As you can see from the image above and the ones below, the currently-under-review plans for historic Domino Sugar refinery in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, are quite stunning. But is top architect Rafael Viñoly’s sustainable vision for the vacant 11-acre industrial site too grandiose for its own good?

Since the Domino Sugar refinery closed its doors after 150 years of operation in 2004, the big question has been, of course, what’s next? The refinery site spans five blocks along primo waterfront real estate on the East River, so there’s more than a bit of room to work with. Rafael Viñoly Architects’ $1.5 billion plan, dubbed New Domino, is commendable: it repurposes the landmarked refinery building itself and flanks it with several high-rise residential buildings and a riverside park to create a whopping, 2.8 million square-foot, 2,200-unit residential complex. Thirty percent, compared to the normal 20 percent, of the units will be dedicated to low- and middle-income families.

What’s more, RVA’s vision is a sustainable one, one that in addition to the reuse of the historic refinery calls for a massive amount of open-to-the-public green space including a 1-acre open lawn along the East River. The buildings will feature green roofs that control storm water runoff and curb the “heat island effect.” LEED certifications are also in the works — after all, they’ve got to keep up to speed with Battery Park City, another massive, LEED-happy, waterfront residential complex in NYC.

All sounds and looks good on paper: the preservation and reuse of a historical industrial site, parks, sustainable buildings, an abundance of affordable housing. But there’s one slight catch … there’s a recession underway.
Not too far from the New Domino site in Williamsburg, you’ll find residential high-rise after residential high-rise — they don’t look too different than RVA’s proposed buildings — sitting completely vacant; some have been finished, some have been stalled in the middle of construction. If you’re familiar with the area, this condo wasteland, it's a spooky sight, all the dark, empty towers. In fact, according to the New York Times, more than one-fifth of stalled constructions projects in NYC are in Williamsburg. Considering this, should the New Domino move forward at its currently massive size and scope?
That’s what will be decided over the next seven months as the plans are scrutinized by numerous city organizations. There are already worries that New Domino will simply be too dense for the area. Developer Michael D. Lappin, chief executive of the Community Preservation Corporation, claims that if the plan is approved, it will be constructed gradually, reaching completion in 2021. He also emphasizes the continued need for low- and middle-income housing. 
I'm curious to see how things pan out over the next several months as the plan is reviewed. There's a lot going on for New Domino (a lot more than the scaled-back, Frank Gehry-designed Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn) but I just wonder if it's too much ...

Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

A super sweet green building project in Brooklyn
Ambitious — or are they too ambitious? — plans for a green residential revamp of Williamsburg, Brooklyn's old Domino Sugar refinery are under review.