Skip to main content

Featured Post

Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park graphic: what's built/what's coming + FAQ (pinned post)

OK, so SHoP principals are back with a new modular manufacturing effort, invoking Barclays Center and even B2 (!)

Note that the tweet, and the "exclusive" fed to the hungry-for-innovation Fast Company, feature the Barclays Center, though the building, in the main, is not primarily an example of manufacturing-based construction. Rather, the innovative facade is what qualifies.

It’s this manufacturing-based approach that [Chris] Sharples wants to bring to the world of architecture. That’s why he and his architect brother and twin, Bill, have launched Assembly, a new company that is streamlining the development of high-rise apartment buildings to be as efficient as building an airplane. By breaking down building designs into a series of components that get manufactured and assembled together, they say the time it takes to construct a building can be cut in half, making it faster and easier to meet the need for urban housing in cities around the world.

The Sharples brothers cofounded New York-based architecture firm SHoP, which has designed numerous high-rise buildings, including K-shaped towers on Manhattan’s East River shoreline and the 1,400-foot skyscraper now rising on the edge of Central Park. They’ve been experimenting with prefabricated architecture for more than 20 years and used a modular construction approach for one of their most famous projects, the Barclays Center arena in Brooklyn and the adjacent 32-story B2 apartment tower, which is the tallest modular building in North America.
About the arena

Here's part of what SHoP's web site says about Barclays:
Barclays stands as a pioneering achievement in construction technology—a digital landmark as well as a civic one. Responding to the strict time and budgetary constraints on the project, we developed a model-based process that integrated all of the information necessary to streamline the design and delivery of the 12,000 unique facade panels with the direct output of digital instructions for their fabrication and assembly. This technique can eliminate the need for conventional drawings, while aligning the imagination of our designers as closely as possible to the capabilities of the automated machinery used in component manufacturing.
About B2

Here's what SHoP's web site says about the B2 tower, 461 Dean:
Modular offers many advantages, including increased construction efficiency and reduced noise and traffic impacts on dense urban sites. Far lighter and less wasteful than conventional construction, the technique also makes possible ambitious environmental performance.
That's the holy grail, but it didn't work with B2, which took far longer and cost far more than projected, with water leaks requiring remedial work. In other words, it couldn't be built twice as fast.

That led the new master developer, Greenland USA, to decide that the subsequent towers would be built conventionally and original developer Forest City Ratner/Forest City New York, by then a minority partner, to give up on its modular experiment.

What's different?

According to the Fast Company article, rather than building a new structure inside a factory, in this case individual suppliers will make components "that are then put together into wall panels and modules that can be trucked to the building site and craned into place."

I'm not sure exactly how different this is from what was done with B2. It certainly would require more precision and higher standards from the partners.

What's next?

According to the article, "Assembly currently has four New York apartment projects in the works, representing about 800 units of housing." 

That's 200 units per building, which is not insignificant, but there's no information about them and what exactly "in the works" means. That said, the manufacturing for the first building "is expected" to start in the second quarter of 2021. 

A broader effort

From the article:
Assembly’s team of advisers includes manufacturing experts from Boeing, NASA, Tesla, and SpaceX, as well as former New York City building commissioner Robert LiMandri and former Forest City Ratner CEO MaryAnne Gilmartin. Investors include the founders of Tinder, Shutterstock, and Casper, the CEO of the investment bank Jeffries Group, and Charles Phillips, chairman and former CEO of enterprise software provider Infor. SHoP and Assembly will operate as two separate entities.
That's certainly a broader effort than the Forest City-Skanska partnership, and it's important that manufacturing experts are involved.

And they do have a broader group of investors, though it's unclear what stake those investors have.

Will it work?

SHoP's founders are able architects and innovators, but modular, as they've already learned, isn't easy to perfect.

So I'd take this Fast Company report with a grain of salt, just as a pillar of salt should've been applied to breathless reports like FastCo's 10/28/13 report on B2, headlined New York's Newest Skyscraper is 32 Floors of Prefab Apartments That Click Together

Turns out that "amazing Brooklyn factory" wasn't so amazing.