Recently we were fortunate enough to be a participant in the Modular Building Institute’s annual meeting they call the World of Modular held in mid-March in Scottsdale, AZ. It was good to meet with over 540 of our colleagues working in the Modular building industry from across the US, Canada, Mexico Europe and China. We shared many ideas and took away several new bits of wisdom.
While there, our Director for Construction Services, Dave Parlo and I gave a presentation about our winning entry – MyMicro NY – in the NY HPD RFP contest to design and build micro apartments in lower Manhattan. This project has generated a lot of industry buzz and we were proud to share with our colleagues a little about that project and about how well received Modular Construction is in New York these days.
At this conference, MBI unveiled several willing entries in their annual search for innovative ways to use modular construction to solve specific project parameters. We thought you might like to see some of these winning entries. The like below is to an article placed by our friends a Building Design + Construction at their website. Enjoy.
The folks at Australia’s DesignBuildSource.com – a leading source for industry information Down Under published the following. And we’d like to thank them for their recognition and agree with them. We have been seeing a lot of interest in our industry in the NYC area lately as the following illustrates.
Modular Construction Becomes a Winner in Manhattan
Photo – Courtesy of Peter Gluck and Partners Architects and Jeffery M Brown Associates, LLC
The use of modular construction is becoming increasingly popular in New York City due to changes in public perception and greater enthusiasm for the practice amongst members of the building industry.
While New Yorkers have traditionally been averse to living in buildings fashioned from pre-fabricated parts due to the enduring association of such materials with cheap, low-end housing, its embrace by members at the upper end of the construction industry has engendered a sea change in attitudes.
New York City’s inaugural micro-unit apartment building design contest recognized an entry by Monadnock Development LLC, Actors Fund Housing Development Corporation and nARCHITECTS. Their winning project is set be the first multi-unit building to make use of modular construction.
The project, entitled My Micro NY, will see the construction of 55 micro-apartments on a site at 335 East 27th street in Manhattan, and is expected to be ready for occupancy by September 2015.
Towards the end of last year, Forest City Ratner also announced that it would use modular construction to build a residential tower at the Atlantic Yard development, situated in Brooklyn, as part of a major overhaul of the Atlantic Terminal Urban Renewal Area.
According to one leader in the design and construction industry, people are slowly warming to use of modular building practices. David J. Burney, the commissioner of the New York City Department of Design and Construction, told the New York Times that despite its traditional lack of status attitudes towards modular building are fundamentally shifting.
“Historically, people have had negative associations with modular construction, and certainly within the design industry it didn’t have much cachet,” he said. “But there has been a sea change, and now there is much less of a distinction over whether a building has been assembled off-site or on-site.”
Developers have been among the first to embrace the potential of modular construction, with Capsys Corp, a manufacturer of steel-frame prefabricated buildings and modular homes based in New York, reporting that it receives “a dozen calls a week” from developers who are interested in what the new technology has to offer.
DeLuxe Building Systems, a veteran in the field pre-fabricated construction, is also working on several projects in New York at present, including an 11-storey rental building in Harlem. The company is also is currently in negotiations with a developer for the construction of two 24-storey rental high rises.
Modular Building Institute and Pratt School of Architecture to Host New York City Modular Construction Summit
With interest in modular building in urban areas on the rise, the Modular Building Institute and Pratt School of Architecture will co-host a Modular Construction Summit in Brooklyn, New York on May 16, 2013, to help distinguish fact from fiction on this construction process.
Do modular buildings last as long as stick built? Are they less expensive? Can they be as attractive as their traditionally built counterparts? While the answer to all of these questions is yes, the summit will provide an opportunity for people to find out exactly why this is the case – and get answers on many more issues.
The event will feature two morning sessions with panels of high-profile architects and builders, as well as the Commissioner for the NYC Department of Design and Construction. In the afternoon, attendees can tour the factory of Capsys Corporation, the modular builder for the My Micro NY project – a 10-story Manhattan apartment building slated for occupancy in 2015.
