By Sarah Trefethen
Forest City Ratner is four to six weeks away from signing a lease for 100,000 s/f of factory space in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, according to executive vice president MaryAnne Gilmartin.
The space is currently occupied by NYC Bike Share, which is scheduled to relocate to a permanent home in Sunset Park this fall. When that happens, Forest City will ramp up the city’s first factory for building residential high-rise buildings.
The developer plans to build a 32-story, 350-unit residential tower at Atlantic Yards by inserting the factory-built building modules into a steel chassis built on site, Gilmartin told guests at the Beverly Willis Architecture Foundation’s “Glimpse the Future of the AEC Industry” event Tuesday morning.
The cost savings will be at least 20 percent compared to traditional construction, Gilmartin said.
Forest City is still in negotiations with construction unions over the details of the project, but Gilmartin said she expects that in-factory workers will be paid $36 per hour, while the construction workers on-site will make $90 per hour.
“This is exceptionally safe construction,” Gilmartin said of work that is done on the first floor and indoors.
Speaking after the event, Gilmartin expressed hope that the factory, where Forest City plans to ultimately build modules for all of the 14 residential buildings planned for the Atlantic Yards site, will improve the construction union’s market share in residential development while also creating a stable flow of work.
“This is absolutely about bringing the unions to the table,” she said. “There will be union construction workers working in the factory.”
The developer’s plans to use modular construction to move 60 percent of work on the residential towers indoors was just one innovation discussed at the development seminar.
Futurist Edie Weiner kicked off the event with an overview of her vision of the buildings of the future, from nanotechnology to structures that grow from genetically-engineered trees.
“We have never reached the limits of our capacity for growth, and we never will if we don’t stop innovating,” Weiner said.
Ana Bertuna, vice president of design and construction at Related Companies, said her firm is laying the groundwork for technology that may not yet exist at its Hudon Yards site.
Bertuna is overseeing the building of Tower C which will be anchored by the new headquarters for the handbag maker Coach.
At Hudson Yards, multiple towers will sit on a platform built above the rail yards. The space below that platform could become the nerve center for a smarter complex of buildings, she said.
“We’re designing infrastructure within the building and platform without knowing what’s going in there,” Bertuna said. “At some point, something is going to interconnect.”
One obstacle to trying new things could be the legal climate, said panelist Michael K. De Chiara, founding partner at Zetlin & DeChiara. While confessing it was a strange comment for a lawyer, he said, encouraging the inherent gamble in trying new things may mean rethinking how industry approaches liability when things don’t work out quite as planned.
“We need someone to figure out, if we’re going to be more innovative, how we can modify and share those risks,” he said.
Ultimately, however, the diverse group agreed, change is coming, even if happens in small steps.
As Bertuna, of Related Companies, said: “In this building, it’ll be a little change here, and in this building it’ll be a little change there, and eventually it’ll change the industry.”