Erin Carlyle Forbes Staff, writes on the convergence of construction technologies and willingness to utilize this is transformational and disruptive in housing.
This story appears in the May 5, 2014 issue of Forbes.
Lego High-Rise: World’s Tallest Modular Apartment Tower Getting Snapped Together In Brooklyn.
Inside a warehouse at the Brooklyn Navy Yard steel beams and flat metal sheeting rest atop a workbench. A diagram–which looks an awful lot likeIKEA furniture assembly instructions–spells out where each beam and metal screw belongs. On it someone has carefully checked off each component, one by one.
The metal may not look like much yet, but it’s on its way to becoming part of the world’s tallest modular residential high-rise. Workers will configure these beams into walls, which will become the scaffolding of rooms, which link together to form entire apartments. Then the “mods” are loaded onto a truck and driven 2.5 miles away, lifted by crane and snapped into position like Lincoln Logs at the Atlantic Yards complex being built next to theBarclays BCS -0.24% Center (home to the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets). Time to load an apartment: 30 minutes. From the first cut of metal to placing a mod next to the arena, the entire process takes about 20 days. “And we’ll get faster,” says Susan Jenkins, vice president of Skanska , one of the companies behind the mods. “This is bringing the best of manufacturing and construction together.”
Apartments are pre-assembled at the factory to insure they fit before they go to the site.
The space is divided into work stations: In receiving, materials are quickly organized and routed by logistics staff; at wall construction, racks of precisely cut steel beams and plates of sheet metal are loaded on tables and binded into walls.
At the next station four walls connect to make “pods,” the bathroom units, which are filled with toilets and tubs and paneled with engineered stone, which stands ready in nearby racks.
The first 32-story tower, dubbed B2, which will include street-level storefronts as well as 363 rental apartments, is slated for completion in December. Build-out of the $4.9 billion project–6 million square feet of residential (6,430 apartments, 2,250 of them designated affordable) plus nearly 600,000 square feet of office and retail spread over 22 acres in the heart of Brooklyn–is scheduled to last 20 years.
FCS Modular, a joint venture between New York City real estate developer Forest City Ratner (which was forced to build the affordable housing as part of its Barclays Center deal) and Swedish construction giant Skanska, is counting on the new factory approach to urban construction to save on costs and provide greater quality control. The industry, projected to spend some $108 billion building multi-family units over the next three years, according to real estate consultant Metrostudy, is watching. A 1,000-square-foot apartment in New York costs an estimated $330,000 to build; FCS estimates it will knock 15% to 20% off that this go-round–and as much as 30% off with more experience.
“If they can show that here, I think it has potential to have a transformative effect,” says Casius Pealer, a professor of architecture at Tulane. “It’s of interest both to architecture and to developers who are interested in building affordably and fast.”
Workers put electrical, drywall and finishes into the assembled mods and they begin to look like real apartments. All this is done safely away from the elements—no rain or snow to slow the process or rust the metal beams.
The agreement builders struck with New York City’s notoriously feisty construction unions is almost as innovative. Because the work is predicted to last more than two decades, the unions were willing to accept lower per-hour rates. Another key component: Rather than working strictly by trade, plumbers, electricians and carpenters can do whatever tasks they’re good at. This allows FCS to deploy labor flexibly and attack steps in the order that makes the most sense. That’s a big departure from New York City union construction practices, which mandate ridiculousness like framers finishing all their work before an electrician can even tackle the same area.
The labor agreement also led to savings in building materials. Normally subcontractors order materials–and mark them up. Here FCS controls the entire supply chain. The company directly purchases some 1,400 components. By controlling the process, FCS has found some great suppliers, including a company in China that produces smooth sheets of engineered quartz scored to look like tile, eliminating the need for grout in the bathroom “pods.” FCS buys in big volume–no middlemen needed.
