Friday, December 9, 2016

Modular's Moment Of Reckoning

An experimental modular skyscraper holds lessons for the future of prefab . . . and the building industry in general.

32 story.jpg

Prefabrication has been an architecture industry obsession for decades, a promising technique in the race to build better, faster, and stronger. In the dogged quest to use this technique, architects and developers have run into problem after problem, yet still remain unflinchingly confident that prefab is the path to the building of the future—as shown at 461 Dean, the 32-story modular high-rise designed by SHoP Architects and built by developer Forest City Ratner Corporation (FCRC).

Though it made headlines for aspiring to be the tallest prefab tower in the world, the building became a boondoggle, plagued by lawsuits, allegations of a flawed design, and stop-work orders that put the building years behind schedule. The project finally wrapped up construction in November, a staggering two years behind schedule.

After so many problems and delays, do the architects and developers believe prefab is still the panacea for our urban housing crisis? Co.Design spoke with SHoP and FCRC for a post-mortem on the project—and to find out what the future holds for modular design in the context of tall buildings.

It's an overly simplistic analogy, but constructing a modular building is a lot like snapping together Lego bricks. In a traditional structure, contractors erect the structure from the ground up on the building site; in a modular design, the structure is broken down into smaller sections—modules, which can be different sizes and shapes—that are built and finished in a factory, slotted into a brace frame, and bolted together. Then the units are all wired for mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems.

"Modular design as a concept is sort of the holy grail for architects," says Susi Yu, executive vice president of residential development for FCRC.

CLICK HERE to read the entire insightful look at modular’s next frontier, the skyscraper.

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