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Modules catch on with time-pressed builders.

The sight of a truck carrying an 18 foot chunk of loft or dormitory roof down the West Side Highway is becoming more commonplace as modular factory built units are recognized by buyers for their improved aesthetics, and by contractors as a more controlled and faster construction method to utilize during the boom.

No longer just the flimsy prefabricated corrugated units that dot suburban landscapes and have suffered a lousy reputation over the years, many modules are now designed by star architects of the same materials that garner the city's most stylish buildings and appear in full page color spreads in design magazines.

"There is a rekindled interest in modular homes because people are looking for more efficient and cost effective ways to build. With design consciousness rising to the extent that you can now buy a Phillip Starke toothbrush at Target, people are starting to look towards modular building as a relatively cost effective way to integrate high quality custom made architecture into their lives," said Joseph Tanney, AIA, co-principal of RESOLUTION: 4 ARCHITECTURE, a small Manhattan based firm devoted exclusively to modulars.

RES4 ARCHITECTURE had been designing lofts for over a decade but decided to turn to modulars when the terrorist attacks September 11, 2001 compelled many of their clients to leave the city.

Several months of research followed during which they toured factories all over the state and customized a way to leverage these preexisting methods to create homes with better aesthetics and architectural integrity.

Their business has thrived since then and they have created units that many of the elements of their city lofts--for example large glass windows and high ceilings--blend with clients tastes in country settings throughout the East Coast.

Many contractors find trucking modulars within the city a good way of navigating the economic tides. During boom time where every city street is a staging area for a construction project--and falling behind schedule by one day could cause contractors to lose their turn on a six month wait list for precious heavy equipment--the indoor factory environment where resources are more controlled, technology more precise and quality incessantly monitored, can shave months off a project.

"Modular building can often be done in 20-50% of time of a conventionally built building. A lot of this has to do with the fact that we begin building by bringing materials to the modules, workers aren't always running around trying to find stuff, that cuts a lot of time," said Richard Smith, senior vice president of Kullman Buildings Corp., a Lebanon, New Jersey based producer of commercial modular units.

Factory building also cuts the amount of workers by up to 50% needed on a specific job, and saves project managers money as factory workers are not paid as much as outdoor workers under union contracts, Smith said.

Smith, who has worked for NYC construction companies like Turner Construction and Skanska, Inc, first discovered modulars when his colleague convinced him to come in and meet with him and tour his factory,

"I had the same misconceptions about modular as everyone else--that they were cheap and ugly, too fast and nonflexible. But when I came in and saw what he was doing, I was impressed. After thinking about it a bit, knowing the state of construction and the state of the industry where so many things don't work as well as they could, I saw the factory and thought you are really on to something here," Smith said.

Intensive quality control and the repetitive nature of factory building makes building large scale projects more feasible in the city.

Capsy's Corporation, a modular builder based in the Brooklyn Navy Yard--who has produced over 2 million square feet in the Tristate area, has been responsible for such large scale projects as 53 homes for the Atlantic Center Phase 3, and 700 one family houses at the Nehemiah II in East New York--has built in quality controls that would be difficult, if not impossible to do on a field project, said Nick Lembo, president of Capsy's. The steel and concrete used on those projects are also high quality.

"There is no way you can tell our buildings are modular by looking at them," Lembo said.

In addition to being built quicker, modular buildings can be placed quicker, a trait appealing to managers of heavily trafficked public spaces like hospital wings and college campuses.

A recent Kullman project, the construction of a 41,000 s/f five building three story brick, steel and concrete dormitory building for Muhlenberg College in Allentown, PA., was built in just under five months in the factory and set in ten days on the campus.

The additional few weeks needed for connection and finish work should be complete by the time students summer vacation ends.

"There is heightened increase with knowledge of what we are doing and modular building is really catching on. I can see a ten to 15% increase per year in the use of modular buildings every year. I expect we will continue to see that," Smith said.
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Author:Wolffe, Danielle
Publication:Real Estate Weekly
Date:Jul 11, 2007
Words:841
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