Monday, September 07, 2015

Stenography and skepticism: looking back at the B2 modular story

One of the more interesting observations in the wake of my article about troubles in the B2 modular tower came from Lloyd Alter of Treehugger, who on 9/2/15 observed:
I was skeptical and wrote World's Tallest Prefab To Be Built in Brooklyn? Fuggedaboutit. Then it got started and I concluded that I had been wrong and I ate my words.
Then he credited me for not being swayed, and quotes from my latest piece, adding his conclusion:
I am really saddened by this and have no sense of schadenfreude. But here you had an arrogant developer who was sure he could do anything, an extremely talented architect who was inexperienced in the prefab field, intellectual property disputes, fee disputes, union resistance, (the unions just lost their case against the building), and more, yet they were still going to build the first building in less time for less money. One source told me that they didn't even take into account the fact that steel, under compression, actually shrinks a bit, so that modules couldn't fit or were getting squished as new modules were piled above. The whole thing is one big mess of hubris and arrogance more than anything else.
Alter knows more about modular construction than I do (though I know a lot more than i did). I had no inkling, until delays surfaced, that anything would or should go wrong. What I did believe, however, was not adding gloss to the developer's public relations.

Stenography and skepticism

Some journalists, after being led around the new factory at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, produced wide-eyed copy about a “perfectly engineered assembly line” (Gizmodo) and “extremely precise apartments” (Fast Company), even as the building was encountering problems.

Another skeptic, with a lot more knowledge than I, was Julian Bowron, an emerging modular builder field (who once offered services to Forest City Ratner), who in July 2014, before any problems beyond delays were named, put a slide warning about B2 in his presentation.

When he was quoted in WNYC coverage last fall, a Forest City Ratner spokesman said, in WNYC's paraphrase that "no professional would claim to inspect an incomplete building." But incomplete buildings--modular or not--are examined all the time, and builders make fixes.

From that WNYC coverage: 
Forest City said the building is capped with a temporary roof that prevents any additional water penetration.
That implied there was already some water penetration. We didn't know how much. Now we know there was a lot. That doesn't mean it couldn't be fixed. But it does mean that we should be careful about believing the official story, then and now.

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