Center for Architecture exhibit features controversial Brooklyn development plan
Scan the comments posted online about Rafael Viñoly’s design for the New Domino in Brooklyn and often the reaction is scathing – ugly, unimagined, and suggestions that a toddler could do a better job designing with building blocks. Ouch. Other commenters want something, anything to go on the former industrial site.
Renderings of the project have appeared in print and online but the large-scale architect’s model had not been readily available for the public nor had there been wall-sized renderings. So in a move to tell the design side of the story and perhaps sway residents' opinions about the ambitious project on the East River, the Center for Architecture in New York City is hosting a month-long exhibit on the New Domino. Viñoly will give sold-out talk about the design as well as the history of the master plan at the Center on 22 April.
Designed by Viñoly, the exhibit features the project model in the Center's front window and a curved wall with large-scale renderings and plans as well as the project books, plans and video.
Whilst the project has already received cautious blessing from Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, with caveats including limiting the height of the project, it faces a public hearing on 28 April by the New York City Planning Commission. The City Council will ultimately decide the project's fate this summer.
To recap, the estimated $1.5 billion mixed-use project developed by CPC Resources, a subsidiary of the nonprofit Community Preservation Corporation, and the Kandan Group seeks to create 2,000 housing units, of which 660 would be affordable, four acres of public parkland and a riverfront esplanade along the East River, 200,000 sq. ft. of retail space on the 11.2-acre site. The historic, 100-year-old sugar refinery building, with its iconic Domino sign, would be preserved. The project would be built over a 10-year period.
Viñoly was commissioned in 2005 to design the master plan for the 260,000 sq. m. mixed-use complex on the site of the former Domino Sugar Refinery complex and processing facilities, which is an unused industrial site just north of the Williamsburg Bridge that separates Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighbourhood from the East River. Beyer Blinder Belle developed the architectural plan for the refinery complex and Quennell Rothschild & Partners developed the landscape architecture plan.
Upon first glance, at the print renderings the towers do seem to overwhelm the historic building and Williamsburg neighbourhood. The mix of materials as well as the glass at the tops of the towers is aimed at reducing the mass, said Martin Hopp, project director, of Rafael Viñoly Architects.
“We tried very hard to reduce the mass of the building and have them tie into the fabric of the existing buildings,” Hopp said.
The perspective from video, at the pedestrian level, offers a different more intimate sense. Whether that is the appropriate streetscape for the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn is sure to be a hot point of debate in the coming months.
Now the public process begins in earnest – love or hate the design, Brooklynites now have the opportunity to put their views on record. A civil and rigorous debate is welcome with this caution – don’t let the perfect become the enemy of the good. There’s a lot to love about this plan – more public spaces and access to the riverfront as well as a mix of affordable housing types, always in short supply in the city. (Don’t forget that if the number of market-rate units are reduces so will the affordable number go down). The concerns about mass, relationship to the existing buildings and yes even the design of the towers (but I wouldn’t expect the brick-and-glass boxes to give way to sculptural forms) and other site-specific concerns can be addressed and perhaps improved upon during the review process. With hope, and a bit of luck this will be the result – a dynamic, well-designed development that will breathe new life into a decaying industrial complex.