Williamsburg--an area of Brooklyn, New York historically known for its row houses, warehouses and factories--is quickly changing its identity. Arguably one the most popular neighborhoods in New York City, the Brooklyn neighborhood is a mix of the old with the new. Over the past twenty years, artists and other creative professionals have sought to take advantage of this section of Brooklyn, which at one point offered a low cost of living. These artists sculpted Williamsburg into the cultural epicenter it is today, while still maintaining the industrial character that has defined the area for over a century. The buildings from this industrial time are being transformed into trendy restaurants, clothing stores, and homes. Despite the gentrification occurring within the neighborhood, residents have retrofitted the space to better accommodate their needs, while respecting the history of the neighborhood.
Creative reuses of these spaces celebrate the architecture of the area, but also successfully serve more contemporary purposes. However, as Williamsburg has become more popular, outside parties have sought to transform the neighborhood in order to expand its demographic. The Domino Sugar Refinery, a structure that was once symbolic of the industrial lifestyle in Williamsburg, is currently undergoing revitalization that reflects changes throughout the neighborhood.
For many years, the sugar factory was in a state of disuse. However, in 2005, Rafael Viñoly was commissioned to create a more contemporary design for the space scheduled to break ground in 2011. In this plan the architectural integrity of the refinery would be preserved, while the building would be surrounded by newer, mixed-used structures. Unfortunately for Viñoly, Williamsburg residents were skeptical of this design’s potential: they feared that these buildings would end up simply overcrowding the waterfront. In 2012, the developer Two Trees bought the space and chose SHoP architects to design a new plan for the waterfront property. This new plan included buildings with smaller footprints and more public green space, which proved to be much more appealing to residents.
Much in the way that Two Trees is attempting to bring new life to the Domino Sugar Factory, other developers are similarly trying to transform the waterfront. While many residents have withheld the history of the neighborhood, developers such as Douglaston Development are looking to erect completely new structures on the waterfront--taking advantage of the Manhattan skyline view.
- Two towers containing 565 condominiums,
- LEED gold status,
- 347 affordable units in two mid-rise buildings,
- 60,000 square feet of retail,
- 509 below-grade parking spaces,
- 75 acres of open space,
- Two public piers,
- A public esplanade,
- and, a water taxi pier.
From projects such as these, it is clear that its quaint industrial charm will no longer be the main draw of Williamsburg. In its place, modern design and urban revitalization will define the neighborhood, leaving behind the preservationist approach of the past. The creative class, who initially made Williamsburg so appealing, will slowly be driven out by their wealthier peers who can afford to live in these luxury spaces. Ultimately, Williamsburg will see another drastic transformation in its people, lifestyle and most evidently, the built environment.
Have you seen neighborhoods near you going through a similar revitalization? Is this kind of change good for Williamsburg or is it destructive to the established culture? Share your thoughts and your city's stories in the comments area below.
Credits: Images by Quinn Harding.