Modular developments like 550 27th Street in Oakland, California, are becoming more desirable. | Courtesy Humphreys & Partners Architects LP

Modular Could Be the Disruptor of MF Construction (SLIDESHOW)

Carrie Rossenfeld Multifamily

Modular construction is catching on as a method of building that saves time and creates efficiencies for developers, according to Humphreys & Partners Architects L.P.’s recent 5th Annual Mid-Year Webinar. Greg Faulker, president; Walter Hughes, director of design; and Daniel Gehman, studio director in the firm’s Newport Beach, California, office, made the case for modular design and construction in some — but not all — cases, and Gehman said the method “could be the disruptor of multifamily construction.”

Hughes presented the firm’s design for Pier 2, a co-working, co-housing modular project for Manhattan’s waterfront. The mixed-use project features full-service bike stations and an upper-platform landing pad for deliveries and travelers that is energy efficient. “Rooftop amenities are a norm today,” Hughes said, calling the design the “answer to what is next.”

Pet services and services that store packages after they’re delivered are two of the highest-requested amenities in multifamily, Hughes added. “A 250-unit multifamily project is getting 1,000 packages a month. It’s hard on management” to figure out how to store these packages until they can be picked up by residents, so many outside companies are providing package-storage services.

Walter Hughes | Courtesy Humphreys & Partners

Immersive technologies to allow for a good resident experience are also taking hold, such as interactive glass on refrigerators, Hughes said. He added that he sees virtual reality going mainstream, calling it a “game changer. It changes the way we design and see buildings and allows you to catch things early on in a project.” VR also allows developers to check for building-code issues. “Technology is changing everything.”

Returning to the modular concept, Gehman said, “Most people in many markets want modular multifamily. More people are looking for it.” He said one of the benefits to doing modular construction is that once it is perfected, developers can replicate the design over and over rather than having a framing crew reinvent the wheel in each market.

While the time savings in modular construction is hard to calculate, Gehman said that, properly managed, it can shave months off a construction schedule. However, he noted, modular construction is not for every project or every person. The three golden rules of modular design are: 1. aim for a minimum number of maximum-sized boxes; 2. model wants to be straight, flat, and rational; 3. you need a highly disciplined team. “Don’t take a detour from the path or modular design or you won’t maximize the value,” Gehman said. He added that switching from modular construction to stick construction is fine, but not the reverse. “If the project is not penciling in stick, then modular won’t save you.”

Daniel Gehman | Courtesy Humphreys & Partners

Ultimately, the pros of modular are labor-rate savings, time savings, price certainty, better quality, safety, security, and reduced noise. The cons are higher transportation and installation costs, a need for early decision making, expensive front-end loading, and use of 20 percent more material than stick construction.

Construction from freight cars is another emerging design trend, particularly in the affordable-housing arena. Gehman said the repeatable concept is an “awesome opportunity for first-time buyers.”