberately know as little as possible about a show, a film, or a book so as to be surprised by what unfolds. It took me more than a few episodes to grasp what was happening but when I caught a whiff, I was completely entranced. The ideas presented are compelling and timely and prescient. The characters are pretty rich. It was the visuals, however, that sucked me in. I loved the dark and light contrast of the two different realities. And the 60’s-inspired monotone look with pops of primary colors creates quite a mood. It was antithetical to what inspires me, which usually means vibrant color and overt beauty. But this hooked me.

After voraciously consuming the available nine episodes I went down a rabbit hole to learn where the office settings were filmed. The visuals in this series play as integral a role in messaging Severance’s concept as the actors themselves. Meet Bell Labs Holmdel Complex in Holmdel, New Jersey, designed by Finnish architect and designer, Eero Saarinen. It was a full-circle moment as I featured him in a previous post about his TWA Flight Center, now TWA Hotel.

There is a grounding in Saarinen’s choice of materials: stone, concrete, metal and glass, earth elements. The contrast to what the architecture of Bell Labs appears to be on the outside with what unfolds upon entering really makes a statement. The low-mirrored glass box of Bell Lab’s exterior, camouflaged with the colors of the sky, opens into an expansive, geometric cathedral of repetitive rectangles and infinite lines. The characters’ on-screen performance of repetitive and mysterious tasks in the office are reflected in the architecture’s repetitive and abundant geometric lines.

I was happy to be reacquainted with Eero Saarinen’s work anew. Reinvented in the last few years as a Metroburb, Bell Works is open to the public seven days a week and offers an “ecosystem of technology, traditional offices, retail, dining, hospitality” and the arts. It is a nice day trip out of New York City, and I am relieved that this Landmark building is teeming with new life (I wish some of the design choices in this reimagining were more harmoniously selected, but I digress). Perhaps you’ll be inspired to take a trip down the rabbit hole as well? Now just another couple years’ wait for another season of Severance discovery!

I walked up to the Transistor Water Tower to take some photos and it felt otherworldly creepy, it is massive standing under it, as if it were a beacon for extraterrestrial forms of life!

iPhone snaps Beth Horta for Sweet Sabelle.


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