An icon on the Brooklyn, N.Y., skyline and a relic of the borough's industrial past, the Domino Sugar Refinery’s nearly 160-year-old, 11-acre campus attracted more than a few photographers before its partial demolition to make way for a new mixed-use, master plan by SHoP Architects and James Corner Field Operations began last fall. Among them was Paul Raphaelson, who was granted access to the site for a day in August 2013 and again for a week that October. He plans to publish the results of those visits—photographs detailing mazes of piping, discarded machinery, and dusty signage—in a new book, Sweet Ruin: The Brooklyn Domino Sugar Refinery. A Kickstarter campaign launched late last month to help finance its production has so far more than tripled its funding goal of $7,500.
The book, which will also include essays and archival photos, is being created in collaboration with photography editor Stella Kramer and architectural historian Matt Postal, who wrote the original preservation report on the refinery in 2007. In operation since 1856, the refinery was processing more than half of all sugar consumed in the U.S. by 1870. It was re-built following a fire in 1882 and remained central to the country's sugar-processing industry—known for its hazardous working conditions and early ties to the trans-Atlantic slave trade—until it shuttered in 2004. In 2001, the refinery was the site of one of the longest labor strikes in New York City's history.
"There were clues everywhere to what it must have been like in [the factory]," Raphaelson told ARCHITECT. "The enormous steam pipes and the big machines and the hearing protection signs—it must have been, at least in parts of the refinery, kind of like an industrial hell. ... When I was there, it was as quiet as a church. It was cold and dark, and there was wind coming through where the windows were missing. It was very, very serene. Very peaceful."
Raphaelson says the book will also address the allure of ruin photography and make a case for how his work is different. “People who … grew up in a post-industrial America [can] relate to these industrial spaces very differently than [how] our parents or grandparents did,” he says. “They see it as absent and we see it as a kind of layering and re-purposing of history—something that creates an architecture that has a greater richness than newer structures do.”