Skip to main content

FastCo dials back the gush: from "amazing Brooklyn factory" to "Prefab's Moment of Reckoning" (but more skepticism still needed)

OK, remember how FastCo.Exist--the innovation-focused brand of the magazine Fast Company on 10/28/13 published this gushing preview of Forest City Ratner's experimental modular tower 461 Dean, aka B2?

This week, from the sibling design-focused FastCo.Design we get Prefab's Moment of Reckoning, which, while considerably less gushing, still relies on the developer and architect SHoP to put the best possible spin on what was clearly a failure. (Remember, this tower was omitted from the Greenland Forest City Partners joint venture.)

The article conveys a couple of lessons that had previously surfaced: the irregular site made for a more complicated, less standardized set of modules, and the 32-story building was too ambitious, with buildings perhaps one-third to one-half the height

I already critiqued the article on Twitter, but will go through it once more.

Leading off

Writer Diana Budds may seem to pull no punches:
Though it made headlines for aspiring to be the tallest prefab tower in the world, the building became a boondoggle, plagued by lawsuits, allegations of a flawed design, and stop-work orders that put the building years behind schedule. The project finally wrapped up construction in November, a staggering two years behind schedule.
But she left out the documented leaks and mold, as well as the lingering questions over the mold.

Various rhetoric echoes some pre-construction talk we remember, as architect Christopher Sharples of SHoP cites how other industries have innovated manufacturing processes and Forest City says that no one has invested in the research and development, the costs of which would not have been recouped with the first building but rather later in a project involving a pipeline of at least 14 more towers.

Getting to the details

The article is kind of sloppy. Consider:
The 22-acre project was initially called Atlantic Yards—so named for the railyard it's constructed over
(Emphases added)

No, that was a project, not a place--and a common error.

Or this:
The same year, FCRC and SHoP revealed the first renderings of 461 Dean Street, which was then known as the B2 tower, and announced that Skanska, a prefab builder, would be contracted to manufacture the modules. The developer and builder set a projected completion year of 2012. Only the floors for each apartment were installed on-site; everything else arrived complete.
That "same year" referred to 2009, but the renderings didn't emerge until 2010. Skanska was not a "prefab builder" but rather a conventional large construction company that formed a partnership with Forest City to build the factory.

And if the floors of the apartments were installed on-site, that represents a change in plans. As I wrote, the wood flooring supplier, Armstrong Flooring, told Roger Krulak—a Forest City employee placed at the factory—that factory installation would void the warranty, according to Skanska. Forest City and Skanska clashed about responsibility, but the ultimate installation plan wasn't specified.

The article states:
Because of zoning, the facade has a number of setbacks, which resulted in 23 different apartment configurations.
Actually, the zoning was overridden. The constraints result from Design Guidelines that the developer's original architect wrote, and which were later approved by the state authority overseeing/shepherding the project. Perhaps if they'd known that modular would emerge as a solution the guidelines would've been different.

The article states:
In October 2016, FCRC announced it had sold off the prefab factory to a new company called Full Stack Modular, founded by Roger Krulak—formerly senior vice president of modular construction at FCRC—effectively ending its involvement with the grand prefab experiment. Now, a decade after New York City approved Pacific Park, all that's resulted is 363 units, half of which are market rate and half are designated to be affordable. It's not much to show, considering myriad obstacles.
Unmentioned is the non-public sale price, which surely was a loss to Forest City, which had previously been trying to lure new business to the factory.

And New York City didn't approve Pacific Park, since no local elected official had a voice. Rather, New York State, via the Empire State Development Corporation (now Empire State Development) approved Atlantic Yards.

The lessons

Writes Budds:
What went wrong? Examining the relationship between architect, developer, and builder holds some insight. It seems that prefab is not just about designing a new system and developing new technology: The whole industry needs to change its process. Additionally, choosing which projects and sites are best suited for prefab is crucial.
While SHoP and ARUP worked closely on the digital model for the building, it was up to the contractor to turn that into a set of building instructions. There was likely information lost in translation. SHoP had previously used modular construction for Barclays Center—the arena adjacent to 461 Dean—and was responsible for both the design and creating the factory tickets. That went relatively smoothly. Since the architect, developer, and contractor were not involved during the entirety of the build at 461 Dean, that may have added to the challenge. "If Forest City and SHoP did the project, it probably would’ve been a different story," Sharples says. "I’m very happy with the quality and the look of the building. And at the end of the day, it’s not about product innovation, it’s about process innovation."
This is revisionism. SHoP used modular construction to build the metal facade of the Barclays Center--that's nothing like building a tower of apartments.

