Landmarks Preservation Commission defers decision-making on the Domino refinery’s redesign

October 31, 2017 By Lore Croghan Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Here's Two Trees Management's proposed makeover of the Domino Sugar Refinery building. Rendering by PAU courtesy of Two Trees Management
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The devil is in the details.

On Tuesday, the city Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) chose not to vote on Two Trees Management’s new design plans for the conversion of the 19th-century Domino Sugar Refinery into an office building.

Instead, LPC Chairwoman Meenakshi Srinivasan instructed the developer and architecture firm PAU to make a return visit to the commission to address issues of concern about the makeover plans for the waterfront Williamsburg factory at 292-314 Kent Ave.  
The redesign calls for the historic refinery to be stripped of its roof, exposing the interior of its brick facade to rain, snow and frost, and a new, glass-walled building to be constructed inside the old building.

There would be a gap of 10 to 12 feet between the brick facade and the new interior building’s glass wall, Vishaan Chakrabarti, founder of architecture firm PAU, said during a public hearing at the preservation agency’s Lower Manhattan headquarters.  

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After the hearing and discussion by commissioners, Commission Chairwoman Srinivasan said the issues that the architecture firm must sort out include how to preserve the landmark’s interior bricks when they are exposed to the weather.
Though Srinivasan sent Two Trees Management and PAU away without having the commission vote, she called the refinery’s proposed makeover “an incredibly exciting project” and said the architecture firm’s approach to it was “quite novel and very refreshing.”

Some other commissioners, including Diana Chapin and Jeanne Lutfy, also applauded the design approach.  

Commissioner Michael Goldblum said he liked the aesthetics of the new design — but questioned whether it’s “appropriate” because it would turn the landmarked factory into a “ruin.”   

Commissioner Michael Devonshire agreed with Goldblum.

“I am strongly troubled by the issue of taking a building and turning it into a ruin,” Devonshire said.  

A first-floor food hall or beer hall, maybe

PAU’s design includes a barrel-vaulted ceiling on the roof of the proposed glass interior building and the construction of open-air terraces between it and the brick walls of the landmarked refinery.

Also, there would be a first-floor entry courtyard that would be “open to the sky,” Chakrabarti said during the hearing, plus retail space and public space that would potentially include a food hall or a beer hall.

Two Trees Management CEO Jed Walentas said during the hearing that his development firm has met with hundreds of potential tenants for the Domino Sugar Refinery.

He called the landmark the “epicenter” of the 11-acre shoreline site Two Trees Management is turning into a mixed-use development with new apartment buildings and six acres of parkland.

The park will open in May, Walentas said.

The 11-acre development’s estimated completion date is 2024.

Thumbs-up for increased public access to the waterfront

The Havemeyers & Elder Filter, Pan & Finishing House, as the American round-arch-style refinery is called, was designated as an individual city landmark in 2007. It was built in 1881 to 1884.

Two Trees Management previously received the LPC’s approval for a refinery makeover design by architecture firm Beyer Blinder Belle. That design called for the construction of glassed-in floors with rectangular massing to be constructed at the top of the building.

In testimony during Tuesday’s hearing, reps for the Waterfront Alliance and New Yorkers for Parks expressed support for the Domino Sugar Refinery’s new makeover plan and the increased public access to the shoreline that the Domino site’s development will offer.  

Andrea Goldwyn of the New York Landmarks Conservancy said in testimony that because PAU’s design treats the landmarked refinery like a “shell” of a building, a long-term care plan for its brick facade is needed.   

Patrick Waldo of the Historic Districts Council, who opposed PAU’s design, said  it “completely disrespects the [factory’s] inherent muscularity and monumentality” and turns “a wholly intact structure … into essentially a ruin.”


‘Centerpiece’ of the Domino site

After the hearing, Two Trees Management asked the Brooklyn Eagle for the opportunity to comment about the refinery building’s planned redesign.

“The refinery building is the centerpiece of the Domino redevelopment and we are committed to the restoration and revitalization that will bring jobs back to the waterfront for generations to come,” Dave Lombino, Two Trees Management’s managing director, said in a statement.

The development firm is “very encouraged by the discussion at the Landmarks Preservation Commission hearing” and “look[s] forward to sharing more details about our approach to celebrating this landmark, including masonry preservation and materiality,” he said.

Lombino said Two Trees is grateful for widespread support for its proposed plan from Community Board 1 and groups that testified at Tuesday’s hearing.


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