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

  • Dreamy furnished studio with lots of greenery asks $3,200/month in the East Village

    Dreamy furnished studio with lots of greenery asks $3,200/month in the East Village

    This furnished rental at 527 East 12th Street in the East Village is downright dreamy. The exposed brick has been painted white ...
  • National Academy’s trio of palatial UES buildings drops price to $79M, gets new pics

    National Academy’s trio of palatial UES buildings drops price to $79M, gets new pics

    Nearly a year ago, the National Academy Museum & School listed their three stunning Carnegie Hill properties for $120 million–two interconnected townhouses ...
  • 204 years ago today, the Manhattan Street Grid became official

    204 years ago today, the Manhattan Street Grid became official

    Photo courtesy of the Greenwich Village Society of Historical Preservation Deemed by historians as the “single most important document in ...
  • Law assigning hundreds of NYC spots to car-shares now in effect

    Law assigning hundreds of NYC spots to car-shares now in effect

    Signed into law Tuesday, the program dedicates 600 vehicle spaces—300 on-street and 300 off-street—throughout the five boroughs to companies such ...
  • French bulldog keeps title of NYC’s favorite breed; first Citywide Ferry boat enroute to New York

    French bulldog keeps title of NYC’s favorite breed; first Citywide Ferry boat enroute to New York

    Why Robert Moses just won’t go away. [NYT] For the third year in a row, NYC’s most popular dog breed ...
  • Comptroller Scott Stringer lays out plan for NYC to invest in its seniors

    Comptroller Scott Stringer lays out plan for NYC to invest in its seniors

    Like many cities across the country, New York City’s population is getting older. Today, more than 1.1 million adults over ...
  • Remembering New York City’s days of deadly smog

    Remembering New York City’s days of deadly smog

    Smog covering the Empire State Building. New York, NY, US, November 21, 1953, LIFE Magazine. Over Thanksgiving weekend in 1966, the ...
  • Rent in the Greenwich Village building where Alexander Hamilton purportedly spent his final day

    Rent in the Greenwich Village building where Alexander Hamilton purportedly spent his final day

    Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr may have dueled in Weehawken, New Jersey, but they also both left their mark on ...
  • 82 billionaires live in NYC, the most in the world

    82 billionaires live in NYC, the most in the world

    For the second year in a row, New York takes the title of the city with the most billionaires in ...
  • $800K co-op is a Zen paradise in Brooklyn Heights inspired by the Botanic Gardens

    $800K co-op is a Zen paradise in Brooklyn Heights inspired by the Botanic Gardens

    It’s not every day a New York City apartment listing invites us to “Sleep safely and quietly with your doors wide ...
  • Kushner Cos. vision for 666 Fifth Avenue has Zaha Hadid design and $12B ambitions

    Kushner Cos. vision for 666 Fifth Avenue has Zaha Hadid design and $12B ambitions

    A rendering of 666 Fifth Avenue. Credit: Kushner Companies/Zaha Hadid Architects As 6sqft previously reported, 666 Fifth Avenue owners Kushner ...
  • Peter Kostelov transforms a dark uptown apartment into a multifunctional home with sliding furniture

    Peter Kostelov transforms a dark uptown apartment into a multifunctional home with sliding furniture

    Living in cramped New York quarters requires a specific approach to spatial planning that favors efficiency and functionality. In this ...

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.