But by far the most important innovation is the construction method itself. The factory feels like the love child of Home Depot HD +1.13% and a sterile surgical chamber. “We believe that in factory environments the productivity of the worker is greater,” says Roger Krulak, the Forest City Ratner exec in charge of modular construction.
Trucks loading the mods onto the towers make half their cross-Brooklyn journeys in the dead of night to avoid traffic.
Usually a new building’s façade must be caulked to seal it from the elements. But the mods have self-sealing facades, eliminating the need for workers to dangle off scaffolding with a caulking gun.
Once the mods leave the factory and are stacked into place, there are further savings. Precut pipe connectors are loaded into kits inside each mod so plumbers don’t waste time scrounging for materials. Press-fit pipes, which are quicker and cheaper to install than traditional soldered ones, are added level by level as the building goes up.
Still, until the building is complete the jury has to remain out. “If this modular approach to constructing new housing–including affordable housing–on this scale proves successful,” says Todd Trehubenko, senior vice president of multifamily finance for Boston’s Walker & Dunlop “then Atlantic Yards can serve as a true model for affordable housing development throughout the country.”
See video on the link at the bottom for an interesting view of how it all goes together.
The three most resilient cities? They’re all in Canada | Cities | theguardian.com.
” For perhaps the first time, someone has tried to qualify the resilience of cities. Grosvenor, the London-based property company led by the Duke of Westminster, analysed more than 100 independently verified data sets in order to determine two key elements of what makes a city resilient: its “vulnerability” on the one hand, and its “adaptive capacity” on the other.
Vulnerability was measured by looking at climate threats, environmental degradation (including pollution and overconsumption due to sprawl), resources (particularly access to energy), infrastructure and community cohesion. Weakness in any of those areas reduced a city’s score.
Adaptive capacity, or a city’s ability to prevent and mitigate serious threats, was a combination of governance (high value here on democracy, freedom of speech, community participation, transparency, accountability and long-term leadership vision), strong institutions, learning capacity (including good technical universities), disaster planner and finally funding (from budget to credit and access to global funding).
Rob Ford and ice storms notwithstanding, Toronto tops the list, following by Vancouver and Calgary and closely trailed by several US cities. London is 18th, suffering as Grosvenor pointed out from social tensions due to lack of affordable housing. Eight of the weakest 20 cities are in the Bric countries of Brazil, Russia, India and China, where blistering economic growth has not yet led to long-term resilience. One particularly disturbing trend is that some of the least resilient cities on the list are also the ones where the population is expected to grow fastest. “
Coffee Flour Coming Soon to the Baking Aisle – D-brief | DiscoverMagazine.com.
“By Carl Engelking | April 11, 2014 2:56 pm
Growing, harvesting and roasting the coffee beans for your morning cup of java generates a lot of waste. But a Vancouver-based startup company now turns coffee castoffs into bread, cakes and pasta dough.
Coffee beans are actually seeds, extracted from fruits called coffee cherries. Once coffee producers remove the beans, the leftover fruit is usually cast aside and left to decompose. That is, until a company called CF Global Holdings came up with a method to convert the discarded fruit into nutritious flour.
This coffee flour is gluten free and contains more iron than spinach, more protein than kale, and more fiber than whole grain flour, Businessweek reports. It doesn’t contain high levels of caffeine — a person would need to consume 16 slices of coffee flour bread to get the jolt of one cup of joe. And instead of tasting like coffee, the flour’s flavor has hints of floral citrus and roasted fruit.
“My wife made some shortbread cookies and granola,” CF Global’s Dan Belliveau told Businessweek. “When it actually tasted good we thought, wow, we’ve got something here.”
In addition to minimizing waste from coffee production, Belliveau also hopes the flour will help coffee growers take home additional income, and give them a leg up in a globally competitive market. Coffee flour is currently being produced in factories in Hawaii, Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Mexico and Vietnam. The flour should be available for purchase by next year, according to the coffee flour website.
Photo credit: AFNR/Shutterstock