NEW YORK CITY – In New York City, finding an affordable Brooklyn apartment is notoriously difficult.
On average, a 750-square-foot, one-bedroom apartment rents for $2,591 per month.
But inside Brooklyn’s 461 Dean — the world’s tallest modular building — half of the 363 rental apartments fall well below market rate. One bedrooms, which range from 578- to 735-square-feet, start at $600 a month.
Developed by New York-based Forest City Ratner Companies, the 32-story tower aims to explore modular design’s potential as an affordable solution to urban housing shortages. Before the building opened, 84,000 prospective residents applied for its 181 affordable units, which are now available for lease.
The building, which opened in December 2016, is part of the 22-acre Pacific Park Brooklyn complex, located next to the Barclay’s Center sports arena. The non-modular apartments are a mix of studios, one- and two-bedrooms that range from $2,450- $4,750.
Modular construction — which includes parts that are assembled offsite and then moved into place, like an assembly line — is considered a more efficient, eco-friendly and less disruptive than conventional construction. The concept of building standardized units for assembly is borrowed from the systematic manufacturing industry.
“It’s something we’re going to be seeing more and more because it can answer one of the critical architectural questions we face today,” Christopher Sharples, founding principal at SHoP architecture firm in New York City, told CNNTech.
“How do we efficiently and effectively add residential capacity to our growing cities in a way that reduces as much impact as possible on the environment?”
“The success of completing 461 Dean in one of the densest urban environments in the US reaffirms that this technology can be replicated virtually anywhere,” said Adam Greene, vice president of residential development at Forest City Ratner.
Modular construction is particularly effective in dense urban areas, where there’s little room for giant cranes, trucks and materials on site.
“New York is ripe for this. You think about urban environments and the first thing you think about is congestion,” said Stacy Scopano, a senior strategist at Autodesk architectural software firm and a member of the National Institute of Building Sciences off-site construction council.
“You don’t have a wide open meadow to lay down a batch delivery of hundreds of columns to install 10 this week and 10 the next.”
At first glance, the tower looks like any other shiny new apartment complex. But upon closer inspection, Tetris-like pods reveal a complex modular construction method. There are a total of 930 modules, which all fit together like a puzzle.
“This isn’t a pile of little boxes,” said Sharples. “We have units composed of two or even three modules combined, to create living spaces with lots of elbow room.”
Roughly 80% of the building was prepared offsite in a factory in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Each pod was completely finished before assembly, down to the bathroom fixtures and appliances, plumbing, drywall, insulation, finishes, countertops and doorknobs. The only thing left to install was the wooden floors.
Overnight, the team moved the finished modules to the construction site, lifted them into place and linked them together. The offsite method, Sharples said, decreases noise, pollution and congestion around the area. And since modular buildings have to be meticulously planned out, the method can dramatically reduce material waste.