A year ago, when it was first announced that SHoP architects were going to be designing a prefabricated modular tower in Brooklyn at the Atlantic Yards, I said Fuggedaboutit, ain't gonna happen. There were so many things that were troubling, from the shenanigans at the prefab company to the change in architect to the reasons for doing the project in prefab, namely the savings in time and money, not to mention the entrenched construction unions in New York.
I was wrong.
A number of things have changed; the construction manager is now Skanska, the giant Swedish construction company with a lot of experience in prefabrication. (They are IKEA's partner in BoKloc). ARUP is doing the engineering. The developer, Bruce Ratner, made a deal with the unions, who have taken a cut in pay in exchange for the steady work indoors under better working conditions, a feature of prefabrication. According to the President of the Buildings and Construction Trades Council, quoted in the New York Times,
“We see this as an opportunity to get into markets we’re not in,” Mr. La Barbera said. We can’t ignore an emerging industry. We see it as creating more job opportunities in residential construction.”
Ratner claims to have "cracked the code" of high rise prefab. Charles Bagli writes in the New York Times:
The solution to producing high-rise modular buildings came, in part, from the ability to create computerized three-dimensional models that allowed them to test the integrity of the engineering, Christopher Sharples of SHoP Architects said.
Architectural Record recently showed a few drawings that demonstrated some of the strategies being used, including how it will be laterally braced. A video demonstrates the bracing being installed as the units are stacked. There are so many other issues that are critical is such a high prefabricated building, including firestopping between modules, fire ratings between floors, and soundproofing when there are steel-to steel connections running 32 stories. It's tough, and even Forest Ratner admits that they probably won't save any money on the first building. But they appear to have figured it out. From the Observer:
B2, as the apartment tower is known, would lap many times the current record holder for prefabricated construction, a 20-story hotel in England. And the involvement of SHoP is meant to suggest that prefab can be sleek and design-y as well. “With modular, we are also transforming how housing is built in New York City and, potentially, around the world,” Mr. Ratner said in a statement. “And we are doing it, as we do with all of our construction, in partnership with union labor, the best labor, in the best City in the world.”
For breakfast this morning, I am eating my words.