Has the Failed B2 Tower Ruined Large-Scale Prefab Housing for the City?

Posted On Mon, October 27, 2014 By

Posted On Mon, October 27, 2014 By In Architecture, Green Design, New Developments

Photo © Field Condition

Prefab housing has taken the world by storm in the last years, lauded for its low cost and flexibility, with buildings ranging from single-family homes to art schools popping up across the globe. But not until Forest City Ratner’s plan for B2 BKLYN have we seen an attempt to build a large-scale module tower topping out at 32-stories—the world’s tallest prefab tower.

It’s well known that the project has been a big flop; construction was far slower than originally projected and was halted in August amidst disputes between the builder, Skansa USA, and the developer, Forest City Ratner. In September lawsuits went flying, both pointing fingers as to why the whole thing failed. Forest City blamed the execution of the plan, while Skanska said the design was flawed. Fast-forward to today, and the work on the tower has been shut down with only 10 stories erected. A recent WSJ article looks at where the whole thing went awry, and more importantly: Is pre-fab construction even feasible at such a scale?

Resolution 4 Architecture, Bronx Box, infill housing, prefab, modular housing, bronx architectureBronx Box by Resolution: 4 Architecture was built from two modules

Green builders and architects have used modules to build homes for decades. This method of construction has long been an excellent way to deliver a beautiful home at a low cost, and firms such as Blu Homes, Lindal Homes, LO-TEK and Resolution: 4 Architecture have found great success doing so. When B2 was initiated, it was hoped the tower could deliver the same results, providing a new model for affordable housing that could be employed all throughout our city. Though good-intentioned, and green to boot, its ambitious height has proved to be its biggest downfall.

Though the bracing technique used in the by SHoP Architects-designed B2 tower has been successful in other projects of lower heights, the ambitious 32 stories proved to be the beast. Modular buildings can be self-supporting, without requiring additional structural supports to about the 12- or 14-story level, but taller than that, they require additional steel or concrete bracing, experts tell the WSJ.

The building system is not as simple as stacking blocks like Lego; steel compresses under heavy loads, columns get shorter and beams bend more and more with each story. Tolerances need to extremely tight to account for this, and there is much less give than with a standard construction. When a few pieces don’t fit into the frame, the whole structure is in jeopardy. Trying to predict these tolerances for a 32-story tower in a factory off-site is extremely difficult.

In a separate story, The Atlantic Yards Report blog points to Skanska’s 146-page letter, addressed to Forest City Ratner, which highlights this central problem (and Skanska’s main argument): “It is impossible to predict that the building when completed will perform as designed; and in particular, it is impossible to predict that the curtain wall joints will be and, over time, will remain effective barriers to the passage of air and water… [I]n simple terms, no one knows if the building is going to leak.” Skanska also wrote that leaks could have occurred at thousands of joints between module facade elements.

In response, Forest City has contended that these problems were Skanska’s fault and the design they provided was not flawed. As it stands, B2’s construction is at a standstill until all the legal issues are resolved, which some predict could take months to years.

My Micro NYC, nArchitectsMy Micro NYC by nARCHITECTS

So, is building towers with prefab modules a total bust? Not quite. Although the WSJ reports that many feel prefab building is too far in its early stages to go mainstream and mega-scale, they also report on a number of tower that have found success, including a 30-story modular hotel in China and a 25-story dormitory in the U.K. Proof that height isn’t the end all. They also cite three other projects in the NYC area: A seven-story, 59-module apartment building at 4857 Broadway in Manhattan’s Inwood called The Stack; and My Micro NYC by nARCHITECTS, under construction at 335 East 27th Street. They also note there are 10 projects currently under construction in the region.

“We’ll get there, I’m just not sure we’re there yet,” James Garrison of Garrison Architects told the paper. “It’s like when you build an automobile. You know the fan belt has to clear the frame, the gas line has to have places to go—all of these things have to be integrated.” Although Garrison was not involved in the design of B2, his firm recently developed a post-disaster housing prototype made from prefab modules.