Tom Hanrahan, Dean of Pratt Institute School of Architecture, will moderate the first morning session: Permanent Modular Construction for Multi-family Applications. Confirmed speakers include James Garrison, sustainable design pioneer and architect with Garrison Architects; Ian Peter Atkins, BIM Application Manager for architecture firm Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates; and Tom O’Hara, Director of Business Development at Capsys Corporation.
The second panel, moderated by Modular Building Institute Executive Director Tom Hardiman, will focus on Modular Solutions for Disaster Relief and Emergency Housing. The confirmed speakers are David Burney, Commissioner, NYC DCC; William Begley, Director, Modular Housing and Hotels, Sea Box Inc.; Douglas Cutler, architect with Douglas Cutler Architects; and Norman Hall, National Manager for Factory Built Structures, Simpson Strong Tie.
Sponsored by Capsys Corporation and open to the general public, the event will take place at Pratt Institute, Higgins Hall Auditorium at 61 St. James Place in Brooklyn. Registration is $25 before May 10, and $35 thereafter. To register, please visit theMBI website.
Industry fights for affordable housing on multiple frontsFeb. 27, 2013
Real Estate Weekly
President, Real Estate Board of New York
New York City needs more affordable housing and the Bloomberg Administration and the real estate industry are working towards ways of achieving that.
Recently, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg announced the winning bid to build a micro-unit apartment development. These new units-the size of a hotel room- will be part of an apartment tower built on city-owned land and would be the first in a wave of tiny apartments aimed at meeting the market need for more studio apartments. This PILOT project is intended to provide lower cost housing units that will enlarge the city’s inventory of housing and become a crucial aspect of new market rate projects in the future.
In addition to micro-units, modular or pre-fabricated construction, which has been around for years, could also become an effective way to address the demand for affordable housing. Building units in a quality-controlled, union run factory for most of the construction process will accelerate development, and increase safety which will make modular building an appealing alternative to conventional construction.
Modular construction is a process by which full sections of a building are built in a fabrication facility and then delivered to a project site where modules are erected and building systems are connected. Thus, construction work is split between the fabrication facility and the actual construction site.
In the past, modular construction did not catch on in New York because it was not designed for multi-family housing which is dominant here and it was antithetical to union labor, which is part of the DNA of New York’s multi-housing construction industry.
These issues were addressed by the Forest City Ratner Company (FCRC) who is using modular methods to build the first residential building at the $4.9 billion Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn. In January, the Real Estate Board of New York testified in favor of modular building and FCRC’s project at a NYC Council Oversight Hearing on the Future of Prefabricated Construction Practices.
FCRC, a REBNY member, has worked tirelessly to adapt this method of construction for the type of multi-family housing that is commonplace in neighborhoods across our city and worked with our colleagues in unionized labor to keep the production of this housing both local and union. REBNY applauds these accomplishments.
Other benefits of modular construction includes less impacts on the surrounding community; reduced traffic with fewer truck trips to and from the construction site since much of the construction is done elsewhere; and 70-90 percent less waste, according to estimates.
FCRC’s project holds the potential for more significant long-term benefits. It could generate demand city-wide and throughout the region for more modular housing. If so, then the 125 union workers at the Brooklyn Navy Yard associated with the FCRC project will only be the beginning.
Modular housing and micro-units can be an important and effective way to address our city’s chronic shortage of affordable housing by bringing the cost of new housing to a level that more New Yorkers can afford.
The Linwood Street building, which is one out of three buildings of our Cypress Village project, was erected in just one day! Joined by the owner and architect plus the local neighborhood residents, I watched in amazement as the building was set in place so quickly. This is just another example of the many important benefits of modular construction.
This rendering is of our next project, Cypress Village. Magnusson Architecture and Planning designed this beautiful building. Cypress Village is being built by Capsys for the Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation. This project will contain two buildings – one on Linwood Ave. and one at Jerome Street both in Cypress Hills, Brooklyn. It will contain eighteen, two bedroom apartment flats. Each 940 SF flat is wholly contained within one 20 foot wide by 47 foot long module – the largest we have ever constructed We’ll post erection photos soon so you can see these big guys flying into position. It should be quite a show.
