Wow: I can't believe it's been over a year and a half since I first learned that Bruce Ratner—public enemy #1 for many well-to-do Brooklynites and blue collar workers alike—was obsessed with prefabricated building construction. I suppose it shouldn't have surprised me, as he's a bit of a Scrooge (per the Times: "[prefabrication] could lead to more affordable housing, or it could simply mean greater profits for the developer"), but his obsession was reportedly inspired by the YouTube video below:
Of course, labor practices and building codes alike are notoriously lax in Asia, and so Ratner's vision remained a dream... until now. His development company, Forest City Ranter, announced that they'd reached an agreement with city construction unions to move forward with the 32-story tower. (According to the Times, union factory workers will earn an average annual salary of $55,000, 25% less than union construction workers; another often-cited figure puts a carpenter's pay at $35/hr. vs $85/hr., respectively.)
...next spring, 125 workers at the factory in Building 293 at the Navy Yard will begin churning out 930 modules—typically 14 feet wide, 35 feet long and 10 feet tall—equipped with floors, walls, electric lines, plumbing, kitchens, toilets, exterior façades and even towel racks.
"This is more than innovation," said MaryAnne Gilmartin, executive vice president of Forest City Ratner. "We've cracked a code that will allow us to utilize cutting-edge technology to introduce greater affordability, more sustainability and world-class architecture."
She said modular was suitable for both subsidized and luxury housing. Forest City says it hopes that other urban builders will use the technology. The company also sees a market for building prefabricated bathroom "pods," which slide into the modules, and can also be used by conventionally built hospitals and other institutions.
A variety of modules, which come in different shapes, together with various glass and colored exterior panels, will break up the mass of the building so that it does not look like a Lego tower.
Atlantic Yards has had a tortuous history for the past decade or so, since Forest City Ratner first set its sights on the site in 2003. After Frank Gehry proved to pricy for the original design of the sprawling mixed-use complex, Ratner brought in SHoP architects to design the arena and residential towers; ARUP was instrumental in realizing the prefabrication process, lending their engineering expertise to the ambitious undertaking. Again, per the Times:
Sixty percent of the work will be done in the factory, which Forest City believes will save as much as 20 percent on construction costs and cut the delivery time to 18 months, from 28 months.
Ms. Gilmartin of Forest City warned that the first tower may be only marginally less expensive than a conventional tower, but that there should be increasing efficiency with each building at the site.
The New York Observer reports that the 32-story highrise, which goes by the uninspired codename B2, will come in at over 50% taller than the current record-holder for world's tallest prefabricated building, a 20-story hotel in England. Construction on the tower—the first of 15 planned modular buildings—exactly a week before Christmas (insert joke about big packages here), and may well serve as a test case for the future of construction in cities the world over.
Politics aside, I'm actually ok with how Barclays Center turned out—I live about a mile away from the arena and bore occasional witness to what I'm sure was one of the fastest construction projects in New York City history. Thanks to Russian rebus Mikhail Prokhorov, I've had the chance to cheer on Deron Williams and the Nets, meet up with friends at a local bar afterward... and make it home by midnight. I don't know if the current agreement is a win-win (so to speak), but either way, it's simply too early to judge the success and legacy of the project.
My neighbors over at Pratt Institute are similarly ambivalent about it: Thomas Hanrahan, dean of the architecture school, remarked to the Times: "Modular promises higher quality, greener construction, faster delivery time and lower costs... The question is: Will the savings be passed on to the public in some form?"