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From Skanska, some curious (and questionable) Atlantic Yards plans: 8 buildings in 8 years, 4000 apartments, an 80-story tower (!); also, only 30 workers on site

Some rather astounding--and not necessarily accurate--information about plans for Atlantic Yards modular construction has been published by Forest City Ratner's construction partner Skanska in the 2014-15 Build Offsite Review produced by an industry organization in the United Kingdom that promotes modular construction.

For example, it says "the development plan is to construct eight buildings over a number of years to provide 4,000 apartments for mixed tenure occupation," as shown in the screenshot at right.

That's not the approved and promoted Atlantic Yards development program, however, which would involve 16 towers and 6,430 units, including 2,250 subsidized, affordable rentals.

Rather, 4000 apartments in eight buildings--500 units/building--would be a dramatically skewed conception of the project, front-loading a majority of units in the initial buildings, and leaving the final 2430 units to be built in the remaining eight buildings.

It doesn't quite make sense. The first tower, 32 stories, will hold 363 units, which implies that future towers would have to be much larger.

Then again, perhaps it's simply their conception of Phase 1, which involves buildings on the arena block, and buildings on the southeast block, Block 1129, ignoring the expensive deck over the Vanderbilt Yard. The development over the latter is supposed to cure the blight that was the justification for eminent domain.

It might reflect that fact that Forest City and its expected new partner, the Chinese government-owned Greenland Group, are not required to build the entire project. (I'll get to the requirements below.) Or maybe it's just an error.

Eight buildings in eight years?

How long will eight buildings take? We don't know, since modular construction is still being worked out and the first tower is behind schedule.

However, Robert Francis, Director, Innovation and Business Improvement at Skanska UK, suggested the eight buildings would take eight years, as a 2/3/14 presentation (excerpt below). 

This might put into perspective the statement last November from Chairman Zhang Yuliang of the Greenland Group, Forest City's expected joint venture partner in Atlantic Yards, that (in the Wall Street Journal's paraphrase) "he expected the development would take about eight years to complete." 

If so, maybe Zhang was talking about eight buildings--either the first phase of residential, or a significantly truncated project.

How many apartments required?

The joint venture by Forest City and Greenland, which the latter will control, is not required to build all the units, just the subsidized ones.

According to the Development Agreement (excerpt at left), they need only build a minimum of 4.47 million square feet, which sounds like significantly more than 4,000 apartments, given limited area for retail. Unless they build office space and/or a hotel.

They do need to build 2,250 affordable units. 

But it doesn't make sense that 4000 units would be the entire project, including 2250 affordable ones.

Even if every building were a 50/30/20 rental--and that's highly unlikely--they still couldn't build 2250 subsidized units in a total of only 4,000 apartments.

So maybe 4000 units is only the first phase, thus involving a smaller number of subsidy units.

Maybe there will be new subsidies, or revised agreements.

Or maybe Skanska was being very sloppy.

An 80-story tower?

B2 will be 322 feet, or about 32 stories. Other towers will be both taller and shorter.

But Skanska has made an astounding statement.

As noted in the second page of the excerpt from the Build Offsite Review, "Future phases of the development will rise 80 storeys with the innovative modular system capable of achieving 100 storeys."


That suggests a tower rising 800 feet--unless somehow the stories are Lilliputian.

That's not permitted, at least as of now.

Each Project building would also remain subject to the individual building height and individual building maximum floor area limits specified in Exhibit C to the 2009 Modified General Project Plan (the 2009 MGPP).
That document, at left, oddly sets 620 feet as the maximum building height for the tallest tower, B1, which would rise over the officially temporary plaza outside the arena.

However, Forest City Ratner agreed, upon project approval in December 2006, to lower that height to 511 feet, symbolically one foot shorter than the then-tallest building in Brooklyn, the Williamsburgh Savings Bank, now One Hanson Place.

That symbolic reduction would not keep the new tower from blocking the bank's iconic clock, however.

Perhaps that height limit is less meaningful now that there are even taller buildings in Downtown Brooklyn.

But the Final Scope does say:
As described in the 2009 Technical Memorandum, it is assumed that the height of Building 1 would be reduced from 620 feet (as analyzed in the 2006 FEIS) to 511 feet, so that this structure would be less than the height of the nearby Williamsburgh Savings Bank building. 
So maybe Skanska was talking smack. Or maybe everything can be revised. Could there be some plan, backed by the political establishment, to deliver an extra-tall tower in order to provide "affordable housing" faster?

Statistics: speed, cost savings, offsite work, onsite workers

The document claims that construction is 30 per cent faster than traditional construction, which may ultimately be the case, though it doesn't look like the first building will reach that goal.

It claims cost savings of only 10%, though the Draft SEIS suggests a 22% reduction.

It states that 80% of the building is completed offsite. Forest City has said 60% offsite.

And it states that only 30 people would be working on site at any one time. That's a very interesting number.

Consider that Forest City previously estimated 190 workers, including 150 workers at the factory. If the Skanska figure is correct, that's a total 180 workers. We already know compensation and hours are lower.

A "flying factory" could move

The document also notes:
The manufacturing facility was itself constructed in six months with the capability to be dismantled in 10 days and relocated to serve the next project. This is the ‘flying factory’ concept that Skanska has been developing.
There's obviously a value to having the factory in the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

Should Forest City and its partners decide that future projects would require having the factory closer to the development site--or, perhaps, simply in a cheaper location--that factory could fly away.

But it also suggests that Greenland, which is an ambitious, aggressive developer with cash to burn, may have some plans for that factory, using it in other projects.


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