Monday, December 24, 2012

World's Tallest Modular Tower Breaks Ground

Well, modular construction is here, and it is real. After decades of dreaming by architects, developer Bruce Ratner has made it possible to build a New York City building in a factory, assembling the units on site. Instead of cars, we will now be rolling apartments off an assembly line. The innovative construction method will allow work on the 32-story residential tower in downtown Brooklyn to proceed indoors—in fair weather and foul—at record speed and lower cost.

Forest City Ratner has finally broken ground for what will be the world's tallest modular building, in a suitably unconventional manner. There were no chrome plated shovels to be found on the site at the edge of downtown Brooklyn.

Instead, New Yorkers got their first look at one of the 930 prefabricated units or chassis that will be stacked and lashed together to make up the first Atlantic Yards residential tower.

On hand at the ceremony were Mayor Michael Bloomberg, developer Bruce Ratner and Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz.

The 32-story tower, called B2, which will rise at the corner of Dean Street and Flatbush Avenue, will be the first residential building in the $4.9 billion Atlantic Yards project that is anchored by the new Barclays Center.

Half of the residential building's 363 units have been designated as affordable housing. It will boast amenities including a fitness center, bike storage and in-unit washers and dryers.

B2, which will be built using prefabricated pods or modules containing everything from living rooms to baths, will be part of the first phase of the Atlantic Yards development, which will include a total of five towers. Those will rise at six to nine month intervals following B2. They will likely include an office building and possibly a hotel, according to the developer Forest City Ratner.

A steel structure will be erected on the site, while the modular pieces will be built at a factory at Brooklyn Navy Yard, saving months of construction time by allowing the units to be built indoors come rain or snow. The revolutionary modular construction method will also save the developer millions of dollars, by among other things hugely speeding up construction.

The second phase will bring 11 more modular residential buildings, retail space and some open space. When all is said and done, Atlantic Yards is planned to have 2,250 affordable units.

“This may be the means and method to create more opportunities for construction that would not have existed if it were not for this technology,” Gary LaBarbera, head of the New York City Building Trades Council.

Mr. LaBarbera has become an unlikely ally for the development, considering many union jobs were promised when this project came along, and a good deal of the savings modular offers is through limiting the most high-cost jobs of certain union workers.

The units will still be constructed in a union shop at a factory, but using lower-paid workers. Still, Mr. Labarbera seemed pleased that what he touted as 125 new union jobs, even if they were low paying, was better than none at all.

In addition, there are the other opportunities this new technology opens up, not only making unfeasible projects buildable, thanks to the estimated 30 percent savings, but it could also convert non-union jobs to unionized ones.

Bruce Ratner, Mayor Bloomberg and Borough President Marty Markowitz all cheered on the possibility of modular housing becoming a booming export from Brooklyn and elsewhere in the city. “It’s a whole new industry, born here in Brooklyn,” Mr. Markowitz proudly declared.

The mayor said the rapid pace of construction at Atlantic Yards defied all expectations. "The bottom line is we're ahead of schedule," Mr. Bloomberg said. "We're going to deliver what the city needs, affordable housing, so the people who built this city can stay in this city."

Mr. Ratner pointed out that the affordable housing and the market rate apartments will be indistinguishable, "from counter tops to towel bars."

The first residential building is scheduled to be ready for occupancy in the summer of 2014.