After nearly a year of negotiations with the union locals and two months of prototyping in the factory, the developer of the $4.9-billion Atlantic Yards sports village in Brooklyn, N.Y., has given the green light for what is planned as the world's tallest modular building, the 322-ft B2 residential tower.

The project is also the catalyst for the formation of a modular division within the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York, which represents local unions. In a major departure from the norm, the trade council's new division will allow crews from many different trades—electricians, plumbers, ironworkers, carpenters, painters and more—to work together in multi-trade teams in the plant.

Each team will assemble a complete apartment unit. "This is not assembly-line work," says Robert P. Sanna, director of construction and design development for Atlantic Yards' developer, Forest City Ratner Cos. (FCRC). "Everybody is touching everything within a unit, including the curtain wall, and each crew is responsible for an entire unit."

Gary LaBarbera, the trade council's president, says the new modular division and its new type of collective bargaining agreement address an industry evolving toward modular and make the building trades more competitive against non-union workers. "We're seeing more and more modular units and prefab subassemblies in certain types of buildings," he says. "This concept will be a job creator, not a reducer, and will increase our market share in residential work."

The Brooklyn-based FCRC is developing the 22-acre Atlantic Yards scheme under its subsidiaries, Atlantic Yards LLC and Brooklyn Arena LLC. The Barclays Center arena opened on Sept. 28. B2 is the first of many residential towers.

Modular buildings are rarely taller than 10 stories. The 32-story B2 design, by the local SHoP Architects and the New York City office of multidisciplinary engineer Arup, stacks 363 self-supporting units into a site-erected braced frame for lateral load resistance (ENR 7/16 p. 24).

The modular strategy moves 60% of the work from the field to the factory. To fabricate the "mods," FCRC has formed a company in partnership with constructor Skanska USA. FC + Skanska Modular LLC is currently turning a 100,000-sq-ft warehouse at the nearby Brooklyn Navy Yard into an assembly plant. Mod production is expected to start by April.

Under the collective bargaining agreement, the workers' pay will average $36 an hour, which is "pretty consistent" with other unionized fabrication facilities and about half the rate of fieldwork, says Sanna. But unlike the full-time factory work, which includes benefits, field work is cyclical, more difficult and potentially less safe than factory work, he adds.

The B2 prototyping proved the high-rise concept and refined the field setting sequence. The team also coordinated details of the architecture and the mechanical, electrical and plumbing design.

"We are currently making refinements to the design to ensure a smooth transition into the production phase," says Jonathan L. Mallie, a SHoP principal.

Superstorm Sandy damaged the prototypes. However, the flooding did not slow B2's progress because the test units were always intended to be used only as showrooms, says John Dolan, Skanska's project executive. Repairs are under way.

Skanska, which is also the construction manager for the B2 project, expects to break ground for B2 on Dec. 18. Completion is set for 2014.

Initially, the factory's 125 workers will be dedicated to the production of B2. But in the future, FCRC expects to produce modular buildings for others. Sanna says FCRC has not decided whether to use modular construction for the other residential towers in Atlantic Yards.


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