By Raanan Geberer
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Ending speculation about whether Forest City Ratner would build its first Atlantic Yards housing tower with off-site “modular” construction, the giant real estate firm this week announced that it has signed a $117 million contract with construction firm Skanska USA to build the tallest modular building in the U.S.
The building, known formally as “B2,” was designed by SHoP Architects. The same firm designed Barclays Center, the centerpiece of Atlantic Yards.
The new building will sit at the intersection of Dean Street and Flatbush Avenue and have 363 units, 50 percent of which will are slated to be low, moderate and middle-income homes. The remaining 50 percent will be market rate.
Forest City Ratner plans to break ground on the 32-story building on Dec. 18, and anticipates that the building will open in 2014.
Last year, Forest City announced that it was considering the modular option, but that it would consider conventional building techniques as well.
John Dolan, an executive with Skanska and an engineer, told the Eagle that the firm built a two-story prototype, consisting of six modules, inside its warehouse at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
While modular construction – which some people have likened to a giant erector set – hasn’t yet been used for a building of this height, it is increasingly common in the construction industry, says Dolan.
“We have done a complete arrangement for some buildings, and have done parts for other buildings. For hospitals, we’ve pre-manufactured out-patient rooms, bathrooms, then shipped them to the site,” he says.
Modular buildings can also be found in our own metropolitan area.
For example, Garrison Architects, headed by James Garrison, assistant adjunct profession of Pratt Institution, has designed a “modular day care center” for Lehman College in the Bronx, a prototype of “high-performance modular housing,” the Hzingo Town Houses, in Bedford-Stuyvesant, the Rutgers University Counseling Center and more.
Answering often-voiced safety concerns, Dolan said, “When you look at this, strip away the architectural areas and look at the superstructure, it’s no different than a normal superstructure.”
The new building will meet New York City building codes, he added, and Skanska officials have met several times with official of the Department of Buildings.
FCRC and Skanska USA have formed a new company called FC + Skanska Modular, LLC (FCS Modular), that will build the modular components in a 100,000 square-foot space in the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
Initially, some observers feared that the modular option would take away jobs from union workers.
However, Forest City and Skanska estimate that there will be 125 unionized workers employed at the fabrication facility beginning in late spring. The modular workers will be organized into a new division of the Building and Construction Trades Council.
The Architectural Record said the new arrangement followed “protracted negotiations with the unions” about the number of workers needed. Although a union spokesman acknowledged that the modular workers will be paid less than conventional construction workers, according to the Record, the union saw the opportunity to get in on the ground floor of an emerging industry.
“We’ve been occupying a portion of our Navy Yard warehouse for six months,” said Dolan. “We have 120,000 square feet of inside storage space and 100,000 square feet of outside storage space.”
MaryAnne Gilmartin, executive vice president at Forest City Ratner, said that the firm explored modular construction, in part, because of the financial squeeze caused by the recession.
“Two years ago, due to the financial environment and other issues, we undertook intensive research and development to explore the feasibility of modular and to infuse technologically modern means of construction in our design and construction methods.
“We believe we’ve achieved a significant break through that will allow us to create world-class design and keep our commitment to union labor and deliver a significant amount of affordable housing,” she said.