world’s tallest prefab steel structure for first affordable tower

March 20, 2011

Critic Lange: Maybe Gehry’s design was kinda modular, too…

Atlantic Yards Report:

…In Bad Faith Towers, Design Observer’s Alexandra Lange makes the connection between the Times’s graphic, for illustrative purposes, of a pre-fabricated, modular tower that might be built at the Atlantic Yards site, and a Frank Gehry rendering of the arena block, which looks pretty darn modular.

She writes:

Are we so desperate for affordable housing (again, the recession changes everything) that we will take a chance on untested building technology? Who gets to be the guinea pig on the 34th floor? Surely Forest City Ratner did not want this news out the week of the Japanese quake.

…Surely Ratner will tart up the prefab units with some cast concrete lintels and blown-up brownstone details, and call them contextual. But the truth is, the Times rendering is not so far from the boxy stacks Gehry proposed after the billowing Miss Brooklyn proved too costly. As with the disappointing 8 Spruce Street, there’s a thin value engineered line between industrial production and genius.


Big savings, but promised Union jobs, tax revenues lost, and new risks at Brooklyn Atlantic Yards… The problem here is this government intervening project was supposed to create jobs, but cost cuts save the project without creating the promised jobs. This is why you don’t want the government taking private property away!

In what seems to be a desperate–or maybe innovative–effort to save money and time, Forest City Ratner may build the world’s tallest modular structure to deliver the affordable housing long promised as an Atlantic Yards benefit.

In doing so, however, FCR would establish its own factory to manufacture the components, severely cutting expected on-site union jobs, and presumably cutting deeply into projected tax revenues, thus upending the always optimistic estimates of project benefits.

FCR’s Lego-like solution would severely antagonize union construction workers who, fulfilling requests by the developer and their own leadership, fervently and sometimes obnoxiously backed the project at rallies and public hearings.
And the bait-and-switch would continue a pattern of renegotiating contracts in order to save money.
For example, FCR in 2005 bid $100 million in cash for the rights to build on the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Vanderbilt Yard, only to renegotiate the contract in 2009, paying only $20 million out of the $100 million pledged, with 22 years to pay the rest.
Also, in building a 34-story tower at first, FCR would take risks by venturing into a construction technology that is still developing, the current record-holder only rises 25 stories..
A scoop for the Times
Charles Bagli of the New York Times, who has paid intermittent attention to the project but is a go-to guy for scoops, has the story, headlined Prefabricated Tower May Rise at Brooklyn’s Atlantic Yards:

In a bid to cut costs at his star-crossed Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn, the developer Bruce C. Ratner is pursuing plans to erect the world’s tallest prefabricated steel structure, a 34-story tower that would fulfill his obligation to start building affordable housing at the site.
The prefabricated, or modular, method he would use, which is untested at that height, could cut construction costs in half by saving time and requiring substantially fewer and cheaper workers. And the large number of buildings planned for the $4.9 billion Atlantic Yards — 16 in all, not including the Nets arena now under construction — could also make it economical for the company to run its own modular factory, where walls, ceilings, floors, plumbing and even bathrooms and kitchens could be installed in prefabricated steel-frame boxes.
The 34-story building, with roughly 400 apartments, would comprise more than 900 modules that would be hauled to Atlantic Yards, lifted into place by crane and bolted together at the corner of Flatbush Avenue and Dean Street, next to the arena.

The current record-holder

The tallest modular building in the world, according to a 9/2/09 article in Building Design and Construction, is Victoria Hall, a 25-story apartment tower in Wolverhampton, England. A 9/21/09 article in National Real Estate Investor (source of the photo) calls it 24 stories.
Note the prefab appearance. Does Forest City Ratner’s claim that buzzy firm SHoP will design the building apply to the modular units? Or, more likely, would SHoP merely graft a “skin” on the building, as with the Ellerbe Becket arena?
Some flaws
The Times suggests that tall modular buildings require significant bracing, but modular buildings can have their flaws. A 3/26/08 Times article describes a modular building at Yale University that was built in 2004:

“They tried to blend in the appearance of the building with what’s here already,” said Martin Dominguez, a first-year medical student who was also an undergraduate at Yale and has lived in the modular building for 18 months. “They did a reasonably good job, though the building obviously looks pretty modern relative to the other architecture.”
Mr. Dominguez said he was not happy with the quality of the dormitory’s construction — some of the walls do not quite fit together and the floor is uneven in the bathroom, he said.

