World's Tallest Prefab To Be Built in Brooklyn? Fuggedaboutit.

© Shop Architects

It is being touted as the world's tallest prefab at 32 stories, to be built by Forest City Ratner Developments on the Atlantic Yard in Brooklyn, New York. Shop architects are designing it and engineering giant Arup are doing the engineering. The New York Times describes it:

Mr. Ratner said 60 percent of the construction would take place in a factory, where an estimated 190 workers would assemble roughly 950 steel-frame modules, each 14 feet by 35 feet, and outfit them with electric and plumbing lines, as well as with kitchen and bathroom pods. At the same time, on-site workers would build the foundation. The modules would be transported to the site, lifted into place by crane and bolted together. Steel bracing would rise with the stacked modules.

Reasons for choosing prefab over conventional construction are listed in Curbed:

The modular option costs 15-20% less than its traditional equivalent, weighs half as much, produces 70-90% less waste, and has "a reduced energy consumption of up to 67%."

© Shop architects

Call me a skeptic. There are a couple of minor problems to be overcome:

New York construction unions. Forest City Ratner originally claimed that the construction would employ 17,000 people; they now suggest that the factory will only need 190 workers. The local unions are pretty powerful and tend to resent technologies that cut their wages and numbers in half. A Union spokesperson told Patch:

We have obvious concerns about the safety and quality of modular construction for larger buildings as well as its impact on estimates for job creation, wages and benefits that have been central to the economic justification for projects advancing.

The City and the State, which provided $300 million in subsidies to create jobs, may also have issues.

Experience. The manufacturer, XSite Modular, doesn't have a factory and hasn't built anything. However the President, Amy Kulka Marks, was previously President of Kullman Buildings Corp, which had built steel modular buildings four stories high and had been working with Arup on the project and with a different designer, Garrison Architects. (There is some really nice stuff to read about the work of Kullman and Garrison in a PDF catalogue that was on the Wayback Machine.) Garrison has done some lovely work in prefabrication and modular design, and it is a business where experience matters. But they complained that they were being rushed and that the fees were not sufficient to to the job properly and withdrew from the project.

If you read this post by a journalist covering the history of Forest City's Prefab Plans, it is all a big toxic mess of lawsuits among the developer, the manufacturer and his ex-employees over intellectual property, payments, appropriate architects fees and more. The lawsuits between XSite and Kullman were finally settled on August 16.

© Shop Architects

The whole thing boggles the mind. Having worked in prefab for a number of years, I can tell you that it's complicated, more than just piling up boxes like Lego. To have changes in builders and architects, intellectual property battles, and fights with unions in a City like New York while trying to build the world's tallest prefab and save time and money? Fuggedaboutit.

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Tags: Green Building | New York City

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