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Domino’s redesigned refinery gets sent back for tweaks at Landmarks

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The proposal had the commissioners debating whether the design is reverent to, or dismissive of the refinery building

Courtesy of Practice for Architecture and Urbanism

A new plan reimagining the future of South Williamsburg’s landmarked Domino Sugar Refinery as 21st century office space with ground-level public amenities came in front of the Landmarks Preservation Commission on Tuesday.

The design, by Vishaan Chakrabarti’s Practice for Architecture and Urbanism, replaces Beyer Blinder Belle’s vision for the landmarked building. PAU’s proposal revolves around a new glass structure that nests within 10 to 12 feet of the refinery’s original brick walls, and is topped by an all-glass barrel vault. “The barrel vault is a structurally simple form that's also striking,” said Chakrabarti while presenting the firm’s design. "There's a grace that comes from its logic."

The proposal also introduces a significant amount of public space ont he building’s ground floor, accessible off of Domino’s six-acre waterfront park. In PAU’s design, the public space will be accessible through an entry door in the building’s hallmark smokestack. The firm imagines a food hall or a restaurant-like space occupying much of the ground floor, while additional square footage will be dedicated to retail, restrooms, and a public courtyard.

“We believe the refinery building is the epicenter of this project,” said Two Trees cofounder Jed Walentas, whose firm is leading the Domino redevelopment. "This is what we really want to build; it's what we think is marketable.” The building’s Beyer Blinder Belle proposal took flack for not tackling the original structure’s inability to draw in natural light. The PAU proposal addresses that without requiring too much work on the window openings on the facade.

The commissioners were torn by PAU’s treatment of the landmark, and debated whether the design was reverent to, or dismissive of the refinery building. “You’re taking a building and unbuilding it,” said Commissioner Goldblum. “I think the fact that the architecture of the new building doesn't seek to relate in a more effective way to the existing for me is a bit of a problem.”

Commissioner Devonshire agreed with Goldblum, saying he was “strongly troubled by the issue of taking what is a building and turning it into a ruin.”

Commissioner Lutfy agreed there was some finessing to do with the specifics of the proposal, but was in favor of PAU’s nesting structure design. “If I were an occupant in this building working every day, I'd be filled with some awe and admiration for what came before me,” Lutfy said.

The commissioners ultimately sent the proposal back to the drawing board, seeking a refined proposal that addresses the treatment of the facade and the window pattern.

Although it wasn’t an immediate triumph, Dave Lombino, managing director of Two Trees, says the firm is “encouraged by the discussion at the Landmarks Preservation Commission hearing and look forward to sharing more details about our approach to celebrating this landmark, including masonry preservation and materiality.”