In response to plans to turn the Domino Sugar Factory into condos, the group “Save Domino” has asked HAO architects to come up with a scaled-down alternative, which preserves more of the original structure. If Two Trees Management went forward with HAO’s proposal, the space would become a “world-class cultural institution” with performance space, art galleries, a hotel, education centers, public parks, a community green roof, and affordable housing. So far it’s just a design, but hopefully it’s an attractive alternative to the current Legoland-esque plan.
HAO’s proposal reads:
“Divided into two general zones the project encompasses a green energy technology center, educational, community and hotel-driven programming to the south with publicly accessible private museum space, exhibition and theater space to the north. The entire site is accessible to the public; buildings are linked together by large green areas and a new waterfront boardwalk and sculpture park. A marina along with a planned ferry stop emphasizes the site’s unique waterfront location and creates the first of a series of planned ferry stops that link together a variety of outer borough cultural destinations.”
Technically, condo-izing the Domino Sugar Factory isn’t such a terrible idea. It’s an enormous unused space in the heart of the Williamsburg, at a time when New York (purportedly) needs to start preparing for 1 million new residents, and affordable housing advocates continually demand more market-rate housing. If we truly want the overall price of living to drop in New York, Two Trees’ plan for Domino is probably what that’s going to look like: a hideous, towering Legoland in place of a 150-year-old structure.
On the other hand, urban theorists like Jane Jacobs would argue that Domino is crucial to attracting people to the idea of buying New York condos in the first place. “Cities need old buildings so badly it is probably impossible for vigorous streets and districts to grow without them,” Jacobs wrote in The Death and Life of Great American Cities. She believed that was because, in pricey new developments which depend on quick payoff, there’s no leeway for the experimentation which makes a city thrive . “Old ideas can sometimes use new buildings,” she wrote, but “New ideas must use old buildings.”