LPC Commissioner Asks If It’s Right to ‘Unbuild’ Landmarked Domino Refinery (Update)

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The team behind the redevelopment of the Domino Sugar Refinery needs to go back to the drawing board for its surprising new direction, first revealed in October.

At a public hearing at the Landmarks Preservation Commission this afternoon, the commissioners were split on their feelings about the new design for the adaptive reuse of the iconic factory building on the Williamsburg waterfront. Some were in favor, remarking that it paid homage to the original building, located at 292 Kent Avenue, while others expressed concern over some of the plan’s details.

brooklyn development domino 292 kent avenue

Photo by Susan De Vries

“On a conceptual level, it’s not there yet,” said Wellington Chan, one of the LPC’s commissioners.

This is the second time that Two Trees, the project’s developer, has sought approval from the LPC for the adaptive reuse of the landmarked 1882 building. In 2014, they received a unanimous vote in support of a design by Beyer Blinder Belle Architects, which Two Trees scrapped earlier this month in favor of a new design by Vishaan Chakrabarti’s Practice for Architecture and Urbanism.

brooklyn development domino sugar kent avenue renderings lpc

Few developers would jettison an already LPC-approved design, but Two Trees also discarded a previous developer’s plan that had already gone through the difficult public approval process known as ULURP.

Jed Walentas, a principal of Two Trees, joked about this during his introduction to the proposal, by way of an apology. “These things go through a lot of iterations,” he said. “I’m sure for you all sitting here every day it’s a hassle to see things come back numerous times.”

brooklyn development domino sugar kent avenue renderings lpc

Much of the focus of the proposal, presented by Chakrabarti — wearing a festive orange tie — was on how similar their proposal was to the previous, already approved proposal.

“We don’t want to gussy it up too much,” he told the commission.

But there were still a number of questions. Multiple commissioners expressed concerns over what they saw as fundamental problems with the plan, including the preservation of the inside of the building, which would be exposed to the elements, the use of the ground floor space, and the interaction between the new architecture and the old.

brooklyn development domino sugar kent avenue renderings lpc

On the last question, there was some debate. Some on the commission felt the glass sleeve is too simple and that it needs to relate to the rest of the building in a more concrete way. Others felt it needs to be more subtle, and that its current look is too obvious.

Chair Meenakshi Srinivasan suggested the developers consider details of the following: the barrel-vaulted roof, such as what glass they will use, how the bricks of the building will be preserved, and the use of the ground floor.

During the public testimony, Patrick Waldo of preservation nonprofit Historic Districts Council provided the most overt criticisms of what he called a “heavy-handed” proposal that “disrespects” the landmark. He questioned how the interior brick will be maintained, and the ground floor entrance that will force a hole to be put in the smokestack.

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Some on the commission echoed Waldo’s comments, especially concerning the larger issue of how the new design for Domino reimagine the space’s use.

“You’re taking a building and unbuilding it, making it a ruin,” said commissioner Michael Goldblum. “Is it appropriate?”

[Renderings by Practice for Architecture and Urbanism via Landmarks Preservation Commission]

Originally published October 31 at 4:33 p.m.

Update: Developer Two Trees Management sent us this statement: “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,” says Dave Lombino, Managing Director, Two Trees Management Co. “We were very encouraged by the discussion at the Landmarks Preservation Commission hearing today and look forward to sharing more details about our approach to celebrating this landmark, including masonry preservation and materiality. We’re grateful for the widespread support for the proposed plan from Municipal Arts Society, New York Landmarks Conservancy, Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance and Community Board 1, among others, and to continuing the conversation.”

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