MAYOR BLOOMBERG ANNOUNCES WINNER OF adAPT NYCCOMPETITION TO DEVELOP INNOVATIVE MICRO-UNIT APARTMENT HOUSING MODEL
Monadnock Development, Actors Fund Housing Development Corporation, and nARCHITECTS Will Build City’s First Micro-Unit Apartment Building Using Innovative Design and Modular Construction
40 Percent of 55 New Units in ‘My Micro NY’ at 335 East 27th Street Will be Available to Low- and Middle-Income New Yorkers
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, Deputy Mayor for Economic Development Robert K. Steel and Department of Housing Preservation and Development Commissioner Mathew M. Wambua announced today that the winner of the adAPT NYC Competition is a development team composed of Monadnock Development LLC, Actors Fund Housing Development Corporation, and nARCHITECTS. The development team was chosen through a competitive Request for Proposals to design, construct and operate the city’s first micro-unit apartment building on a City-owned site at 335 East 27th Street in Manhattan. The development team’s ‘My Micro NY’ project will create 55 new micro-units, 40 percent of which will be affordable beyond the competitive market rents, that are designed to optimize space and maximize the sense of openness. ‘My Micro NY’ will be the first multi-unit building in Manhattan developed using modular construction, with the modules prefabricated locally by Capsys at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. The Mayor made the announcement at the Museum of the City of New York and was joined by Monadnock Development president Nicholas Lembo, Actors Fund Housing Development Corporation president Scott Weiner and nARCHITECTS principal Eric Bunge.
“New York’s ability to adapt with changing times is what made us the world’s greatest city – and it’s going to be what keeps us strong in the 21st Century,” said Mayor Bloomberg. “The growth rate for one- and two-person households greatly exceeds that of households with three or more people, and addressing that housing challenge requires us to think creatively and beyond our current regulations.”
adAPT NYC is a pilot program that was launched in July 2012 through a Request for Proposals to develop a new model of housing – micro-units. The proposals were evaluated on several criteria, including innovative micro-unit layout and building design. The ‘My Micro NY’ proposal excelled in this category, with features like generous 9’-10” floor-to-ceiling heights and Juliette balconies that provide substantial access to light and air. The micro-units developed as part of this pilot will measure between 250 and 370 square feet.
“Mayor Bloomberg is committed to expanding the housing options available to New Yorkers, and with the results of the adAPT project we’ve clearly seen that developers believe there is a robust market for smaller apartment sizes,” said Deputy Mayor for Economic Development Robert K. Steel. “Today’s announcement is a milestone for new housing models.”
“The remarkable number of high-quality responses to the adAPT NYC RFP validates the position that developing micro-unit living is both financially and physically feasible in the New York City landscape,” said HPD Commissioner Mathew M. Wambua. “Monadnock, nARCHITECTS and the Actors Fund HDC came through with an inventive and striking interpretation of the micro-unit concept. The team’s ‘My Micro NY’ proposal is reflective of our objectives and signifies tremendous promise for this housing model. Remarkable things can be accomplished when thinking carefully about how people live and how we can program small spaces to integrate individuals’ lifestyles with common, or shared, space. This is the result when government acts as a catalyst for private sector innovation.”
“The Monadnock proposal is compelling because it clearly demonstrates how careful planning and design innovation can transform a building into a community and a small unit into a home”, said Planning Commissioner Burden. “The adAPT RFP fulfills its promise by providing a tangible new housing option, which has the potential to broaden housing choices for New Yorkers.”
“Our buildings should be built to meet the needs of New Yorkers, and as our population continues to grow and evolve, so must our housing stock,” said Commissioner LiMandri. “The Monadnock proposal is a fresh, innovative design that recognizes the changes in how we live as a society and presents a safe, reasonable housing option for those who want to call New York City home.”
