Architecture review: A look at Two Trees’ “daring” vision for Domino Sugar

Comparing the bold new SHoP plan to Rafael Vinoly’s scrapped design

TRD New York /
Mar.March 08, 2013 02:00 PM

This week Two Trees Management revealed a new vision for its conversion of the Domino Sugar factory site in Williamsburg. Designed by SHoP architects, the revised plan has generally received positive, even enthusiastic reviews. Part of this response was a sense of relief, as the original proposal, designed by Rafael Vinoly, was roundly condemned for its dullness and insensitivity.

In fact, the Vinoly designs were slightly better than was generally thought, and the hulking, receded, Daily Planet massing of its multitude of buildings and the manner in which they covered the site were intended to suggest the era in which the original plant was built. In this respect, Vinoly’s design recalled the style in which his fellow Argentine, Cesar Pelli, had conveyed the same historicism at the World Financial Center. The density was no small part of the artistic point, as was also the case at Trump World Plaza along Riverside Boulevard.

But because few people seemed willing or able to see Vinoly’s point, the developers went back to the drawing board with SHoP, recently praised — but not by me — for their work on the Barclays Center.

The new plans certainly look promising.

The site’s four buildings have gained in height what they had lost in footprint, but no one seems to mind if it means 60 percent more parkland. And the buildings are of a very different nature from Vinoly’s. Gone is his restrained historicism, and in its place is a series of variegated and daring experiments in massing that, if carried out without crashing to earth, will represent some of the most original buildings in the city.

As opposed to the general stylistic coherence of Vinoly’s plan, each building now seems to have been conceived ad hoc, in total isolation from its neighbors. Each of the buildings appears to be clad in a curtain wall, but the treatment and coloration of the surfaces vary greatly. Perhaps the most dramatic building consists of two towers joined by a bridge-like structure on the roof that recalls Rem Koolhaas’s CCTV headquarters in Beijing, as well as La Defense in Paris.

Obviously it is far too early to say how successful the project will be. It breaks ground next year, and, assuming everything goes according to plan, it will be finished in about ten years. Before then we can only hope that the buildings will not look value-engineered and slapped together, which is always a possibility in New York, and one that has vitiated many a project that, like the present one, looks promising on paper.

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