Architecture News | Two Trees’ Domino Sugar Refinery Development

A major development is underway on the Williamsburg waterfront. Developer Two Trees has enlisted SHoP Architects and James Corner Field Operations to redevelop the historic Domino Sugar Refinery building and surrounding 11-acre area. Upon completion, the new area will include 600,000 square feet of office space, 2,800 residences, and six-acres of park space along the waterfront 

Image Courtesy SHoP
Rendering of waterfront development. Image Courtesy SHoP


A Storied Past
Originally built in 1856, the Domino Sugar Factory was among the first of the industrial buildings that contributed to the area’s significance as a manufacturing center. Employing over 4,000 workers, the refinery quickly became the largest of its kind worldwide, and by 1870 was processing more than half of the sugar consumed by the country. In 1882, damage caused by a fire led to the site’s redesign into a 90,000-square-foot complex with two distinct brick buildings and a smokestack. The area’s staple and now-landmarked “Domino Sugar” sign was erected in the 1950s to further signify the site, which continued to process sugar until 2004.

The Domino Sugar Factory's presence on the East River dates back to 1882. Image Courtesy http://cargocollective.com
The Domino Sugar Factory’s presence on the East River dates back to 1882. Image Courtesy cargocollective.com
The Domino Sugar sign has long been attributed to the Williamsburg waterfront. Image Courtesy creativetime.org
The Domino Sugar sign has long been attributed to the Williamsburg waterfront. Image Courtesy creativetime.org

After an original failed attempt to redevelop the site by CPC Resources in 2010, Two Trees Management hired SHoP and Field Operations to create a new master plan in 2013. Before demolishing the site, however, they commissioned public art firm Creative Time to create a large-scale public art project to commemorate the building’s less-than-gracious history and involvement with slavery. Tasked with the responsibility was artist Kara Walker, who based her work off of the building’s connection to “the slave trade that traded bodies for sugar and sugar for bodies.” Her creation, dubbed “A Subtlety, or the Marvelous Sugar Baby, an Homage to the unpaid and overworked Artisans who have refined our Sweet tastes from the cane fields to the Kitchens of the New World on the Occasion of the demolition of the Domino Sugar Refining Plant,” featured a large, sphinx-like female statue created from sugar paste. 

Kara Walker's "A Subtlety." Image Courtesy Wall Street Journal
Kara Walker’s “A Subtlety.” Image Courtesy Wall Street Journal

Open to the public for two months in the summer of 2014, the display received over 130,000 visitors.

Present Development
Construction began at the site in March of 2015. Last fall, the first mixed-use residential building at 325 Kent Avenue topped out, and progress has recently been made in constructing its sky bridge.

Current development at the site where the building at 325 Kent Avenue has topped out. Photo Courtesy Curbed Flickr Pool/Joel Raskin

The building will ultimately rise to 16 stories and span just over 400,000 square feet. Featuring a five-story redbrick base and two setback metal-sheathed wings, the building is slated to host a central courtyard, several retail stores and parking.

Rendering of the building at 325 Kent Avenue. Completion is expected sometime next year. Photo Courtesy NY Curbed.
Rendering of the building at 325 Kent Avenue. Completion is expected sometime this year. Photo Courtesy NY Curbed.

Twenty percent of the building’s 522 rental units have been designated for affordable housing, with move-ins expected to begin this summer.

The Future of the Waterfront
The remainder of the development will extend across the East River waterfront, along with James Corner Field Operations’ quarter-of-a-mile park. As inspired by community input, the park will include an “Artifact Walk,” incorporating the site’s original gantry cranes, syrup tanks and screw conveyors. According to JCFO, “The new waterfront park will offer a wide range of active and passive uses and will reconnect the neighborhood to the riverfront.”

Waterfront park. Image Courtesy SHoP

The Domino Sugar Refinery itself will maintain its exterior redbrick façade, yet yield itself to glass and steel-encased offices inside. According to renderings, possible amenities inside the 380,000-square-foot building will include a skate park,  four separate terraces and floor-to-ceiling windows. The building will also feature an open plaza and direct access to the overall development’s amenities, such as the waterfront park and ferry landing. Completion for the building is expected for next year, provided a tenant is secured.

The new refinery interior will feature exposed brick, steel, and glass-encased offices. Image Courtesy Two Trees / www.mir.no
Inside Domino. Image Courtesy Two Trees / www.mir.no
Proposed rendering for open office space. Image Courtesy Two Trees / www.mir.no
Inside Domino. Image Courtesy Two Trees / www.mir.no
Planned amenities include an indoor skate park. Image Courtesy Two Trees / www.mir.no

Check back in here for more updates on the revitalization of the historic Williamsburg waterfront.