Designed by nARCHITECTS, ‘My Micro NY’ is an elegant building distinguished by the creative use of setbacks and subtle changes in the color of the brick cladding. A multi-purpose and transparently-glazed space on the ground floor will be programed for rehearsals, performances, lectures and other creative activities, in addition to a café. Inside, the efficient apartment design includes ample storage, such as a 16’-long overhead loft space and a full-depth closet. Compact kitchens contain a full-height pull-out pantry, a full-height fridge, range, and space for a convection microwave. The property will include amenities that invite resident interaction, such as an attic garden, a ground-floor porch with picnic tables, den areas, and a multi-purpose lounge. Programmed interior space comprises 18 percent of the building’s gross square footage. The building will also have a laundry room, residential storage, a bike room, and fitness space.
While the variation in unit sizes and configuration is efficiently limited, minor shifts in the building’s volume, and changes in orientation of units, and location and type of windows generate spatial diversity. Each unit is comprised of two distinct zones: a ‘toolbox’ containing a kitchen, bathroom and storage and a ‘canvas’ providing ample, well-proportioned flexible space allowing for individual expression, and serving as the primary living and sleeping area. ‘My Micro NY’ unites a spectrum of scales ranging from efficiently designed kitchens to the organization of the apartments and common space, all in a simple yet iconic building.
The property will include common spaces with amenities which also emphasize a creative use of space, including a rooftop garden, shared lounge areas on nearly every floor to invite resident interaction, and an 8th floor deck for socializing or group fitness activities that has an additional multi-purpose lounge that can seat twenty for dinner or up to forty for a standing room event. The ‘My Micro NY’ building will also have a laundry room, a storage room, a bike room, and a fitness room.
Highly-skilled workers will prefabricate the building modules at Capsys’s indoor facility in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Capsys is the first NYC-approved manufacturer of prefabricated modules. After site work, foundations, utilities, and the construction of the ground floor is completed using traditional methods, the modules would arrive on the site with fixtures and finishes already installed. The modules would be hoisted into place in approximately two weeks and the brick facades would be built on the development site. Residents are expected to move in by September 2015.
“We are grateful to the City and the Department of Housing Preservation and Development for selecting our proposal from such a competitive pool,” said Alphonse Lembo of Monadnock. “We’ve built market-rate and affordable housing in the five boroughs that have given people places to live and make memories, but this is an important opportunity to change the way we think about living space in an urban setting.”
“We are proud to be a member of the development team selected by the Department of Housing Preservation and Development to be at the vanguard of implementing Mayor Bloomberg’s vision to provide a new and innovative option for attractive affordable housing that responds to the changing demographics and preferences of New York City’s residents,” said Scott Weiner, President of the Actors Fund Housing Development Corporation.
“We’re thrilled at the chance of designing a housing prototype that will give New Yorkers in small spaces a sense of living in a larger social fabric” said Eric Bunge, Principal of nARCHITECTS.
The ‘My Micro NY’ building will provide housing to one- and two-person households across a variety of incomes. Twenty percent of the apartments (eleven units) will be reserved for households with incomes not exceeding 80 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI); nine percent (5 units) will be reserved for households with incomes not exceeding 145 percent of AMI; and eleven percent (6 units) will be reserved for households with incomes not exceeding 155 percent of AMI. The remainder of the units will be market rate, along with one superintendent’s unit. The development team was able to achieve affordability in the micro-units for low- and middle-income households without utilizing any direct City subsidy or financing, in part through its use of the modular design, which can significantly reduce a project schedule, resulting in savings on financing and conventional construction costs.
