Dallas architect, Steve Chambers, recently visited the historic Domino Sugar Factory in New York City. He studied and photographed it in order to contrast the public dialogue surrounding its reuse with the recent demolition of the 1611 Main Street in Dallas, Texas. Preservationists in Brooklyn, the site of the vintage sugar factory, stirred spirited debate and rallied support to save at least a portion of the five-blocks of antique structures along the East River in Williamsburg. Construction and preservation are just beginning in New York, the results not yet realized. But, the contrast with Dallas' recent razing of an 1885 Romanesque Revival structure couldn't be more stark. In Dallas, a real estate developer was able to demolish a 129-year old terracotta façade treasure into history without allowing anyone with a clue of its value to Dallas' architectural heritage to enter the conversation. It took a single day to erase its lively history and make way for the retail expansion of The Joule Hotel.
History of the Brooklyn Factory
Built in 1856, the Domino Sugar Factory is a New York City architectural icon that dominates the East River waterfront of Williamsburg, Brooklyn. It was the first of many sugar refineries that contributed to the emergence of the Port of New York as the industrial center in the nineteenth century. By the turn of the century over half the sugar in the world was produced in Brooklyn.
By the end of the Civil War, the factory was the largest sugar refinery in the world. After a fire in 1882, it was completely rebuilt to include the two grand brick buildings and distinctive smokestack that still stand today. The immense “Domino Sugar” sign was added to the East River side of the building in the 1950s, transforming the 90,000-square-foot complex into a landmark of the city.
Decline of the Sugar Industry
Eventually the market pressures from artificial sweeteners, high fructose corn syrup and cheaper labor costs led to a decline in demand from the Brooklyn plant and on January 30th, 2004 all factory operations at the Williamsburg site ceased. At the same time much of the Brooklyn waterfront was rezoned for high rise residential development making the old refinery site an attractive property to real-estate developers.
The Community Opens a Dialogue With the Developer
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio led the standoff against the developer, insisting the developer increase the amount of affordable housing units at the site. In return, his administration would grant approval for taller towers at the site.The Save Domino! campaign intensified and The proposed design for the reuse of the sugar factory by developers, Two Trees, stirred conflict with preservationists over the fate of the site's existing structures and land use. With historic buildings along the Brooklyn waterfront rapidly disappearing, preservationists wanted to protect the industrial heritage of north Brooklyn and save the refinery structures from demolition. the $1.5 billion redevelopment of the sugar factory reached the breaking point mere days before a vote to seal its fate.
The developer increased the number of affordable housing units to be built in the development and made an effort to preserve salvageable relics from the refinery, including the Domino Sugar sign, in the new site and building designs. They also decided to build accessible waterfront parkland and a school as part of an agreement with the city.In addition to what the developers are voluntarily preserving, the Landmarks Preservation Commission granted Landmark Status to one of the Domino Sugar Buildings to protect it in perpetuity. Topping the more ornate upper portion of the building, the renovated structure will have an added four stories of glass clad offices. Once finished, the Filter, Pan and Finishing House will be used as office space marketed to creative tech industries.
Sweet Goodbye, Hello to Re-Use
In late spring of 2014, the building was given a two-week "goodbye" party. Kara Walker, an artist and faculty member at Columbia University, was commissioned to create her first large-scale public project within the walls of the sugar factory. Walker responded to the building's history and sited her massive, sugarcoated female sphinx, alongside the sprawling industrial relics inside Brooklyn’s legendary Domino factory. The sphinx’s “skin,” was coated in thirty tons of sugar and titled, A Subtlety, the Marvelous Sugar Baby, an homage to the unpaid and overworked artisans who refined our sweet tastes from the cane fields to the kitchens of the New World on the occasion of the demolition of the Domino Sugar Refining Plant.
Dallas, A City in Contrast
According to the National Register of Historic Places, 1611 Main Street was one of downtown Dallas’ oldest buildings, but had no local historic designation and thus no protection from a wrecking ball. Now, this piece of Dallas history is history.
Historic preservationist and architect Marcel Quimby, a former member of Dallas’ Landmark Commission, refers to this latest demolition as a “desecration.” The building was “representative of what was in Dallas 130 years ago, and like everyone else I am stunned that it was done without any public discourse and with a lack of appreciation for Dallas’ heritage,” said Quimby. The recent demolition signals to us at Chambers Architects that Dallas is still behind the times in community dialogue and public policy that governs new development in the fabric of its historic urban landscape. Link to Dallas architecture critic article: "We regret to inform you that your city has been destroyed." by Mark Lamster
Inside the Domino Factory at Night
Video Homage to the Factory
Proposed Plan for the Domino Sugar Factory
In the gallery, below, photos of the five-block area in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, that includes the historic Domino Sugar Factory and other surrounding snapshots of the mixed-use neighborhood. Photo credit: unless otherwise noted, Stephanie Chambers, Stephen B. Chambers Architects, Inc.