However, the Times reported, campus housing administrators at another college were impressed with the work and decided to go the modular route.
The benefits of modular
The Modular Building Institute, a trade group, explains that Modular Delivers More than Speed to Completion:

Commercial modular buildings are cutting-edge facilities of the highest quality, efficiency, endurance, and design: cost-effective permanent and temporary buildings that respond to ever-changing demands…
Today, multi-story, multi-unit buildings can be constructed in a factory from steel and concrete. The units, shipped to the site either on a flatbed trailer or on their own axles and tires, are craned into place and joined on site. Once completed, these high-end, factory-built buildings are indistinguishable from site-built construction. There generally are no visual or structural differences whatsoever….
The advantages of modular construction remain the same, however. Commercial modular structures are built in a climate- and quality-controlled environment, where savings of as much as 50% in overall construction time are not uncommon.

Ratner savings, union tensions
The Times reported that Forest City has been designing both a conventional tower and a modular one, and is looking for sites in Long Island City for a factory:

“The company is interested in modular, high-rise construction in an urban setting,” [FCR’s] Ms. [Maryanne] Gilmartin said. “It’s driven by cost and efficiencies.”
But it would also infuriate the construction workers who were Mr. Ratner’s most ardent supporters during years of stormy community meetings, where they drowned out neighborhood opponents with chants of, “Jobs, jobs, jobs.”

The Times notes that Forest City promised Atlantic Yards would generate “upwards of 17,000 union construction jobs.” Actually, that’s job-years, so 1700 jobs a year over ten years or, more likely, many fewer jobs a year over a much longer period of time, perhaps 25 years.
The Times reports:

Not to worry, Ms. Gilmartin said, “We’re a union shop, and we build union.”
But under current wage scales, union workers earn less in a factory than they do on-site. A carpenter earns $85 an hour in wages and benefits on-site, but only $35 an hour in a factory.

Need for a cost-benefit analysis
Gilmartin should be asked to estimate the actual number of expected jobs, as well as the total in wages. Or the Empire State Development Corporation should do so.
Such numbers should be plugged into the cost-benefit analyses conducted by the city, state, and Independent Budget Office.
Forest City is clearly under pressure to fulfill its obligations and make its expected profits. City officials denied a request for $10 million in additional housing subsidies.
Going to 34 stories?
A firm located in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, Capsys, states that its system is good for 12 stories:

Our system of structural steel framing, concrete floors, and steel-framed walls is ideal for projects as high as 12 stories. Our in-house engineering group is capable of designing modular structures that fit the floor plan of almost any residential building.

Those quoted by the Times say taller buildings are possible, but pose challenges:

“At a smaller scale, prefab buildings have proven to be more efficient, more sustainable and less expensive,” said Thomas Hanrahan, dean of Pratt Institute’s School of Architecture. “The taller the building, the logistical and structural issues become much more complex.”

Keeping the arena block quieter
Unmentioned in the Times: prefab construction would clearly make it easier to build towers around the arena while conducting arena activities.
After all, cranes would be at the site for less time, and fewer workers would be at the site, as well.

Developer Bruce Ratner recently revealed the latest design for his proposed new Nets basketball arena in Prospect Heights, part of a controversial project that also includes 16 residential and office towers. The third version of the 675,000-square-foot Atlantic Yards arena was created by local SHoP Architects and Kansas City-based Ellerbe Becket.

The Brooklyn development project has restored some of the ideas of Frank Gehry, the original designer. Earlier this summer he was replaced with Ellerbe Becket, whose preliminary designs elicited howls of protest.

According to the associated press, the price for the project is 800 million USD, reduced from an earlier estimate of 1 billion USD.
To defer additional costs, Mr. Ratner has divided up the design. ‘The arena will be built first, and then,’ he says, ‘the foundations for the residential and commercial buildings will be dug, once he is ready to start the next stage of construction.’