If Forest City had wanted to do the project with SHoP, well, it could have tried. But it specifically sought a "partner to establish and grow a viable, cost competitive modular factory business."

Writes Budds:
At the project's outset, it took the factory (managed by Skanska at the time) two to three weeks to build a module. By the end, under FCRC's management, the builders cut that down to six days. "The project took a little longer than expected and cost a little bit more than expected because we started the project with the wrong contractor," [Forest City's] Greene says. "That’s what it comes down to: A dispute with them about how the project should have been built and how they were performing. Since they left the factory and we took over, we've achieved incredible cycle times ourselves."
OK, that's Forest City's take. But Skanska was more than a contractor, it was a partner. The article should have quoted Skanska, which has made many allegations that put the blame on its partner, including a flawed design, an inadequate factory, and a poorly paid pool of workers. Skanska called out Forest City for being "so profit- and schedule-driven."

The article states:
FCRC is still reeling from its grand experiment in prefab. On a November 2016 earnings call, FCRC CEO David LaRue announced a $430.9 million quarterly loss, largely as a result of Pacific Park.
Actually, there was separate write-down regarding this building alone.

The lesson

From the article:
Yet though 461 Dean turned out to be a failure from the standpoint of building faster and more cost-effectively, there may be a future in modular "semi-tall" buildings. ARUP and SHoP's model showed that their structural system could support a modular tower up to 60 stories, but Sharples thinks shorter structures might actually go further in the context of New York City. After 15 stories, extra brace framing is needed to support the building. Stay under that height, and the building's complexity is significantly less. "So if you keep the building under 15 stories, there’s a good case for that," Sharples says. "When you’re talking about the five boroughs, that’s not a bad height to be chasing."
Now they tell us.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Barclays Center/Levy Restaurants hit with suit charging discrimination on disability, race; supervisors said to use vicious slurs, pursue retaliation

The Daily News has an article today, Barclays Center hit with $5M suit claiming discrimination against disabled, while the New York Post headlined its article Barclays Center sued over taunting disabled employees.

While that's part of the lawsuit, more prominent are claims of racial discrimination and retaliation, with black employees claiming repeated abuse by white supervisors, preferential treatment toward Hispanic colleagues, and retaliation in response to complaints.

Two individual supervisors, for example, are charged with  referring to black employees as “black motherfucker,” “dumb black bitch,” “black monkey,” “piece of shit” and “nigger.”

Two have referred to an employee blind in one eye as “cyclops,” and “the one-eyed guy,” and an employee with a nose disorder as “the nose guy.”

There's been no official response yet though arena spokesman Barry Baum told the Daily News they, but take “allegations of this kind very seriously” and have "a zero tolerance policy for…

Behind the "empty railyards": 40 years of ATURA, Baruch's plan, and the city's diffidence

To supporters of Forest City Ratner's Atlantic Yards project, it's a long-awaited plan for long-overlooked land. "The Atlantic Yards area has been available for any developer in America for over 100 years,” declared Borough President Marty Markowitz at a 5/26/05 City Council hearing.

Charles Gargano, chairman of the Empire State Development Corporation, mused on 11/15/05 to WNYC's Brian Lehrer, “Isn’t it interesting that these railyards have sat for decades and decades and decades, and no one has done a thing about them.” Forest City Ratner spokesman Joe DePlasco, in a 12/19/04 New York Times article ("In a War of Words, One Has the Power to Wound") described the railyards as "an empty scar dividing the community."

But why exactly has the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Vanderbilt Yard never been developed? Do public officials have some responsibility?

At a hearing yesterday of the Brooklyn Borough Board Atlantic Yards Committee, Kate Suisma…

Barclays Center event June 11 to protest plans to expand Israeli draft; questions about logistics

At right is a photo of a poster spotted in Hasidic Williamsburg right. Clearly there's an event scheduled at the Barclays Center aimed at the Haredi Jewish community (strict Orthodox Jews who reject secular culture), but the lack of English text makes it cryptic.