We’re among the travelers who’ve toured Europe’s ancient cities in the last decade and lamented the rapid gentrification of all the central city squares. Increasing property values attracted real estate developers, who acquired the most valuable properties in each city core. Wealthy fashion giants and corporations were lured to plazas and square, squeezing out quaint boutiques and artists’ studios. Our visit to Florence this year proved that even the small and lovely birthplace of the Renaissance was not immune to this structural shift in culture.
But a chance meeting on LinkedIn with Fiorenza Bartolozzi restored our faith in the tenacity of the arts to thrive in times of seismic economic change. Senora Bartolozzi invited us to visit her atelier, Bartolozzi and Maioli, in Florence. Her shop is tucked in a neighborhood just a few blocks from the Pitti Palace, on the southern edge of the Ponte Vecchio. This neighborhood is one of Florence's best-kept secrets: a warren of ateliers and workshops whose handcrafted arts make you feel as though the city never changed. As thousands trek through the Florence’s famous religious, artistic and commercial buildings, where we did our share of walking, there are smaller, but just as attractive treasures, to be found tucked in other neighborhoods of the city.
Florence’s historic New Town was brought to life in the 12th century when the old Roman settlement outgrew its borders. This southern outpost at the time, Oltr'arno, "the other side of the Arno," spilled into land that had once been home to vineyards, olive groves, and market gardens. Smaller merchants, choked out of their old quarters near the main thoroughfares north of the Duomo, found plenty of space in Oltr'arno. The district was soon populated by them and the people whose livelihood depended on their patronage: servants, laborers, shopkeepers, and most importantly, skilled artisans.
Bottega d'Arte Bartolozzi e Maioli is led today by Fiorenza, the daughter of Fiorenzo Bartolozzi. She maintains a continuation of the typical Renaissance workshop in Florence, where her atelier is one of the most famous woodworking studios. Its restoration of monuments like the Monastery at Montecassino badly damaged in WWI, The Quirinale in Rome and the Kremlin in Moscow allowed its two founders to amass a staggering collection of carved wooden elements from dismantled churches throughout Italy. The reference collection allowed them to understand and follow traditional Italian woodcraft and plaster arts, methods they employed in countless restorations. The remains are scattered throughout this showroom off the Via Maggio.
Walking through the rooms of collections is a bit like walking through Florence’s historical artistic periods. Carved madonnas share the space with Moors and elephants. Monkeys and swine hold up candlesticks and signs. A tangle of fanciful chandeliers hugs the ceiling. It’s hard to tell what is truly old and what is their faithful reproduction. Fiorenza has done numerous projects in the United States. We were proud to learn that she has a Texas connection as well. A number of years ago, she collaborated with well-known San Antonio architect, Roger Rasbach, on furniture for a modern home.
In the darker back rooms religious statues and reliquaries are stacked in between the workbenches that are still occupied by aging colleagues of the original masters, Bartolozzi and Maioli. Today a second generation oversees the business side of things, but the scary part is that there are few young apprentices eagerly learning the arts of carving, design, and restoration. We’re thrilled to have been invited to Florence by Fiorenza and hope that Bartolozzi e Maioli may continue to pass on the traditional handicrafts of Italy’s early tradition. We don’t want it to go the way of fantastic places that exist only in our memory, giving way to an Italy that has no time for making things by hand.
Photography credit: Stephanie Chambers, Chambers Architects; matching chairs above and in gallery below from the website of Bartolozzi e Maioli
Doors are fascinating to all of us. Some of the most significant events in our lives occur when we walk through or close a door. They invite us to wonder what lies behind them and how others live. They are functionally and symbolically important. It’s one of the few parts of a structure with which we interact on a personal basis. In addition to welcoming guests and keeping out intruders, the door creates the first impression of a building, providing a sense of arrival, welcome, security and peace.
There are barn doors, sliding doors, automatic doors, security doors, French doors, jailhouse doors, fire doors, hatches and gates. But the symbol and mystery of a door resides in its ability to keep our hearts in expectation and uncertainty. Portals like doors, gates and windows entice us to move beyond our daily lives and into the realities and experiences of others.
