After Brooklyn-based real estate development firm Two Trees Management purchased the Domino Sugar refinery site in Williamsburg last summer for $185 million and subsequently scrapped architect Rafael Viñoly’s eco-minded redevelopment plan for the historic 11-acre site, a new vision for the project — the new New Domino — has emerged from SHoP Architects.
SHoP is the same firm responsible for the traffic-snaring rusty spaceship with artisanal concession stands otherwise known as the Barclay’s Center. And like that hulking structure which opened its doors with a distinctly Brooklyn bang — a series of Jay-Z concerts — this past fall, I’m guessing that the newest redevelopment plan for the Domino site, much more grandiose in design than Viñoly’s hated-on preceding vision, will illicit a fair amount of both fawning and censure.
Breaking out the exclamation marks and the all caps, Curbed NY’s Jessica Dailey breathlessly shares the details of the $1.5 billion New Domino. The takeaway? The development is big (3.3 million-square-feet in total with 2,200 rental apartments, 80,000-square-feet of ground level retail space, and over 630,000-square-feet of office space); it's heavy on public outdoor space (60 percent more than the previous plan); it’s affordable (a decent amount of units will be although the term affordable in New York City really just translates to “above market rate pretty much everywhere else”); and there’s not as much emphasis on adaptive reuse as I would have hoped.
After the Domino Sugar plant — a hard-to-miss industrial monolith plopped down on the banks of the East River in the shadow of the Williamsburg Bridge — was shuttered in 2004 after 150 years of operation, a full-on historic conservation versus development battle was born. Obviously, the movement to landmark the abandoned complex or preserve it and transform the factory into a cultural institution a la London’s Tate Modern didn’t fare too well. The factory first opened for business in 1856 and was rebuilt in 1884 following a massive fire. Following the Civil War, it was the largest and busiest sugar refinery in the world. Since closing, it's served as a magnet for (unathorized) urban explorers.
Under the new redevelopment plan, pretty much everything will be razed save for the refinery building itself which will be turned into an office complex for, naturally, creative and tech industries. It appears that the structure’s iconic signage will also stay. Explains Curbed: “Even still, the refinery has to be gutted, and the new structure will basically be a building within a building with a glass and steel extension on top.” Says David Lombino, director of special projects for Two Trees: “The last developer made a big stink about how the refinery building will cost $50 million to preserve and it will cost $50 million to preserve, but we think it's worth preserving."
On that note, the New Domino’s quarter-mile-long riverfront park will be home to what’s being described as an “artifact walk” where salvaged remnants of the old factory will be on display to the public. SHoP principal Vishaan Chakrabarti’s describes this feature as being “Williamsburg’s version of the High Line.” Because really, the universe won’t be quite complete until every major city has its very own version of the High Line.
Not so coincidentally, James Corner Field Operations, the lauded landscape architecture firm behind the High Line, is also overseeing the design of New Domino’s outdoor spaces. Divided into four distinct zones, the park will also include more traditional diversions such as a kayak launch, bocce and volleyball courts, a beer garden, a waterfront plaza complete with “water feature,” a ferry stop, lawn, community gardens, and dog run. Located directly behind the park will be a central plaza with ice skating and roller rinks, an open-air flea/food market, and space for film screenings and concerts.
And as for the buildings themselves? They’ll be taller and “more porous” than the originally proposed buildings as to not completely irk the neighbors by blocking the river views. The increased height/smaller footprints of the buildings also free up room for green space. Explains Curbed: “One building, which will inevitably become known as the Donut Building, has two 55-foot wide towers set 120-feet apart, joined at the top. Another edifice looks like two stacked Tetris pieces with a gap between them. Two slender 60-story towers, connected by a skybridge, comprise the tallest structure. All allow for light and air to pass through.”
Two Trees hopes to break ground on the first building, a 600-unit apartment complex with units that are half affordable/half market rate, in 2014 if all goes as planned. The building, dubbed the “Pomegranate,” will be built on a vacant parcel of land across the street from the Domino property. It will also potentially be home to a YMCA. The order of construction for the other buildings — only two of which will be designed by SHop — has not yet been decided. The park will probably be built in sections. The whole thing will take about 10 to 15 years to complete.
Architizer calls the plan “zany” and notes that it “tries a little too hard;” the commenters at Curbed have a lot to say (some think it’s worse than the original design). I’m on the fence, unsure if it's a step up or a step out of control (when it comes down to it, I would have liked to seen the complex landmarked and preserved). If anything, it makes me thankful that my sleepy neighborhood on the Brooklyn waterfront will probably never see anything as loud and large as this in the near future.
Any fellow Brooklynites care to chime in?