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Two Trees' SHoP-Designed Domino Development, REVEALED!

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[Courtesy SHoP Architects and James Corner Field Operations. Click for big!]

When Two Trees plunked down $185 million to buy the Domino Sugar Factory development site last summer, the already-approved plans for four-towers and 2,200 apartments were universally hated. The hulking buildings were bland and boxy, so Two Trees went to SHoP Architects (is there any major project these guys don't get?) and asked them to make it better?and by God, they did. Here now, we bring you the first renderings of the new New Domino. The number of apartments is the same, but SHoP added 60 percent more open space, two office buildings, a school, and more community amenities. SHoP principal Vishaan Chakrabarti and Two Trees Director of Special Projects David Lombino shared the 3.3 million-square-foot plan with us, detailing how this mega project is fundamentally different from the Brooklyn waterfront developments that came before it.

Creating More Open Space
SHoP created 60 percent more open space than what CPC Resources' old plan called for by moving the buildings back from the water and extending River Street through the site. This allows for a wider, more continuous waterfront park rather than something that's more like a private backyard for the residential buildings. In fact, SHoP created a 1/4 mile-long park that's the same size as Nelson Rockefeller Park in Battery Park City. They also eliminated an entire building, freeing up a whole site to be a public plaza. The waterfront park will have both active and passive uses?think a kayak launch and bocce courts plus picnic areas and a beer garden?and the plaza will be a flexible space that can be used for community events like fairs, graduations, and performances. The park will also have an "artifact walk" incorporating salvaged pieces from the Domino Sugar Factory, which Chakrabarti described as "Wiliamsburg's version of the High Line."

Taller, More Porous Buildings
Since SHoP's plan creates more open space, that means that the loss of square feet is made up for in height. But instead of designing bulky, sun-blocking buildings, SHoP created slender, porous buildings that leave waterfront views in tact for the neighborhood behind the development. "We didn't want the project to have a back," said Chakrabarti. 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. Somewhat surprisingly, Two Trees said the community and public officials they shared these plans with were totally happy with taller structures if it meant more open space. "If you're standing next to a 400-foot tall building or a 600-foot tall building, you have no idea," said Chakrabarti. "But if a 600-foot building means that you get a park where your kid can graduate, that means something to you."

Prominence and Contextualization
The Domino site is possibly the most prominent piece of real estate in Brooklyn. It sits at the dead center of the Manhattan-facing waterfront, and it's what drivers on the FDR see, whether they are headed north or south. "This has the opportunity to be what new Brooklyn says to the world," said Chakrabarti. As such, SHoP designed the site with exuberance: high points that make a statement on the skyline scale, a mid-range that echoes the Domino refinery building, and low points that speak to the surrounding neighborhood. Every building "meets the ground in a contextual way" in order to connect with the existing streetscape, and all street-level spaces will be filled with small-scale retail. There will be no big box stores.

Adaptive Reuse
Most of the buildings currently on the Domino site are decrepit and falling apart. The only building that will be adaptively reused is the refinery building, which will be turned into office space geared toward the creative and tech industries. 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. "The last developer made a big stink about how the refinery building will cost $50 million to preserve," said Lombino, "and it will cost $50 million to preserve, but we think it's worth preserving." The other office space will be on the north side of the building at Kent Avenue and Grand Street. All told, there will be 631,000-square-feet of offices; the old plan called for 98,000-square-feet.

Locking in the Designs
With big, innovative projects like these, there is always fear that the features that make the architecture interesting could be value-engineered out, but Two Trees doesn't want that to happen. Lombino said the developer is willing to lock in the building envelopes and things like the sky bridges so they can't be worked out of the designs later down the line. SHoP will design two of the five buildings and curate the architects for the others. "They should be different architecturally," said Chakrabarti. It hasn't been decided which structures SHoP will take, but the donut, which will have a school at the base, is "near and dear" to Chakrabarti's heart. SHoP has currently designed it like "a pineapple": textured on the outside, smooth on the inside. The facade is made of multiple different materials, some similar to the weather steel of the Barclay's Center, and inside the donut hole has a glassy surface that plays with the sunlight.

The "Pomegranate" Comes First
The first building will rise on the site furthest from the water (Site E in the above map), currently an empty lot that Two Trees is seeking an interim use for. It will be a 600-unit apartment building shaped like an elongated C. SHoP calls it the "pomegranate" because the facade is smooth, but balconies jut out into the opening of the C, like the Brooklyn Army Terminal. It will be split 50/50 affordable and market rate rentals, and Two Trees is in talks with the YMCA to create a new facility in the building.

The previously approved plans call for an 80/20 affordable housing split, which means that 440 units would be affordable. But there was an additional, unofficial agreement for the previous developer to throw in an extra 220 units with the understand that they would be subsidized by the city. Two Trees wants to honor this agreement, and they are in talks with the HPD to secure funding.

The Timeline
Two Trees hopes to get the ULURP certified by April, and they could break ground on the first building in 2014. The waterfront park would likely be built in sections, but they don't know the order of construction for the other buildings. Once started, the whole thing will take roughly 10 years and cost $1.5 billion.
· Domino coverage [Curbed]
· SHoP Architects [official]
· Two Trees [official]

New Domino

Kent Avenue, Brooklyn, NY