The conversion of a 137-year-old sugar factory into a contemporary office complex requires a delicate touch when the building is landmarked—and even more so when it’s the heart of a complex, 11-acre riverfront master plan.
The Domino Sugar Factory sits along the Williamsburg waterfront in Brooklyn on a SHoP Architects‘ master-planned redevelopment which also includes the James Corner Field Operations–designed Domino Park, SHoP’s doughnut-shaped 325 Kent, and COOKFOX’s mixed-use 1 South First.
The facade of the Domino Sugar Factory is landmarked, but the interior, a tangle of sugar refining machinery, much of which acted as support infrastructure, was not. So, when Two Trees tapped Vishaan Chakrabarti’s Practice for Architecture and Urbanism (PAU) to helm the factory’s conversion, the studio proposed a radical solution. Rather than renovate the building, they would instead stabilize the historic brick facade, and drop in an entirely new structure with a glass curtain wall.
“The original building has a simplicity and muscularity,” Chakrabarti, told AN, but the building’s American Round Arch style arched windows rarely line up across floors and are a variety of different sizes. That meant that using standardized floor plates that touched the landmarked facade was infeasible. Separating the brick walls from the new structure negated the issue. By nesting the new building inside the old one, PAU has created a 10- to 12-foot-wide “breezeway” between the two that allows light to permeate all the way to the ground floor. This also affords each floor a different view of the facade. All of the original windows in the historic facade will be removed, creating a shell that will surround the new building, which will be stabilized with steel supports extending from the new structure.
Chakrabarti, who helped lead the master plan while a partner at SHoP, described the site as a bridge between the past and the future, and the design fully embraces that philosophy. The glass topper that rises above the original factory’s roofline (but sticks below the smokestack facing Kent Avenue) consists of structurally-glazed mullions and heavily articulated glass at regular intervals. The barrel-shaped roof is reminiscent of an industrial skylight, but while it was a clear reference, the team didn’t want the contemporary addition to be too industrial nor compete with the heaviness of the surrounding brick.
Rather than thinking of the building as having traditional front and back entrances—pitting Williamsburg versus the East River waterfront—PAU lowered the bottom all of the windows on the first floor of the brick facade to the ground, creating a permeable membrane and allowing the public to pass through. According to PAU, merging from the hardscape on Kent Street to River Street and Domino Park fulfills the pledge that SHoP made in the master plan to “pull” River Street out toward the public.
While no tenants have signed on to occupy the offices yet, Chakrabarti expects that the building will attract creative industries thanks to the unique atmosphere.
No completion date for construction on the Domino Sugar Factory conversion has been given yet, but interior demolition is ongoing.