While reviewing the proposals, the City consulted with members of the adAPT NYC Advisory Board, which was created last year. The Board is composed of 12 leaders in architecture and design, housing, and economic development and was assembled to provide feedback on top proposals. Committee members include:
Barry Bergdoll, Chief Curator of Architecture & Design, Museum of Modern Art
Rafael Cestero, President and CEO, Community Preservation Corporation
Tom Eich, Partner, IDEO
Paul Goldberger, Contributing Editor, Vanity Fair
Toni Griffin, Professor of Architecture and Director, J. Max Bond Center at City College of New York
Robert Hammond, Co-Founder and Executive Director, Friends of the High Line
Bjarke Ingels, Architect and Founding Partner, BIG-Bjarke Ingels Group
Janel Laban, Executive Editor, Apartment Therapy
Maya Lin, Artist, Maya Lin Studio
Richard Plunz, Director of the Urban Design Program, Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation
Robert Selsam, Senior Vice President, Boston Properties
Christian Siriano, Fashion Designer, Christian Siriano
The winning proposal and four other notable proposals will be featured in an upcoming exhibit at the Museum of the City of New York called Making Room: New Models for Housing New Yorkers. The exhibit, which is co-presented by the Museum and the Citizens Housing & Planning Council, features creative ideas for how to accommodate the changing demographics of New York City’s population.
“With this exhibition, the Museum of the City of New York and the Citizens Housing & Planning Council are giving New Yorkers a glimpse into the future of housing in our city,” said Susan Henshaw Jones, Ronay Menschel Director of the Museum of the City of New York. “We are excited to showcase proposals from the adAPT NYCCompetition and to foster a discussion of solutions to the city’s emerging housing needs.”
The adAPT NYC Competition was created to introduce additional choices within New York City’s housing market to accommodate the city’s growing population of one- and two-person households.Currently New York City has 1.8 million one- and two-person households, but only one million studios and one-bedrooms. The City’s housing codes have not kept up with its changing population, and currently do not allow an entire building of micro-units. Under this pilot program, Mayor Bloomberg will waive certain zoning regulations at a City-owned site at 335 East 27th Street to test the market for this new housing model. The adAPT NYC RFP was downloaded more than 1,600 times in hundreds of cities domestically and abroad, and generated 33 proposals by the submission deadline – making this the largest response received by HPD for a housing project. It is expected that the project will complete the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure for disposition of City-owned land in the fall and break ground on construction at the end of 2013.
The adAPT NYC initiative is part of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s New Housing Marketplace Plan. The New Housing Marketplace Plan is a multi-billion dollar initiative to finance 165,000 units of affordable housing for half a million New Yorkers by the close of Fiscal Year 2014. To date, every dollar invested by the City, the Plan has leveraged $3.42 in private funding for a total commitment of more than $20 billion to fund the creation or preservation of over 140,920 units of affordable housing across the five boroughs.
Two years ago, Bruce Ratner sought to ease a shrinking budget and appease swarms of critics who lambasted the original rendering for a residential tower at Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn as a “Lego-like” atrocity.
Like a frustrated schoolboy, he punted the plans to erect a set of oddly arranged giant blocks, shoving designer Frank Gehry aside and bringing in a team of modular consultants who—ironically, given the reputation of modular buildings—transformed the blueprint into a much sleeker 32-story structure.
“It will be beautiful,” Mr. Ratner said at the groundbreaking last month. “You do not have to compromise on design when you build modular, and this building will prove that.”
The success of the B2 building, set to become the tallest modular building in the world, will serve as a catalyst for the growth of modular construction among high-rise and commercial buildings, a market that has exploded elsewhere in the world and that modular builders in the United States have hoped to tap into for years.
The project also highlights the growth of modular design across property types throughout New York City, as real estate companies look to trim costs and save time by incorporating modular methods into commercial buildings, using prefabricated façades, paneling, doors, roofing and computerized interfaces.
“There is no such thing as site building anymore,” said Tom O’Hara, director of business development at Capsys Corporation, a modular builder. “Every single site is using prefabricated construction. Something is componentized, whether it’s the roofing or the doors. Modular takes that one step further—it’s the zenith of that process.”
The 32-story, 363-apartment B2, which will almost rub up against the new Barclays Center, is one of 15 modular towers said to be coming to the site. Like other modular buildings, much of it is being manufactured in a factory setting, and it will eventually be hauled nearly two miles from the Brooklyn Navy Yard and snapped together on-site.