[Via WSJ]

Tags : , , , , , , ,

Neighborhoods : Downtown Brooklyn,Fort Greene

MOST RECENT ARTICLES

  • Transformable Ollie chair unfurls with the pull of a string

    Transformable Ollie chair unfurls with the pull of a string

    If you’ve ever wished an ergonomic, well-designed comfortable chair would materialize when you need it, the Ollie Chair has your ...
  • High Line-style park proposed for a half-mile stretch of abandoned Staten Island rail

    High Line-style park proposed for a half-mile stretch of abandoned Staten Island rail

    Although High Line Park visionary Robert Hammond recently expressed remorse for failing to develop a park that was “for the neighborhood”—not ...
  • Richard Meier’s mixed-use Teachers Village development is revitalizing downtown Newark

    Richard Meier’s mixed-use Teachers Village development is revitalizing downtown Newark

    Residential Building VII, via Scott Frances With Hoboken long gone and Jersey City well in the throes of gentrification, it ...
  • Trump Tower security came in $10M less than expected; 12 sculptures arrive on the High Line

    Trump Tower security came in $10M less than expected; 12 sculptures arrive on the High Line

    The Renwick Hotel opened its Gertrude Stein Suite, the first in the historic building dedicated to a female author. [Conde ...
  • Prospect Lefferts Gardens townhouse with lots of woodwork and sunroom lists for $2.4M

    Prospect Lefferts Gardens townhouse with lots of woodwork and sunroom lists for $2.4M

    This three-story brick townhouse is nestled on a charming street of Prospect Lefferts Gardens, the Brooklyn neighborhood east of Prospect ...
  • Sunday will be your last chance to brunch at the Waldorf Astoria’s Peacock Alley

    Sunday will be your last chance to brunch at the Waldorf Astoria’s Peacock Alley

    Come March 1st the Waldorf Astoria will close its doors to the public in preparation for what’s likely to be ...
  • Design team suggests a new mission-driven gentrification model geared toward artists and small businesses

    Design team suggests a new mission-driven gentrification model geared toward artists and small businesses

    Image: mx.org We’ve definitely seen a lifetime’s worth of the trajectory that runs from warehouse to art studio to luxury loft, starting ...
  • Health-focused supportive and affordable housing complex breaks ground in the Bronx

    Health-focused supportive and affordable housing complex breaks ground in the Bronx

    Yesterday, mental health nonprofit Community Access broke ground on a new, $52.2 million supportive and affordable housing complex in the ...
  • Art Nerd New York’s top event picks for the week – 2/23-3/1

    Art Nerd New York’s top event picks for the week – 2/23-3/1

    Toilet Paper Paradise by Plamen Pletkov In a city where hundreds of interesting events occur each week, it can be ...
  • Sad stretch of Canal Street retail may be replaced with this nine-story Passive House

    Sad stretch of Canal Street retail may be replaced with this nine-story Passive House

    If you’ve walked down Chinatown’s Canal Street then you’re certainly familiar with a string of stores at 312-322 Canal Street hawking cheap ...
  • Jeanne Gang reveals sparkly new renderings of High Line-hugging Solar Carve Tower

    Jeanne Gang reveals sparkly new renderings of High Line-hugging Solar Carve Tower

    Just yesterday, 6sqft shared the news that Jeanne Gang‘s first ground-up project in NYC–the Solar Carve Tower at 40 Tenth ...
  • For $9.5M, this sprawling Gramercy co-op has a sunken living room and keys to the park

    For $9.5M, this sprawling Gramercy co-op has a sunken living room and keys to the park

    At a house-sized 3,809 square feet, this jumbo co-op at 50 Gramercy Park North, on the market for $9.5 million, ...

SIGN UP FOR OUR NEWSLETTERS

Thank you, your sign-up request was successful!
This email address is already subscribed, thank you!
Please provide a valid email address.
Please complete the CAPTCHA.
Oops. Something went wrong. Please try again later.