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Modular Construction being used more for Multi-family Housing

According to no less an authority than the New York Times, Modular Construction is being used more and more in the NYC area for Multi-family construction. And who are we to argue with the NYT?  We thought this was a good survey article about the state of our industry in the New York area. We at Capsys have been building Multi-family building for years.  We hope you enjoy the article.

 

Prefab Lives!

By ALLISON ARIEFF
 
http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/05/23/prefab-lives/?emc=eta1
 
SHoP ArchitectsB2 by SHoP Architects is the first of three new residential towers planned for Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn. At 32 stories, it will be the tallest modular building in the world.

It’s an exciting time for modular building, especially in New York, and as someone who has been deeply immersed in the world of prefabrication for over a decade, I am glad to see the much-maligned building technology finding its proper niche. It’s the killer app for the modular industry.

B2, a 32-story tower that is part of a 1,500-unit, mixed-use complex designed by SHoP Architects for Brooklyn’s Atlantic Yards, will soon be the tallest modular building in the world. nARCHITECTS recently won adaptNYC’s competition to design a micro-unit apartment building, and will see its concept transformed into a 10-story building by 2015. It will be the first multiunit building in Manhattan to be built with modular construction. A variety of housing types, from single-family to midrise/mixed-use buildings, characterizes the over 300,000 square feet of modular housing that GRO Architects is designing in Jersey City and Baltimore. And THE STACK by GLUCK+, one of New York City’s first prefabricated steel and concrete residential buildings, will provide the city with 28 moderate-income apartments.

The Stack by GLUCK+ was one of New York City’s first prefabricated steel and concrete residential buildings and offers a new model for sustainable construction.
GLUCK+The Stack by GLUCK+ was one of New York City’s first prefabricated steel and concrete residential buildings and offers a new model for sustainable construction.

None of these architects are “prefab” architects, they’ve simply determined that for these projects, prefab makes the most sense. It’s the ideal application in terms of efficiency when building higher density and with that, the larger quantities of repetitive units.

Jackson Green in Jersey City, N.J., by GRO Architects features 22 attached single-family townhomes, which use modular construction to achieve sustainable and affordable housing.
GRO ArchitectsJackson Green in Jersey City, N.J., by GRO Architects features 22 attached single-family townhomes, which use modular construction to achieve sustainable and affordable housing.

As GRO’s Nicole Robertson says, “There is sheer economy of scale that emerges as we build a dense multifamily project, and it is the integration of digital technology on both the design and fabrication side that make the end product sustainable.”

Modular construction not only makes construction more precise, sustainable and economically efficient, it can help relieve New Yorkers (and of course, any other urban inhabitants) of the typical congestion and extended construction times associated with conventional building practices. “We believe a modular approach to high-rise housing will lead to a better quality of life for communities living near and around modular-based building sites,” says Gregg Pasquarelli, architect and principal of SHoP Architects. “Why shouldn’t we use assembly line techniques to build higher quality buildings? Modular construction offers the possibility of safer sites and better-manufactured buildings at standard construction costs. It’s a win-win proposition.”

nARCHITECTS’ Ammr Vandal concurs. Her firm’s micro-unit, she says, “makes a big impact with small moves. The smaller units are complemented by residential amenities provided in the building, promoting the concept of living beyond one’s four walls.”

Microunits in New York City designed by nARCHITECTS.
nARCHITECTSMicrounits in New York City designed by nARCHITECTS.

In contrast to regular old housing construction, which happens pretty much the same way it has for decades, if not a century, prefab has long been promising better design and innovation and — the key to its intrigue — a more affordable path to good architecture.

Much of that effort has been directed toward the design of single-family homes, what The Wall Street Journal described in 2004 as a “push to turn houses that come on trucks into objets d’art.” But using prefab for single-family homes, given the reality of current trends in financing, construction and development, will never quite achieve the desired goals of efficiency, affordability and good design. One custom prefab home is expensive and complicated to produce; the second one, less so. But it’s not until one can get to say, 20 or more homes that we’re looking at a new way of building. So single-family prefab remains largely in the realm of the prototype. Almost without exception, the wheel is at least partially reinvented every time.

Just over a decade ago, when I published my book “Prefab,” the potential for factory fabrication to improve housing was tenable (and explains why so many architects have been obsessed with taking on the challenge). But after I evangelized for years after about prefab’s transformative potential — including, while I was editor in chief of Dwell magazine, the introduction of an international home-design competition to design a modern affordable prefab home, which in turn led to the development of a line of Dwell-licensed prefab homes — one thing became clear to me: Prefab is best utilized in the design and construction not of single-family homes but of multifamily housing.

In 2004, over 500 people traveled to Pittsboro, N.C., to preview the Dwell Home by Resolution: 4 Architecture.
Bryan BurkhartIn 2004, over 500 people traveled to Pittsboro, N.C., to preview the Dwell Home by Resolution: 4 Architecture.

Absent economies of scale, the dreamed-of cost savings are basically impossible to achieve. Imagine building a custom car on a Ford assembly line and you can get a sense of how that might work. The repetition involved in creating a multi-unit building simply aligns with prefab’s capabilities in a way that single-family homebuilding does not.

Though prefabrication has a long history of capturing the public imagination dating at least as far back as Sears, Roebuck & Co., which sold nearly 100,000 houses by mail between 1908 and 1940, it has run up against numerous obstacles, from financing to factory standards to social stigma. And, despite a MoMA retrospective in 2008, that hasn’t changed much in recent years. The economic downturn of the mid-2000s decimated every part of the housing industry, and prefab was no exception. “When the credit market collapsed so, too, did the prefab market,” Leo Marmol of Marmol Radziner Architects (whose firm had been part of the Dwell prefab competition) told me recently. His firm, which had acquired and then shut down its factory facility) is today busy focusing on custom design work, using prefab only rarely.