It’s difficult to walk around Santa Fe without noticing the vast array of doors and gates. They play a significant role in this southwest city’s home design, providing the “welcome mat“ to visitors. Because of the type of construction in adobe buildings, there are many walls and fences and very little fenestration in the street façade.
The Spaniards integrated many of the Pueblo style elements into their missions and colonial haciendas. Homes in New Mexico were added onto year after year. Doorways are typically low and floors rise and fall with the natural contours of the earth. Hacienda-style homes were built without windows facing outward, with many small rooms and doors opening out to a main interior courtyard.
Here are some of the portals that charmed us in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Photo credit: Chambers Architects
Please scroll through the two galleries, below, to see our walkabout in search of Santa Fe portals.
What is it about Santa Fe that inspires us every time we go? Is it the cool dry climate, its mood-altering altitude, artists that push the creativity envelope, stark landscape with brilliant splashes of color, the ethereal nature of the Native American and Spanish aesthetics, or its local characters? Whatever the inspiration, the community appears to have an unusual sensitivity for embracing the creative impulse, providing a respite for the eyes and hearts of all.
The city officials, as well as the community itself, demonstrate that they appreciate the arts and artists by using community funds on public arts and support the development of New Mexico artists. Its leaders support differences by their apparent ability to integrate the state’s varied cultures. The tension that comes from embracing diverse ideas feeds the creativity. They provide abundant opportunity for the community and visitors to interface with the arts. The work we see invites a dialogue. Only a person who’s lost a connection to his senses is immune.
The results speak for themselves. The art scene doesn’t promote one style or genre. Consequently, visitors find a spectrum from ancient and ethnographic artifacts to modern work where ‘the paint is still wet.’
The City of Santa Fe Arts Commission’s Community Gallery is one such special public space. Through creative programming and inspiring exhibitions, they provide the public with exciting opportunities. At the same time, they support professional development for New Mexico's artists and artisans. High quality art is for sale there at all price levels. It’s a win-win for artists and visitors to the gallery and everyone is elevated by his/her involvement.
The Community Gallery even solicits suggestions from the community for its exhibition themes. A goal of the gallery is to offer the broadest inclusion for all artists and involve a large portion of the population by offering more than the just display of artwork. For more information about the gallery and a wealth of knowledge about the exhibitions, contact or make arrangements to visit:
Rod Lambert, Community Gallery Manager, City Santa Fe Arts Commission
Physical address: 201 West Marcy Street (at the intersection of Marcy and Sheridan), Santa Fe, NM
Featured in the two galleries below: additional photos of the functional and whimsical chair designs by New Mexico artists for the exhibition Sculptural and Functional Chairs; the glass installation, The Flight of Bees by artist, Elodie Holmes. Photography credit: Stephen B. Chambers Architects, Inc.
On the day we arrive one of the hotel guests, in the process of checking out, hears our English. He turns to tell us that we must eat dinner at a nearby casual ristorante called Perbacco, which he only discovered his last night on Ortigia. We walk the narrow uneven cobblestone passageways searching for the address he gives us. The streets names are hard to find and specific numbers even less so. But, the smells of fresh seafood arriving and arancini toasting in olive oil are unmistakable.
Perbacco isn’t open yet for the evening, but the neighborly manager invites us to sit on their sofa in the courtyard and sip some wine. We asked for the vino locale and he said, "when you’re in Sicily, you must try Neros.” Already one of our favorite wines at home in Dallas, we agree with him and say that we’re in love with it. He appears confused. “You know this wine? How can you? The mainland of Italy refuses to drink it. So, we keep it to ourselves.” “Si, si, we assure him. We know it and buy it at home.” “Okey dokey, you get the best.” And we do. A beautiful bottle of Nero d’Avola arrives, accompanied by a gratis plate of arancini, the local delicacy of crispy fried risotto with red pepper sauce. What an introduction to the real wealth of Sicily, its alluring cuisine, wines and hospitality.
The sensuousness of Sicily’s surrounding Mediterranean coastline, cool evening breezes, clear light and temperate weather extends its aura to the food and drink. Ortigia’s fresh produce and seafood market is near Via de Benedictis, just beyond the Greek Temple of Apollo. Shopping there initiates a courtship with Sicilian food. The vivid colors, tastes and feel of everything available to eat and drink make us hungry for the country. An extensive variety of fresh produce, spices, sauces, cheeses, oils and vinegars are found year-round in local markets that burst with saturated color and exotic smells.