The website Matzav.com explains, Protest Against Israeli Draft of Bnei Yeshiva Rescheduled for Barclays Center:
A large asifa to protest the drafting of bnei yeshiva in Eretz Yisroel into the Israeli army that had been set to take place this month will instead be held on Sunday, 17 Sivan/June 11, at the Barclays Center in Downtown Brooklyn, NY. So attendees at a big gathering will protest an apparent change of policy that will make it much more difficult for traditional Orthodox Jewish students--both Hasidic (who follow a rebbe) and non-Hasidic (who don't)--to get deferments from the draft. Comments on the Yeshiva World website explain some of the debate.

The logistical questions

What's unclear is how large the ev…

Atlanta's Atlantic Yards moves ahead

First mentioned in April, the Atlantic Yards project in Atlanta is moving ahead--and has the potential to nudge Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn further down in Google searches.

According to a 5/30/17 press release, Hines and Invesco Real Estate Announce T3 West Midtown and Atlantic Yards:
Hines, the international real estate firm, and Invesco Real Estate, a global real estate investment manager, today announced a joint venture on behalf of one of Invesco Real Estate’s institutional clients to develop two progressive office projects in Atlanta totalling 700,000 square feet. T3 West Midtown will be a 200,000-square-foot heavy timber office development and Atlantic Yards will consist of 500,000 square feet of progressive office space in two buildings. Both projects are located on sites within Atlantic Station in the flourishing Midtown submarket.
Hines will work with Hartshorne Plunkard Architecture (HPA) as the design architect for both T3 West Midtown and Atlantic Yards. DLR Group will be t…

Forest City acknowledges unspecified delays in Pacific Park, cites $300 million "impairment" in project value; what about affordable housing pledge?

Updated Monday Nov. 7 am: Note follow-up coverage of stock price drop and investor conference call and pending questions.

Pacific Park Brooklyn is seriously delayed, Forest City Realty Trust said yesterday in a news release, which further acknowledged that the project has caused a $300 million impairment, or write-down of the asset, as the expected revenues no longer exceed the carrying cost.

The Cleveland-based developer, parent of Brooklyn-based Forest City Ratner, which is a 30% investor in Pacific Park along with 70% partner/overseer Greenland USA, blamed the "significant impairment" on an oversupply of market-rate apartments, the uncertain fate of the 421-a tax break, and a continued increase in construction costs.

While the delay essentially confirms the obvious, given that two major buildings have not launched despite plans to do so, it raises significant questions about the future of the project, including:
if market-rate construction is delayed, will the affordable h…

Revising official figures, new report reveals Nets averaged just 11,622 home fans last season, Islanders drew 11,200 (and have option to leave in 2018)

The Brooklyn Nets drew an average of only 11,622 fans per home game in their most recent (and lousy) season, more than 23% below the announced official attendance figure, and little more than 65% of the Barclays Center's capacity.

The New York Islanders also drew some 19.4% below announced attendance, or 11,200 fans per home game.

The surprising numbers were disclosed in a consultant's report attached to the Preliminary Official Statement for the refinancing of some $462 million in tax-exempt bonds for the Barclays Center (plus another $20 million in taxable bonds). The refinancing should lower costs to Mikhail Prokhorov, owner of the arena operating company, by and average of $3.4 million a year through 2044 in paying off arena construction.

According to official figures, the Brooklyn Nets attendance averaged 17,187 in the debut season, 2012-13, 17,251 in 2013-14, 17,037 in 2014-15, and 15,125 in the most recent season, 2015-16. For hoops, the arena holds 17,732.

But official…

At 550 Vanderbilt, big chunk of apartments pitched to Chinese buyers as "international units"

One key to sales at the 550 Vanderbilt condo is the connection to China, thanks to Shanghai-based developer Greenland Holdings.

It's the parent of Greenland USA, which as part of Greenland Forest City Partners owns 70% of Pacific Park (except 461 Dean and the arena).

And sales in China may help explain how the developer was able to claim early momentum.
"Since 550 Vanderbilt launched pre-sales in June [2015], more than 80 residences have gone into contract, representing over 30% of the building’s 278 total residences," the developer said in a 9/25/15 press release announcing the opening of a sales gallery in Brooklyn. "The strong response from the marketplace indicates the high level of demand for well-designed new luxury homes in Brooklyn..."

Maybe. Or maybe it just meant a decent initial pipeline to Chinese buyers.

As lawyer Jay Neveloff, who represents Forest City, told the Real Deal in 2015, a project involving a Chinese firm "creates a huge market for…