Born in Manteo, North Carolina, Bell enrolled in North Carolina State College (now University) in 1945 and studied landscape architecture. He won the Rome Prize in 1951, but deferred the residency one year in order to apprentice with Simonds and Simonds in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. After traveling in Europe, Asia, and Africa, he apprenticed with Frederick B. Stresau in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and in 1955 he partnered with James A. Godwin to form Godwin and Bell, Landscape Architects, in Raleigh, North Carolina. Bell left the firm in 1961 to work full-time at Water Garden, the eleven-acre design studio and residence that he and his wife developed over several years; and in 1980 he entered practice with his daughter and son-in-law, eventually forming the firm Bell-Glazener Design Group.
Bell worked on many master plans for university campuses throughout his career, including designs for the central plaza (a.k.a. ‘The Brickyard’) at North Carolina State University, and the McIver Amphitheater and Meredith Lake at Meredith College. He developed the master plans for Pilot Mountain and Stone Mountain State Parks in North Carolina; and for Figure Eight Island and Hammocks Beach Island (now Hammocks Beach State Park) along the North Carolina coast. Working with architects Edward Durell Stone and Holloway-Reeves, he also completed the grounds and interior gardens for the North Carolina Legislative Building. Bell was active in forming the North Carolina Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects, and having been instrumental in establishing the state’s laws for the registration of landscape architects, was the first appointee to the North Carolina Board of Landscape Architects. In 2014 the American Society of Landscape Architects awarded Bell the ASLA Medal, its highest honor. He resides in Raleigh, North Carolina.