The restaurants with talented chefs, whose training begins at home alongside their parents and grandparents, locally source fresh supplies from these markets to produce the featured dishes on their seasonally changing menus. We dive into each plate put before us from breakfast until late at night: luscious heirloom tomatoes; blood oranges; smoked and grilled cheeses; sausages and eggs; tiny potatoes bathing in olive oil; fresh seafood, large and small, with or without shells; creamy risottos; olives; bright green fresh peas and beans.
The next evening, we encounter the first aloof person on the island. The tiny restaurant’s maitre d’ also serves as our waiter. He is frantic and hurries us along with our order. Overwhelmed by the unfamiliar menu, we tell him “just bring us your favorites.” Once again, we appear to confuse the waiter and he knits his eyebrows in a question, using two of the few English words he appears to know, “okay, yes?” Before long plates brimming with cheese, figs, seafood and fresh vegetables begin to appear. There is not enough room on the table for all of it. We look at each other and think uh oh big mistake, we’re going to get everything on the menu. The Frito Misto Frutti di Mare, a mixed platter of sardines, anchovies, tiny ‘popcorn’ squid, octopus and other unidentifiable small fish fried in olive oil makes us swoon when it shows up. We stack plates and clear a place for it. Thinking the bill will make us faint, we ask the waiter to stop. “A little more,” he says firmly. We don’t argue and welcome lemoncello, aged grappa and cassata, a Sicilian layer cake.
“It’s finish?” he says removing the stacks of plates on plates. As in the rest of Italy, we “own” the table until we’re ready to leave. So we say, “it’s finish” and ask for the bill. The total is embarrassingly small. We do something typically American, but out of character for us. We tip heavily. The waiter takes away il conto and turns back to us on his heels. “Senor, not okay.” “Si, si,” we assure him. “Wowa, grazie molto bene” is all he can say and smiles. “Molto bene, it’s very okay,” we cheer.
The beautiful food is a result of an amalgam of cultures, which established settlements on the island of Sicily over two millennia. Although its cuisine has a lot in common with Italy, Sicilian food also has Spanish, Greek and Arab influences. The use of apricots, sugar, citrus, sweet melons, rice, saffron, raisins, nutmeg, clove, pepper, pine nuts, cinnamon (along with fried preparations) is not often found in Italy.
Much of the island's cuisine encourages the use of every item in their fresh bounty: eggplant, peppers, and tomatoes, and fish such as tuna, sea bream, sea bass, sardines, anchovies, cuttlefish, swordfish and a variety of exotic shellfish. Very few recipes have more than five ingredients, taking advantage of seasonal variety in produce and seafood. All of it is so fresh that it takes very little to deliver a profound and memorable depth of flavor. We hope the gallery below will seduce you as it did us to look forward to many more trips to this unforgettable island.
SEAFOOD MARKET IN ORTIGIA SICILY
We've got to live, no matter how many skies have fallen.― D.H. Lawrence, Lady Chatterley's Lover
Upon arrival in Taormina, we recognize it as enchantment wrapped around a multitude of myths. The city, precariously set on Monte Tauro, rises 650 feet above the sea, dominating grand, sweeping bays along the eastern coast of Sicily. It offers visitors a dramatically memorable view of Mount Etna and over one hundred miles of Mediterranean Sea. Early Sicels, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Saracens, Arabs, Normans and Spaniards seemed to be in agreement. For centuries, it was the chosen locale for their ancient resorts. Taormina has also been attracting invaders, since it was founded as Tauromenium in the fourth century BC. Its past is a microcosm of Sicilian history. Those who arrived, conquered and eventually departed. On this day, only tourists with backpacks and suitcases disrupted our wandering.
Refuge to Artists and Writers
Taormina can lay some claim to being one of the originating sites of modern tourism. After Goethe’s book Italian Journey was published, the city became a featured stop on the Grand Tour of Europe in the 18th century. The painter, Wilhelm von Gloeden, settled there in 1880 and made it famous to European cultural clubs with his provocative portraits of shepherd boys with Mount Etna in the background. Modern literary heroes followed. A quick roll call of celebrities included: Alexander Dumas, Johannes Brahms, Gustav Klimt, Richard Wagner, Oscar Wilde, Truman Capote, John Steinbeck, Nietzsche and DH Lawrence. It is little known that Lawrence’s character, Constance Chatterley, was based on an Englishwoman living at Taormina during his stay there. He was among the many who came here in the 1920s seeking a place to live uninhibited and undisturbed by those who couldn’t understand him. It was eventually established as a locale with an inclination towards the bohemian and sexual. Today’s artists continue to seek it out as a port in the storm and an inspiring setting in which to create without judgment.
