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Domino Sugar Refinery redesign approved by Landmarks Commission

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Vishaan Chakrabarti’s PAU will bring its glass barrel vault concept to the historic refinery building

Courtesy of Practice for Architecture and Urbanism

The second time’s a charm for Practice for Architecture and Urbanism, whose proposal to radically reimagine the protected Domino Sugar Refinery along the Williamsburg waterfront was approved by the Landmarks Preservation Commission on Tuesday.

The architecture firm, founded by former SHoP Architects partner Vishaan Chakrabarti, first presented its proposal to transform the landmarked refinery with the project’s developer Two Trees in late October. A refined version of that plan appeared in front of the commission on Tuesday.

PAU’s design calls for a new glass building that nests within the landmarked shell, with between 10 and 12 feet between the original facade and a new 21st-century office and waterfront amenity space. The new building will be topped by an eye-catching glass barrel vault.

The commissioners were torn over the concept when it was first introduced, debating whether it was reverent to, or dismissive of, the landmark building. One of its most vocal opponents was Commissioner Michael Devonshire, who then said he was “strongly troubled by the issue of taking what is a building and turning it into a ruin.”

That sentiment remained with Devonshire following PAU’s finessed presentation on Tuesday. Of the ten commissioners, Devonshire was the sole member to oppose the proposal. “I can’t bring myself to approve destroying a building to essentially save it,” he said.

Tuesday’s presentation delved into the particulars of the design, like the treatment of the landmark’s brick in various states of wear and how the barrel vault’s mullions will echo the landmark’s fenestration patterns. PAU’s attention to detail in the design, barring the absence of a “fundamental” absorbency test cited by Devonshire, won the praise of the commissioners, who by midway through the presentation seemed all but won over by the proposal.

“I think this is a real opportunity to breathe new life into a building that’s beautiful architecturally but functionally obsolete,” said LPC chair Meenakshi Srinivasan. “I think this building sets the landmark free.”

Commissioners Adi Shamir-Baron and Frederick Bland agreed that the height of the barrel vault had the potential to overwhelm the landmark, and suggested making it shorter. But even with such a recommendation, the remaining commissioners agreed to approve PAU’s design for the waterfront landmark.

“There’s a fine line between what it means to preserve and to allow for a landmark’s next life,” said Shamir-Baron. “PAU’s managed to figure out where to be on that fine line.”

New Domino

Kent Avenue, Brooklyn, NY