Resolution: 4 Architecture is doing a healthy business in prefab homes like the Dune Road Beach House, which survived Hurricane Sandy with nary a scratch. They have been getting more and more queries for multi-family projects of late.
Resolution: 4 ArchitectureResolution: 4 Architecture is doing a healthy business in prefab homes like the Dune Road Beach House, which survived Hurricane Sandy with nary a scratch. They have been getting more and more queries for multi-family projects of late.

It’s not that architects shouldn’t use factory fabrication to design and build homes. Many do with great results. Yet architect-designed homes account for a scant 5 to 7 percent of the nation’s housing stock, architect-designed prefab ones even less. Multifamily opens the door for those numbers to increase. According to Joseph Tanney, the architect and principal of Resolution: 4, which focuses now on single-family prefab but is getting numerous inquiries about multifamily these days for everything from dorms to micro-units, “The residential modular industry is salivating at the prospect of building more multifamily projects. It’s a natural extension to think in terms of aggregation of the modules into higher density patterns, both architecturally and economically.

“I don’t think that they are just now discovering prefab for multifamily,” he continues. “It’s just taking time for it to evolve into a higher level of design.”

It’s a natural evolution for architects to seriously (once again) contemplate the use of prefab in multifamily applications. Thus far, other building sectors — commercial, institutional — have been, frankly, more innovative, more willing to embrace new tools like parametric software, which is used to create 3-D models that help orient buildings for optimal energy efficiency. Residential is playing catch-up on this and it’s about time.

More innovation in factory-produced housing, says GRO’s Robertson, “prevents the cookie-cutter sameness often associated with the process and allows for novel architectural form, nuance and variation” as well as efficiency. This is critical to moving from highly individuated single-family home design to multifamily buildings where individuality can find architectural expression.

Now that the market for housing has rebounded and indeed is booming in some cities, multifamily prefab makes sense for many reasons. The demand for rental housing is rapidly increasing as the interest in home ownership has waned post-housing bust. For the first time ever, California cities are seeing the need for more multifamily housing over single-family homes. And a recent study by Smart Growth America that examined three distinct housing development types revealed that mixed-use infill (when buildings are constructed to occupy the space between existing ones) produced 1,150 times more net tax revenue per acre than suburban development. The sort of community a growing percentage of the population is seeking takes the form of a denser, walkable urban neighborhood. Prefab can make that happen more quickly, efficiently and economically than conventional construction — and increasingly, it’s doing exactly that.

More Modular Buzz

IT’S A MOD, MOD, MOD, MOD WORLD

 

Forest City Ratner’s modular building in Brooklyn garnered big headlines last year, but aspects of modular construction are becoming increasingly common across the city–and the world

By Al Barbarino 7:00am

http://commercialobserver.com/

madworld

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.”

While modular 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.”

 http://commercialobserver.com/2013/01/its-a-mod-mod-mod-modular-world/

NY1 about Modular Construction

 

By: Monica Brown

Modular construction may soon catch on in the city, but a Brooklyn factory has been building homes, floor to ceiling, for 16 years. NY1′s Monica Brown filed the following report.

 

Modular construction can have a house almost entirely built in a factory. The pieces are brought on trucks to their final destination, and the finishing touches can be done on-site. This method could mean big cost savings for the Big Apple, where experts say construction costs are skyrocketing.

“Housing is becoming out of reach for too many New Yorkers,” says New York Building Congress President Richard Anderson. “And if this could bring down the cost somewhat, then a significant sector of the New York City population might have a chance to buy or to rent an apartment.”

In Fort Greene, Brooklyn, Capsys Corp. has been building modular homes for 16 years in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Its affordable housing units, assisted living facilities, hotels and more other buildings are dropped off at sites in all five boroughs and beyond.

Company officials say the average savings can be 5 to 20 percent with modular construction, and that business has been picking up a lot in the last several years.

“Some of that is because we’re coming out of the recession and we’re seeing more activity, but a lot of is it really is just catching on. We like to say that we’re the oldest brand-new idea in construction,” says Tom O’Hara, the director of marketing at Capsys.

Forest City Ratner Corporation might also be trying to change minds. It announced last year that it may look to build the world’s largest modular tower at Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn. The company declined to be interviewed for this story.

But New York Building Congress officials tell NY1 that project, and other modulars like it, might go a long way toward helping to keep New York’s building industry competitive.

“Innovation in the construction industry is always important because we’re the highest cost construction market in the country, and we are encouraging our members to look for ways to economize, to look to do things differently, and in a better way,” says Anderson.

http://www.ny1.com/content/ny1_living/real_estate/170975/bit-by-bit–builders-come-to-appreciate-modular-construction

 

Brooklyn Buzzing about Modular Construction at Atlantic Yards

You’ve probably heard by now that developer Bruce Ratner and his Forest City Ratner development group want to build their 1600-unit Atlantic Yards project using modular construction.  We’re not surprised and we wish him well.  Capsys has been supplying hundreds of modular buildings to many developers for over 16 years using modular construction.  We believe in the combination of factory built precision and compressed schedule that modular construction can provide.  It offers a tremendous opportunity to both large developers like Mr. Rattner and to mid-sized developers alike.

The Atlantic Yards apartment buildings would be up to 50 stories in height and would be the tallest modular buildings in the world.  We applaud the Forest City group for attempting to stretch the horizon of modular construction.  Our Capsys structural system is approved up to 12 stories.  We have proven, cost effective system which time and time again has been successful for developers of projects as small as 20,000 SF and as large as 400,000 SF.     

If you would like to explore modular construction for your next project, give us a call.