High Line Architects Turn Historic Brooklyn Sugar Factory Into Sweet Riverside Park

From the landscape architects who designed Manhattan’s popular elevated park comes a playful public space along the East River in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood.

High Line Architects Turn Historic Brooklyn Sugar Factory Into Sweet Riverside Park

Photo by Daniel Levin for Domino Park

On June 10, Domino Park will open on the Williamsburg waterfront, bringing a quarter mile of green space to the former site of the Domino sugar refinery.

Designed by landscape architecture firm James Corner Field Operations (lead designers of the High Line) and privately funded by Brooklyn-based developer Two Trees Management, Domino Park runs from Grand to South Fifth along the resurrected River Street, offering a waterfront esplanade, six acres of parkland, and improved connectivity to the East River. As with the overall Domino factory redevelopment plan, the emphasis at the park is on historic preservation, with reclaimed sugar refining and industrial artifacts interspersed throughout the space.


Built in 1882, Brooklyn’s gargantuan Domino sugar refinery ceased operations in 2004.

Photo by Daniel Levin for Domino Park

Starting just south of Grand Ferry Park—a former ferry landing that, until recently, was one of the few stretches of Williamsburg’s shoreline accessible to the public—Domino Park flows from more passive uses at the northern end to more active uses at the southernmost end, where the Williamsburg Bridge makes for an already noisy environment. On a busy weekend, developers anticipate around 10,000 people will visit the waterfront space.

Guests entering at the north end will be greeted by a Japanese pine garden and the Artifact Walk, a five-block-long, raised walkway framed by over 30 large-scale pieces of salvaged factory machinery. With everything from gantry cranes and raw sugar warehouse columns to crane tracks, cylindrical tanks, mooring bollards and more, the walk helps connect visitors to the site’s former life as a sugar refinery. Salvaged pieces are even painted in turquoise, red, and yellow hues, recalling the factory’s original color scheme.

From the Artifact Walk, guests have a bird’s-eye view of the 1,200-foot-long waterfront esplanade, which provides a continuous walkway along the East River. Also visible is a picnic area (designed for 80 to 100 people); a large, sloping lawn; an urban beach with chaise lounges and a shaded area; and a playground, designed by artist Mark Reigelman and inspired by the sugar refining process. At the end of the walkway, there’s a food kiosk called Tacocina—the first Brooklyn operation from Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group, where visitors can enjoy tacos, margaritas, and more at picnic tables overlooking the water.


One of Domino Park’s more playful features: hidden vents that occasionally release poofs of fog

Photo by Daniel Levin for Domino Park

In the middle of the park, a central gathering space features a four-tiered seating area, programmable fountain, and sunken area at the water’s edge, all set against the backdrop of the refinery building. Making up the site’s southern end is a linear dog run, two bocce courts, a 6,300-square-foot flexible playing field for various sports, and a beach volleyball court. Eventually, the park will also offer public Wi-Fi and an East River Ferry stop.

The first meeting between site developers and designers occurred just three days after Hurricane Sandy hit New York—a fact that significantly impacted the park’s final layout. Instead of extending development all along the waterfront, the team decided on just four—albeit extremely tall—mixed-used buildings, setting them back from the water’s edge by a full 100 feet (instead of the city’s required 40 feet) to prevent flooding. They also raised the park’s platform two to seven feet above the new FEMA flood elevations and added a sustainable plant palette that can handle a high level of saturation.

As promised to the Williamsburg community, Two Trees is delivering Domino Park ahead of any of its planned waterfront buildings. Eventually, however, the park will be surrounded by an 11-acre community, complete with four mixed-used buildings (featuring 700 units of affordable housing for low-income residents) plus the renovated Domino sugar refinery. Working closely with the Partnership for Architecture and Urbanism, Two Trees plans to transform the factory into a 380,000-square-foot office campus while preserving the building’s historic facade, adding another dimension to Williamsburg’s rapidly changing footprint.


Domino Park opens to the public on Sunday, June 10.

Photo by Daniel Levin for Domino Park

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