Pirogies and borscht aren’t the only thing that came from Poland to the Bowery
There are many virtues and advantages to modular construction, especially in a crowded place like New York City. Done right, it is faster, cleaner and causes a lot less disruption, since most of the work is done in the factory, and site work is mostly assembly and connection.
One building that appears to have been done right is the new CitizenM Hotel in the trendy Bowery district, designed by Isaac-Daniel Astrachan of SBJGroup, with Amsterdam’s Concrete Architectural Associates (who have been doing CitizenM modular buildings for years in Europe) and DeSimone Consulting Engineers. Hotel rooms are really good uses of modular because they are all pretty much identical, and can be relatively narrow. The architect writes:
This new 19 Story, 100,000 SF hotel is located at 189 Bowery, in the lower east side of Manhattan. Originally designed as a conventional poured-in-place concrete building, our innovative client, citizenM, decided to have us redesign the building using modular construction. citizenM Bowery will be the tallest modular hotel in the world, on the oldest thoroughfare in Manhattan. The hotel consists of 210 guestroom modules, the majority of which are doubles (guestroom-corridor-guestroom) for a total of 300 rooms. The hotel also includes a double height lobby and lounge, as well as a rooftop bar with outdoor space and spectacular views.
Not every kind of space is suitable for modular, so the first four floors that enclose public areas are built out of concrete, topped with a 36″ inch concrete table of a transfer structure, which the modular hotel rooms sit on.
The modules are not shipping containers, but are roughly shipping container sized at 48 feet long by 8 feet by 9 feet, (two hotel rooms and a bit of corridor) so they can be transported economically and go down city streets easily. According to the Wall Street Journal, it is much faster,
The number of truck deliveries to the site will be cut by about 1,200 compared with a conventional construction site, and the crane will be on site for about five months, compared with a year or longer normally. “That is the beauty of modular construction,” said [construction manager Anthony] Rinaldi. “It really minimizes disruption to the neighborhood, to the community, to the traffic flow.”
Each module is bolted to the one below, along with connections to the concrete elevator and stair enclosure and a poured concrete shear wall for lateral stability in wind and earthquakes. The engineer, Boris Haysa, tells the Architects Newspaper that “diagonal strap bracing on the module ceiling acted as the floor diaphragm to transfer the floor lateral loads back to the sheer walls.”
While a complaint about modular is that more material is needed because every wall is doubled. But in normal construction, to quote Paul Simon, “one man’s ceiling is another man’s floor.” In modular, they are separate with a gap in between. This can significantly improve noise isolation.
Unlike the problematic prefab at Pacific Place, these modules are not plugged into a frame, but just stack on top of each other. This is not rocket science; standard shipping containers can stack 16 high while empty, and here, these boxes are going 15 high. Even steel columns will compress a bit under that kind of load; it would be interesting to see how close they got matching the elevator openings in the concrete on the 15th floor of units.
Ever since the shipping container revolution globalized manufacturing, one of the only businesses that had not been offshored is construction; buildings are bigger than containers. But hotel rooms do not have to be, and these are built in Poland by Polcom Modular, who say “no other building method can compare to the modular construction solution for speed of delivery, reduced waste and disruption, and future flexibility.”
Polcom has been at this for a while, having built CitizenM hotels all over Europe. (We covered one designed by Concrete back in 2012). The Chinese are doing it too. There is no reason that American modular companies couldn’t do it and save a bit on shipping, but they better move fast or every hotel and dorm room in North America will be imported. Some people are not so sure that this is a good thing, and I have previously written that modular construction might just eat the entire construction industry as we know it. But if it makes cheaper, faster and better buildings, then it is inevitable.