PAU reinvents the center of a complex postindustrial waterfront
The Architect’s Newspaper
July 23, 2019
Photo courtesy Aether Images
Navigating the constraints of a landmarked building and an ongoing SHoP’ Architects’ riverfront redevelopment, Vishaan Chakrabarti (M.Arch ‘96) has proposed an inspired transformation of a 137-year-old sugar factory into a contemporary office complex in Brooklyn.
Chakrabarti’s conversion of the Domino Sugar Factory, located on the Williamsburg waterfront, was taken on by PAU, Chakrabarti’s practice established in 2015.
Led by Chakrabarti, PAU envisioned an entirely new, glass-paned structure anchored behind the Domino Sugar Factory’s facade. As a result, the landmarked facade would remain intact, honoring the building’s historical past and enhancing, rather than compromising, the redesign to suit its new function.
“The original building has a simplicity and muscularity,” Chakrabarti, told AN in an interview, but the building’s American Round Arch style arched windows rarely line up across floors and are a variety of different sizes. That meant that using standardized floor plates that touched the landmarked facade was infeasible. Separating the brick walls from the new structure negated the issue. By nesting the new building inside the old one, PAU has created a 10- to 12-foot-wide “breezeway” between the two that allows light to permeate all the way to the ground floor. This also affords each floor a different view of the facade. All of the original windows in the historic facade will be removed, creating a shell that will surround the new building, which will be stabilized with steel supports extending from the new structure.
PAU also designed the first floor of the factory to act as a gateway to Williamsburg and the East River waterfront. By lowering all of the windows to the ground, Chakrabarti connects Kent Street to River Street and Domino Park in order to fulfill the pledge that SHoP made in the master plan to “pull” River Street out toward the public.
Chakrabarti, who helped lead the master plan while a partner at SHoP, described the site as a bridge between the past and the future, and the design fully embraces that philosophy. The glass topper that rises above the original factory’s roofline (but sticks below the smokestack facing Kent Avenue) consists of structurally-glazed mullions and heavily articulated glass at regular intervals. The barrel-shaped roof is reminiscent of an industrial skylight, but while it was a clear reference, the team didn’t want the contemporary addition to be too industrial nor compete with the heaviness of the surrounding brick.