Modular construction has been heralded by many as the next big thing in building structures quickly and cost effectively. By being able to construct parts of the building in a controlled environment, like a factory, workers can perform more efficiently, comfortably, and safely, ideally translating into shorter schedules and smaller costs. That theory got one of its biggest tests on a new 32-story residential building that recently opened in Brooklyn, NY.
461 Dean Street, being heralded as the world’s tallest modular building, is a 363-unit residential tower located directly adjacent to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Designed by SHoP Architects, the tower design was expected to reduce construction costs by 20% and trim 10 months off of the proposed 30 month schedule, according to City Limits. Each modular section, of which there were 930, were built at a new factory at the Brooklyn Navy Yard and shipped to the site in a 10 foot high by 15 foot wide by 30 foot long chassis. The groundbreaking ceremony took place in December of 2012 and the building was scheduled to be completed by the end of 2014.
Unfortunately, things didn’t quite go as smoothly as everyone was hoping. For the past 4 years, the project has been plagued by delays, lawsuits, alleged design and construction issues, and water damage. According to documents obtained by City Limits, half of the first 39 apartments suffered “significant water damage,” which then lead to accusations from both the builder, Skanska, and the designer that the other was at fault. In the summer of 2014 reports surfaced that floors 2 through 8 all “suffered extreme water damage.” The damage caused considerable on-site rework, some mold growth, and additional delays. At one point, the factory left off some of the drywall of the new units, in fear that more water damage would occur. Other reports showed that the modular units were misaligned, even causing loose façade panels to visibly flap against the side of the structure. In September of 2014, Skanska closed the Navy Yard factory down, after the developer, Forest City, refused to pay additional costs for delays and other design problems, according to reports. You can read Skanska's 146 page contract termination letter here.
In January of 2015, around 4 months after the factory closing, Forest City reopened the factory and began building the modules again. In May of 2016, the tower’s final modular unit was set into place, according to Curbed. Though the schedule took around twice as long as originally planned and media outlets have projected budget overages of millions of dollars, the building is almost ready to welcome its firs residents.
As of November, leasing options are available for potential residents and media members were able to tour the new building. You can check out a virtual tower of some units, put together by Inhabitant, below this article. Many of the units boasts some impressive views of both the city skyline and the Barclays Center green roof.
Through it all, the 32-story building still managed to open and currently have apartments available for lease. Although your company should be counting its blessings that they didn’t have to be involved with this project, this isn’t a story that should discourage modular construction from continuing in the future. Though modular construction has been talked about for a long time, it’s still a fairly new concept in implementation, especially on the level of 461 Dean Street. Contractors, developers, and designers alike can use this project as a learning experience for additional modular buildings. As the concept becomes more commonplace, we should expect project timelines and costs to shrink considerably.
More Information: Documents Reveal Woes at Pioneering Atlantic Yards Building | City Limits