Domino Park Will Redefine the Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Waterfront

Since mid-2004, the stretch of waterfront from Grand Street to South Fifth Street in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn has sat desolate. Viewed from a New York ferry (or the Circle Line for the tourists among us), the former Domino Sugar Refinery building added an impressive shape to the skyline, its smokestack rising 155-feet high. But, on the ground, wanderers found naught but chain-link fences and overgrown lots. On June 10, however, the neighborhood is regaining a relationship with its riverside land. Abutting Grand Ferry Park to the north and adjacent to the Williamsburg Bridge to the south, Domino Park is six acres of public green space, set across a new street from the landmarked refinery building, that will redefine how Brooklynites (and visitors) can interact with the east bank of the East River.

Lounge chairs lining the passive area of Domino Park, which is connected via walkway to Grand Ferry Park.

Daniel Levin

Designed by James Corner Field Operations, the same landscape firm that lead the High Line in Manhattan, the quarter-mile-long park is the first piece of a massive mixed-use redevelopment of the former warehouse-strewn site. (SHoP Architects recently completed 325 Kent there, the first residential building of its competitive master plan that had previously been won by, and then retracted from, Rafael Viñoly Architects). Though the river’s current there means that direct water access is not possible, land-bound all-age recreational options range from passive (sunning on a urban beach, a five-block long Artifact Walk with salvaged factory equipment, a children’s playground, and picnic and lawn areas) to active (a sandpit volleyball court, dog run, boccie court, and playing field). For those who admire architecture, a central viewing gathering space, with benches of wood from the former factory, allows views to the refinery or the river, Manhattan, and surrounding bridges.

A view of the Williamsburg Bridge from the new Domino Park in Brooklyn.

Daniel Levin

“Grand Ferry Park, which is a gem of a park, was the only place in the area where there was access to waterfront,” explained Field Operations senior principal Lisa Switkin. At the passive end of Domino Park, a walkway will connect the two, “in a way that doesn’t overwhelm it.” When the project was already underway, Hurricane Sandy struck and resilience became the important buzzword on every urban planner’s lips. To combat future storms, Domino Park is now raised above the 100-year flood elevation and set back 100 feet from the water’s edge, said Switkin. The site is also planted with sustainable foliage and trees, a mix of natives and exotics.

Syrup tanks from the refinery building are set within the park as an artifact. A misting system provides a dramatic water feature over a river bridge.

Daniel Levin

A future ferry stop (permits have been secured, Switkin confirms), will serve the area as demand grows. And North Brooklyn Farms, an urban farm currently on the site, is planning to stay until the last building in completed. Switkin said, “We wanted to make sure there is a sense of place here.”