It’s unlikely that 32-story modular buildings will begin popping up across the city anytime soon, but Mr. Ratner’s decision shines a spotlight on a building method that has existed for decades.
Proponents of the method have treated modular design as gospel for years, and real estate industry professionals (even those not directly involved in modular building) agree that the cost and time savings afforded in smaller-scale projects translates into larger, taller buildings.
“It’s one of the best-kept secrets in the real estate industry, but I think that this building will change that,” said Amy Marks, owner and president of XSite Modular, the modular consultant on the Atlantic Yards project. “If you’re building a building today and not considering some sort of modular or prefab, you’re missing out on a tremendous value.”
Modular buildings consist of multiple sections, or modules, that are built in a remote facility and then delivered to a construction site and assembled. Because components are created in a factory setting, the method can save time, money and reduce water and energy consumption.
Modular builders procure less-expensive materials from a range of global distributors. While the controlled assembly line-like environment offers factory workers a steady 9 to 5, they are generally paid much less than their on-site counterparts. On-site carpenters earn as much as $50 more in wages and benefits, some experts said.
Consultants on the B2 project have said modular design will shave 10 months off of the 28-month construction schedule, and others said a fully modular design could cut the schedule by as much as 50 percent.
“Whether that means hospital are getting patients into beds sooner, or landlords getting tenants faster, that makes a big difference,” Ms. Marks said.
The B2 isn’t the first building to thrust modular design into the public eye. In 2009, a 24-story, $34 million high-rise dormitory was completed in Wolverhampton, England, in less than 12 months, becoming the tallest modular building in Europe. And several years ago, China set off a firestorm in the industry when it started building modular hotels and completing the projects in a matter of days.
The 902 modules used in the Wolverhampton tower and adjacent low-rise units were constructed in Cork, Ireland, before being transported to the construction site, culminating in 657 student bedrooms and 157 postgraduate apartments. The construction would have taken twice as long using conventional on-site methods, its developers said at the time.
The new 69,000-square-foot mid-rise Lehman College Science Building, designed by Perkins + Will, is another modular building drawing attention locally; it is expected to become the first LEED-certified building in the City University of New York system. The 13,000-square-foot Lehman College Child Care Center, designed by Garrison Architects and completed last year, is also modular.
But prefabrication techniques are also being incorporated into conventional buildings throughout New York City, even if the buildings’ structure itself isn’t modular, with builders using factories with lower costs to prefabricate kitchens, bathrooms, paneling and the like. Others are being built as hybrids between modular and conventional buildings.
For example, the Cambria Suites Hotel, being built by Capsys Corporation in White Plains, N.Y., will stack five modular hotel suites atop three site-built floors. Last summer, the firm also built the MacDougal Street Apartments, a six-story, 65-unit supportive housing facility at 330 MacDougal Street in Brooklyn—which took a total of 12 days to complete. The firm’s factory employs about 70 workers year round, five days a week.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s raining, it doesn’t matter if it’s snowing. And all of their tools are right there. It’s very comfortable work compared to on-site construction work,” Mr. O’Hara said. “Those trade guys work hard and they earn their money … it’s hard being a trade guy. We try to streamline it and make it good work for people, make it comfortable.”
Whilemodular building dates back at least a century, it gained national attention as troops returned home after World War II, when it became the preferred building method for housing in rural and suburban settings across the United States.
The 1960s and 1970s gave rise to more complicated designs as consumer demands became more sophisticated, and in the 1980s, even more intricate modular homes began to take shape across the Northeast, in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and, to a lesser degree, New York.
“The New Jersey suburbs are full of beautiful, custom-designed houses that were executed in modular factories,” Mr. O’Hara said.
Slowly, modular seeped into the commercial industry, becoming popular for building low- to mid-rise structures—affordable housing, hospitals and other medical facilities, schools and office complexes—with companies like Capsys, Deluxe Building Systems and NRB among those paving the way in the Northeast.
