Is Healthcare Next to See a "Game Change" in Modular Building?
Earlier this year, as our team of judges gathered in Chicago to weigh the merits of dozens of project submissions for Healthcare Design’s annual Architectural and Interior Design Showcase, I clearly recall when the discussion picked up a bit in tempo, when I realized the industry pros in the room had stumbled upon something that really impressed them.
The source of the excitement was the use of modular building components—prefabricated pieces, whether for patient rooms or MEP racks—being built offsite and then brought into a facility for quick installation. Not only did the jurors note the innovation involved in thinking outside the box, but also the inherent benefits that come with it, like shaving time off the schedule, reducing construction waste, lowering labor costs, and heightening quality.
While we’re not quite to the point of seeing prefabrication used on every healthcare project, its popularity is growing. Project teams across the country are starting to dip their toes into the modular waters, while some are taking a deep dive.
Then there’s the developer that’s decided to build the world’s tallest modular building—it’s not in healthcare, but it’s definitely worth taking note.
Developer Forest City Ratner Cos. (New York) “broke ground” on what will be a 32-story residential tower named B2, part of the Atlantic Yards development in Brooklyn, N.Y. It’s expected to be completed in 2014.
Just this week, a prototype modular chassis was revealed for B2. Overall, 930 modules will be built in a nearby factory and finished to nearly live-in-ready status, coming together to build 363 apartments, reports the Modular Building Institute (MBI).
What’s noteworthy for this project is the projected height, as most modular buildings have been kept under six stories “due to developers’ perceptions about modular and a lack of investment in engineering for taller modular structures,” MBI states.
Coming together to make it all work is engineering firm Arup, designer Shop, and Skanska as general contractor. According to a press release, as part of its contract, Skanska will subcontract approximately $56 million of work to a company created together with Forest City Ratner, called FC+Skanska Modular LLC, which will fabricate the modular components of the building.
The MBI is calling the project a “game changer” for the modular industry that will help it grow and venture into new territory.
In fact, Real Estate Weekly reports that while the technology for high-rise modular construction was initially developed for Atlantic Yards, “this new industry has the potential to create modular components for construction projects across New York City and worldwide,” a boon for workers building the components who have already organized into a modular division of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York.
With the modular solution for B2 a great fit for a tight site and high real estate costs found in New York, I’m certain there are healthcare systems across the country that have felt those very same pains, in addition to the need for shorter construction schedules and lower costs.
Perhaps this is just the beginning for a new solution to a number of old problems, and an inroad for prefabrication in healthcare to go beyond what’s already been impressive.