Is the Theater Greek or Roman?
Taormina's most spectacular monument is the Teatro Greco, a magnificent amphitheater. If you doubt that ancient gods existed, sit a while among the ruins of this theater. You can almost hear cautionary tales spun by Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides and Aristophanes. While it’s called a Greek theater, there are examples of both Roman and Greek architectural traditions to be found here. Its origin is still open to debate among experts and critics. All their disputes would end if they remembered that Taormina was a Greek “polis.” Every ancient Greek town had its own theater, where the works of the famous authors were performed. The theater in Taormina is the second largest in Sicily, after the one in Siracusa. The later architectural contribution by the more ostentatious Romans was to enlarge the relatively small theater to stage gladiatorial combat. Further evidence that the Teatro is of Greek origin is in the well-cut bricks of Taormina stone (similar to marble) below the theater. Typical examples of the ancient Greek building techniques are the scene (background) and the orchestra (place for the musicians and close seating). The cavea, comprised of class-segregated terraced seating and subterranean caverns, appear to be Roman additions. The scene (skene) is formed by two series of Corinthian columns, recognizable by the shape of the capitals and their acanthus leaf design. The Greeks worshipped nature and it’s evident in their theaters. Sea and sky were preferred background for actors to perform. The Romans tried to improve on nature and control the view by constructing a backdrop connecting the columns to a facade and proscenium. But, serious damage to the theater during many early attacks rendered a return to its appearance during the Grecian period, a magnificent panorama of the bay of Naxos and Mount Etna.
The city's "Duomo" is not actually a cathedral, but a fortress. The Norman-Arab church, built over an earlier Christian structure, dates from the twelfth century. Cattedrale di San Niccolo has a Latin-cross plan with three aisles and six minor altars in the two side aisles. The nave is held up by six monolithic columns, three on each side, in pink Taormina marble and with capitals featuring a foil and fish-scale decoration. The ceiling of the nave has wooden beams supported by carved corbels reproducing Arabian scenes with a Gothic style. The main portal was rebuilt in 1636 and has a large Renaissance-inspired rosette sculpted on it.
St. Pancras Church
Though captivated by the skulls and crossbones carved in the exterior stone of an edifice that reminds us more of a pirate ship than a church, we are uncertain of their meaning. The church’s origin, however, is clear. Santa Pancrazio was built on the ruins of a Greek temple dedicated to Isis in order to honor Taormina’s patron saint, Pancras, a martyr in the Eastern Orthodox Church. Parts of the temple’s cell can still be seen in the southern wall of the church. The early Rococo style church dates back to the second part of the 16th century, when this style was less ornate and used light colors, asymmetrical designs, curves and gold. Unlike the more political Baroque, Rococo was playful and witty. The main portal features jambs and architraves in Taormina stone. Two Ionian columns decorate each side of the portal with an organ above the portal. There are eight angels on the altar, four on each side, and a bust of God giving his blessing. A fresco picturing the torture of St. Pancras can be seen on the right of the main altar. In iconography, this saint is depicted as a world-weary old man with yellowing grey hair, vested as a bishop and holding a cross in his right hand, a book in his left.
Porta Messina and Porta Catania
In ancient times Taormina was protected by a circuit of walls with a triple fortification system, which looked towards Messina from the north and ended on the west on the side looking towards Catania. Traces of these walls can still be seen today not only in the center of the town where the clock-tower stands, but also at the two farthest ends of the town where there are two entrances, Porta Messina and Porta Catania.
The Arabian dominion in Sicily lasted from the 9th to the 11th century and the Moslems remained in Taormina in particular from the year 902 to 1079. During the 11th century the Arabs reinforced the town’s defenses by building a tower, which is really the main part of today’s Palazzo Corvaja. The tower reminded the Arabs of their sacred “Al Ka ‘bah,” the first temple erected to God by Abraham at Mecca.
Ideal Vacation Locale
With its ancient Greek soul, medieval architecture, temperate climate, literary history and sensuous Mediterranean beauty, Taormina is one of the most seductive places in the world. Sensitively restored buildings, breathtaking views around every corner and a giddy network of winding streets strewn with boutiques, bars and restaurants make it a perfect place to stay. To quote Lawrence’s Lady, “It's terrible, once you've got a man into your blood!" Chambers Architects would say the same of Taormina. This city on the Bay of Naxos wound its way into our hearts and took up a permanent residence. We’ll be back. All photographs and videos by Stephanie and Steve Chambers.