But it was buildings like the one in Wolverhampton and those in China that highlighted the dreams of modular hopefuls and captured real estate’s collective psyche, slowly convincing developers like Mr. Ratner that modular is viable for high-rise buildings. Mr. Ratner admitted that a YouTube video of the 15-story Ark Hotel being erected in China in two days (the building was ultimately completed in six) was the last straw.
“That was the icing on the cake,” Mr. Ratner told The New York Observer in December 2012.
In December 2011, Broad Sustainable Building Corporation, the same company that built the Ark, completed the 183,000-square-foot, 30-story Tower Hotel just outside Yueyang in China’s Hunan Province in 15 days. It was reportedly built to withstand a magnitude-9.0 earthquake.
Given the space constraints in a city as densely packed as New York City, transporting modular buildings to certain parts of the city is simply impossible—and adding modular components into a renovation project can be a insurmountable challenge as well (imagine trying to haul four stories of a Midtown high-rise through the Holland Tunnel, or hoisting fully constructed kitchens into an existing office building).
But most agree that incorporating at least certain elements of modular design is beneficial, with firms across the city opening up to the idea.
“It’s something that needs to be embraced, just like any other option we have in our arsenal,” said Scott Spector, a principal at the architectural firm Spector Group. “I think there are pieces of it we can use, and we’ve definitely incorporated it, but it depends on the aesthetics and the type of space.”
Mr. Spector believes warehouse and suburban office environments are ideal for modular building. It also has its place in larger commercial buildings, in terms of sophisticated video teleconferencing or “telepresence” units, and for certain specialty conference rooms that incorporate glass partitioning not built on-site.
“You would never know it wasn’t built on-site with five different trades coming in,” Mr. Spector said. “Instead the panels are made in a factory … and there’s no way you can tell if it was done on-site.”
But Mr. Spector remains skeptical about its use in commercial high-rise buildings. The “menu” of options a modular builder can provide often do not fulfill the requirements of owners—or the creative aspirations of conventional architects, he said. It’s something like being limited to the dollar menu at McDonald’s—it’s definitely cheaper, but it’s not surf and turf.
“You lose the more detailed design and customization options, and that is one of the things that make modular design difficult in a commercial setting,” he said. “I just can’t tell you that they would give me all of the options that I want … it doesn’t lend itself to the type of architecture on these custom-designed office buildings being built in the city.”
Some union workers fear that the rise of modular skyscrapers could mean fewer hours as they’re replaced by factory workers. Forest City Ratner worked closely with New York City building trade unions to address those concerns, striking an agreement that B2’s fabrication facility will employ 125 union workers earning $55,000 per year (about 25 percent below the average construction wage).
The B2 agreement reflects an “innovative approach to development that will allow us to realize the vision of the Atlantic Yards project and create traditional construction jobs that may otherwise have been at risk,” said Gary LaBarbera, president of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York, when the deal was announced.
Mr. O’Hara, the director of business development at Capsys Corporation, agreed.
“To a certain degree, our people used to work in the field,” he said. “There’s no reason a carpenter or electrician working in the field can’t come work for a company like ours.”
Our prayers go out to those who have been affected by our recent hurricane Sandy disaster. As people look toward rebuilding efforts, many folks have called us here at Capsys. Modular construction is obviously stronger and inherently more “floor resistant” to use a FEMA phrase simply due to the suite of materials we use and to the strength we build into our modules due to our transport requirements. However, more than just the materials to be used in the new structure need to be considered. The supporting foundation system should also be modified when building in flood-prone areas.
We decided to post two documents here about both design considerations and about substructure considerations. The first is a FEMA document published in 2008 entitled “FEMA Flood Resistant Materials” which discussed various options you might consider including in your reconstruction efforts. The second is a reprint from “Structure Magazine” called FEMA 550 and is an article that attempts to interpret a very technical FEMA structural engineering document so we non-engineers can understand it.
Please continue to call us with any questions you have and we will continue to try to assist our neighbors who received damage from Sandy.