In Mr. Gehry’s original design, all of the structures were conceived as part of a single cohesive scheme.

For further information read the New York Times article here.


Green Design looks like an Eminent Domain Shit Sandwich – SHoP Architects Alters Design For Barclays Center

October 1, 2010

 cough cough cough…. sure

barclays center plaza, barclays center, atlantic yards, green roof, shop architects, brooklyn, new york city
The Plaza in front of the Barclays Center for Atlantic Yards is located at the busy intersection of Flatbush and Atlantic Avenues, and it will serve as the main entrance to the arena. When designing the plaza, SHoP’s main focus was on creating a smooth, flowing area centered around transit and pedestrian traffic. The roof of the subway entrance will feature Sedum plantings that will compliment several other planters spread throughout the plaza. Seating around the plaza and planters will be made from Ipe wood.In addition to the green roof subway entrance, the updated plaza will feature a large covered area at the entrance of the arena with a giant oculus (read: hole in the roof), which will include a state-of-the-art display screen that can be programmed for games, events and other activities on the plaza.

I thought they were designing it for the Jolly Green Giant to light his farts on fire

Currently, there is a lot of debate and contention regarding Atlantic Yards and the Barclays Center, and a small green roof and transit-oriented design don’t do a whole lot to reduce the footprint of the massive development. Is it a peace offering or a necessity to make the space work? In other news, that affordable housing the developers promised is supposedly not gonna happen.
+ Barclays Center
+ SHoP Architects
Via Gothamist

Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz could be headed to China to help developer Bruce Ratner trade green cards for cash for his Atlantic Yards project, our Erin Durkin reports:

tiny markowitz hat.jpg

Markowitz is waiting for the OK from the city Conflicts of Interest Board to accompany Ratner’s delegation on the trip, which kicks off Oct. 11.
The New York City Regional Center invited Markowitz on the trip and would pick up the tab, his spokeswoman said.
It’s part of the EB-5 visa program, which offers up green cards to foreigners who invest $500,000 in a project that creates or saves at least 10 jobs.
The federal government sets aside 3000 a year for such deep-pocketed investors.
Ratner is looking to lure 498 Chinese investors for a total of $250 million in financing for the new Nets arena and 16 tower project. The money could go to pay off land loans or build the new railyard that Ratner has to put up for the Long Island Rail Road.
Markowitz spokeswoman Laura Sinagra said: “Part of his role is to encourage investment in Brooklyn, and this program is designed to bring investors to the table for projects that create jobs. As the person who came up with the original idea of bringing major league sports back to Brooklyn and one of the biggest supporters of Atlantic Yards, he obviously believes this project is worthy of investment, and is seeking guidance from the Conflicts of Interest Board on the possibility of accompanying the group.”

The trip was first reported by prolific Atlantic Yards blogger Norman Oder, who has questioned whether raking in Chinese cash for the project, already under construction, should really count as creating or saving jobs.

Daniel Goldstein to tell you why this sucks:

Today the developer unveiled designs for an outdoor “public plaza” where the tower and atrium structure were promised, and told reporters at a press conference that his firm has no plans to build 15 of the 16 towers he promised to build, which would include nearly all of the “affordable” housing Ratner used to sell his plans to Mayor Bloomberg, Governor Paterson and a long list of other politicians.
“Ratner’s not-so-pretty drawings of a barricaded, exhaust-enveloped plaza—including the absurd rendered fantasy of a traffic-less Atlantic and Flatbush intersection—is not the Atlantic Yards news of the day. The news of day, which is not surprising but is very troubling, is that Bruce Ratner admitted that he has no plans whatsoever to build the affordable housing he promised or the office tower he promised. It is crystal clear that Atlantic Yards is nothing but a scam, a money-losing arena, surrounded by massive parking lots, in the middle of a housing and unemployment crisis,” said Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn co-founder Daniel Goldstein.

I can’t see any reason why any organization would want to hold an event here…much less outdoors trapped between the exhaust of Flatbush and Atlantic Avenues. Rarely have I seen a less impressive design and a worse use of Eminent Domain. It is also alarming what measure government is claiming creates jobs or removes urban blight. I see little cohesion with any community whatsoever.