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The Refinery at Domino

Practice for Architecture & Urbanism | PAU

Brooklyn, New York, United States

September 2023


Vishaan Chakrabarti (Creative Director), Ruchika Modi (Project Principal)


Dencity Works Architecture (Executive Architect), Silman (Structural Engineering), Ettinger Engineering Associates (MEP/FP), Field Operations (Landscape Architecture), L'Observatoire International (Lighting Design


Two Trees Management


Max Touhey


Envisaged as one cohesive structure for office workers, ground level retail, and rooftop amenity space, the Refinery posed complex logistical challenges in adapting the existing to a new use. From deep floor plates to small windows to an impermeable presence on the street, the structure needed a new approach both inside and out.
Rather than navigating the misaligned floors and windows across the conjoined masonry shell, PAU adopted a different methodology: nesting a brand-new building into the existing envelope, with a 10- to 12-foot gap between the new and the old. Pulling back from the existing facade enabled optimal floor heights, daylighting, lease spans, and unobstructed views of the masonry, resulting in class A office spaces serving today’s creative workers. The array of historic windows, freed from interior partitions, reveal vignettes of the city and river beyond. Ground floor windows were lowered to door height to create transparency and access to a new Market Hall and retail.
The historic structure maintains its industrial character by preserving the masonry’s patina, scars, and idiosyncrasies. The new curtainwall rises above the historic masonry shell, culminating in a glass barrel-vault, referencing the American Round Arch style of the historic windows, thereby creating a one-of-a-kind penthouse. Perimeter atria, with a biophilic “hanging garden,” bridges the gap between the old and new. Additionally, a balcony on the southern façade protrudes through a preexisting opening in the historic structure, recalling the historic chute transporting the finished sugar for the final stage of packaging in an auxiliary building.


An industrial urban landmark constructed by Henry Havemeyer, the Domino Sugar Refinery long dominated both Brooklyn’s skyline and economy. The structure, a manufacturing facility, was built to consolidate three functions inside three conjoined but separate buildings—the filtering, panning, and finishing of sugar—that required the use of enormous equipment housed in cavernous, multistory spaces purposefully obscured on the exterior by the repetitive punched arch masonry windows. Although these windows were misaligned across the four facades, together they give the structure a singular, monumental appearance, crowned by the muscular smokestack on the west elevation built out of radial brick.

Throughout its lifespan, the building evolved to support the changing demands of sugar production. It operated for over a century, making Brooklyn the United States’ sugar- refining epicenter. Shuttered for nearly two decades, it is the sole historic structure as all other surrounding support structures have been removed.

In 2017 PAU started the design for the adaptive-reuse of the landmarked Refinery building, intended to be the crown jewel of the new mixed-use neighborhood complete with an activated mix of creative office space, market-rate and affordable housing, neighborhood retail, and community facilities. PAU was tasked with creating open architecture that seamlessly connects the existing neighborhood to the newly recaptured publicly accessible waterfront park. The result is a state-of the-art, 460,000-square-foot workspace housed within a beautiful, idiosyncratic urban artifact that is unique to post-industrial Williamsburg, offering a singular experience for its inhabitants and the larger community alike.


The Refinery at Domino hosts a series of systems to raise the bar for buildings in New York City and offers improvements at the site, neighborhood, and city-scale through water, energy, and planting strategies.

Firstly, the building is part of an unprecedented private water reuse system located on the Domino campus; all of the wastewater generated by The Refinery is treated and reused onsite, diverting polluted water from city outfalls, improving the quality of the East River and reducing stress on the city’s burdened infrastructure. Secondly, The Refinery is a fully electric building, eliminating gas usage on site. Additionally, the building’s heat recovery system uses energy from building equipment to warm the interior spaces. The Field Operations-designed vertical garden nested between the historic structure and the new building forms a microclimate that is open to light, air, and weather. The verdant and primarily native shade garden—replete with large trees and a lush woodland understory—wraps the building and provides a sheltered space with approximately 14% of the landscape providing habitat for local fauna and pollinators.

At the urging of PAU, the ground floor is largely dedicated to the public. The ground floor Market Hall adjacent to the waterfront serves those who work in the Refinery, neighborhood residents, as well as Park-Goers. Since opening, the penthouse floor has hosted a variety of events, from Fashion Week runways to product launches to concerts.

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