Brooklyn’s Domino Sugar Refinery Site Gets a Proud New Addition

By Scott Sowers

A collaboration among fabricators, developers and designers and an assist from the Oak Leaf National Laboratory produced two interconnected buildings in Brooklyn, N.Y., that soar 45 stories into the Williamsburg skyline. They were completed in 2019 and christened One South First and Ten Grand Street.

The brownfield site, which once housed the Domino Sugar refinery, is being re-imagined by Two Trees, a Brooklyn-based developer. The towers rest on the banks of the East River, offering jaw-dropping views of the Lower East Side of Manhattan.

The site’s master plan calls for four new buildings, each from a different architectural firm, and includes an adaptive reuse of the landmarked sugar factory, which closed in early 2000. The commercial side includes 500,000 square feet of office space, while the residential side measures 300,000 square feet hosting 332 units, with 66 designated affordable housing units.

The towers rest on a three-story, window-walled podium that interacts with the street. The podium features a large storefront, fixed glazing sourced from China’s Northglass, using 15/16-inch insulating glass units with low iron lites, an NGUD80 low-E coating, and laminated interior lites.

The orientation of the building and the window placement are also instrumental in managing energy use. “In the New York City market, it’s pretty rare that we have a standalone, in-the-round building,” says Arno Adkins, partner, CookFox, based in New York and the design architect for the project. “It gave us the chance to think about solar orientation and a way to passively introduce more building performance and ideas of sustainability. Each façade of the residential tower has a unique precast design that responds to the solar orientation. It’s a way to self-shade and mitigate glare while creating some added interest in the façade.”

Lab Work

The architects received the commission for the job by winning a funded mini-design competition staged by the developer. Their vision was built around a white precast concrete façade with a finish that would resemble the surface of a sugar crystal. The developer agreed and proposed an aggressive schedule for completing the project.

Gate Precast Co. in Oxford, N.C., was selected to produce the modular components of the façades and suggested an untried solution to make the designers happy and to meet the developer’s construction schedule.

Gate had already been working with the Manufacturing Demonstration Facility at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory on ways to make the precast industry more efficient, including using 3D-printed molds. A plan was hatched to build the window modules at the Gate facility in Winchester, Ky., complete with the glazing, and then ship them to Brooklyn.

The German company Schüco, which has U.S. headquarters in Newington, Conn., supplied the windows for the commercial side and quickly adjusted to the unorthodox workflow.

“The methodology of pre-installing windows into wall panels before being hung onto the building did require a modified attachment design that allowed the structural load path to be transferred back to the structure through the precast panels,” says Brad Davis, director of architectural services for Schüco. “This project was the first for us to use this
method. It exposes a need for further development for methods of pre-fabrication, pre-installation and the need for closer collaboration between suppliers of systems that interface on the building envelope.”

Special Molds

Mega-panel window components and pre-cast concrete modules with pre-installed windows are not new. Neither is 3D printing. In the past, the molds used for creating the modules at the Gate facility typically were made from wood that lasts for two or three castings, then needs to be recycled.

The lab personnel at Oak Ridge worked with Gate on a concept for using a large-scale 3D printer to produce molds out of acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) thermoplastic that was also reinforced with carbon fibers. The new molds can be used for 150-200 castings while allowing for complex shapes, such as the angles on window openings the design team wanted. Printing the mold instead of building them by hand from wood accelerated the process.

The molds were printed as reinforcing rebar framing and laid into place along with connection hardware and window inserts. Concrete was poured in and then cured for 14 hours. The modules were lifted out, cleaned, acid washed, polished and loaded onto trucks headed north.

Additional Wrinkles

In addition to the commercial glazing, the design team also requested one-piece operable corner windows on the residential side, but things changed on the jobsite, as the design could not accommodate operable windows.

“Skyline Windows was chosen to develop and provide custom fenestration products for the residential tower,” says Steve Heuss, architectural volume sales, senior project manager of Skyline Windows, “We manufactured our Series 1200 tilt-and-turn windows and Series 1200 fixed windows for the 90-degree corners. Two Trees initially requested to make these 90-degree corner windows operate as one unit, which we proved could be done. In the end, however, the project’s design was such that it did not support this concept for operable corner windows.”

Skyline used a 6-mm, ultra-clear, tempered glass for the exterior lites and 8-mm for the interior lites. Tvitec fabricated the residential window glass with Guardian SN70/41 low-E coating on ultra-clear, low iron, IGU lites measuring 15/16 inch. The residential tower has corner windows with a thin 1-inch aluminum tube where the lites meet for a nearly glass-to-glass corner.

The mixed-use project employs a variety of glazing, including a low-E-coated curtainwall on the bridge where the two towers meet. It’s constructed with a mix of vision and spandrel glazing, also sourced from Northglass.

The Frit

Both towers use glazing subtly embellished with a custom digital ceramic frit gradient at the head and sill. CookFox designed the pattern based on the trapezoidal precast geometry to soften the exterior reading, provide a sense of safety from the low sills at the interior, and improve the overall glazing performance. The gradient also helps hide the frames.

“We wanted to add a tertiary detail, and we came up with custom digital ceramic frit,” says Adkins. “It’s very opaque, and we mirror that at the head of the glass. It’s a geometry inspired by precast itself and the idea of sugar crystals. It’s a custom frit applied to all the windows on the project except for the storefront. It was partially about reducing the solar heat gain from the glass and upping the performance a little bit more. It wasn’t distracting
to the human eye. It’s much more apparent when you’re outside the building looking in.”

Heuss says, “The frit started as a dense pattern at the head and sill and dissipates visually as it came up or down from the window’s edge. From inside and out, this offers a unique subtle look and feel.”

Bringing it All Together

The project’s experimental nature challenged all the participants.

“One of the biggest challenges was navigating the logistics surrounding the shipping and sequencing of the windows/precast panels,” says Heuss. “This required a steady harmonization amongst the design team, Skyline’s engineering team, precast panel fabricators, the erectors and installers. The corner windows were installed on site in Brooklyn as the precast panels and windows needed their own unique shipping recipe to ensure zero damage from the assembly plants to the site.”

Davis adds, “The biggest challenge for us was to develop an attachment and anchoring solution for very large windows that could meet the wind pressure requirements without compromising the sightlines of the window. The design intent was very specific to conceal the window frame as much as possible, so increasing the frame dimensions was not acceptable to the design team as it would have diminished the frameless appearance they desired.”

The striking interplay between the glass and concrete came to life in Brooklyn by way of the factory in Kentucky and the lab in Tennessee. The look and size of the project, the construction, and the repetitive shape of the window modules offered a unique opportunity. The risks included using a crane to lift 18,000-pound window modules onto a skyscraper, but the rewards included completing the building envelope 50% faster than building an army of wooden molds.

“We are thrilled with how the whole project came out,” says Adkins. “The façades look amazing. It rented out immediately, and hopefully, it sets the bar for the whole master plan that Two Trees has laid out.”

Scott Sowers is a contributing writer for USGlass magazine.

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