Brooklyn's modular tower: What a long strange trip it's been

461 Dean
CC BY 2.0 Lloyd Alter/ taken last June

What a long, strange trip it's been, the story of what was once known as B2 and is now known as 461 Dean, in the big Brooklyn development once known and the Atlantic Yards and now known as Pacific Place. Its owner, Forest City Ratner, claimed that they had "cracked the code" of tall modular construction, and that it would build B2 faster, in 18 months, and cheaper. FCR partnered with one of the most experienced prefab builders in the world, SKANSKA, to start FC Modular in the Brooklyn Navy Yards that would change the way construction is done. They had the very talented ShOp on the job as architects and ARUP, one of the best engineering firms in the world, doing the structure. What could possibly go wrong?

Now, five years later, FC modular is no more, its carcass sold to Roger Krulak, formerly Senior Vice President of Modular Construction at FCRC. It will now be known as Full Stack Modular. Krulak is quoted in the press release:

"I am very proud to own a company that will continue to build upon our original mission at Forest City, and further grow the valuable relationships with the community, the unions and the talented workers who help bring our vision to life," said Krulak. "Modular is the future of multifamily construction and Full Stack Modular will be at the forefront of innovation in our industry. Our systems are not only more efficient and cost effective than conventional building, but also more sustainable and community-friendly."

full stack screengrabFull Stack Modular/Screen capture
Krulak is promoting Full Stack Modular with a list of prefab modular virtues, the ones all of us who have such high hopes for modular construction use. This building was pretty much none of the above. What happened? TreeHugger has looked more closely at this project than perhaps any other. Let's go back to the beginning:

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

I must say, I was skeptical that it would ever happen at all.

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.

More in TreeHugger.

World's Largest Modular Prefabricated Tower Will Be Built at Atlantic Yards In Brooklyn and I Eat My Words

bracing© SHoP architects

I was wrong. They had "cracked the code" with the help of ARUP and SKANSKA. They figured out an innovative structural system where units plugged into a steel frame. They made a deal with the unions. I ate my words. More in TreeHugger.

Construction sights: A close look at the Atlantic Yards modular tower

Project sign© Margaret Badore

We followed its construction for a while, with a slideshow of photos taken by Margaret Badore. More in TreeHugger.

Construction halted on world's tallest prefab in Brooklyn

But then it all stopped. Skanska was having trouble building, costs were rising, and change orders were flying, I wrote that "It looks just like a classic construction dispute over cost overruns, the kind that generate jokes like this photo. " But it was more than this. Skanska came out and said that Forest City never cracked the code." More in TreeHugger

World's tallest modular building may be the last of its kind for a while

Atlantic Yards base© Margaret Badore
Forest City, which was going to build the entire development using modular, cancelled the other towers, so B2 would be the only one built modular, which was a shame, because the first is the one that you work out all the kinks and move down that learning curve. More in TreeHugger

The perils of prefab, as Atlantic Yards modular tower is stopped and lawsuits start flying

Interesting quote from Roger Krulak at the time:

The key, [Forest Ratner VP Roger] Krulak explains, is the welding of detailed design to standardized production. On a conventional site, workers build from a fairly crude set of construction drawings. Getting everything to fit involves a surprising amount of improvisation. By contrast, 461 Dean is built from blueprints of the sort used in the aerospace industry. The placement of every component is predetermined and referenced to a single, fixed point—no on-the-fly measuring required. "Two guys working off a plan like this can build 20 walls a day," Krulak says. "In a period of three days you're building all the walls for a whole floor." And in two years you've got yourself a high-rise.

NOT. More in TreeHugger.

What went wrong: The story behind the Atlantic Yards prefab tower

looking upLloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

It is all so unfortunate and so bad for the business, for the idea of prefab modular. I tried to sum it up:

I am really saddened by this and have no sense of schadenfreude. But here you had an arrogant developer who was sure he could do anything, an extremely talented architect who was inexperienced in the prefab field, intellectual property disputes, fee disputes and more, yet they were still going to build the first building in less time for less money. One source told me that they didn't even take into account the fact that steel, under compression, actually shrinks a bit, so that modules couldn't fit or were getting squished as new modules were piled above. The whole thing is one big mess of hubris and arrogance more than anything else.

I sincerely hope that Roger Krulak succeeds with Full Stack Modular. That will be the proof that lessons were learned here, that there is a real future for tall modular. It makes so much sense. And again, thank you Norman Oder, for your almost obsessive coverage of this project at Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park Report. More in TreeHugger

Brooklyn's modular tower: What a long strange trip it's been
FC Modular, that "cracked the code" of tall modular, is no more.