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World's tallest prefab tower to rise in Brooklyn

World's tallest prefab tower to rise in Brooklyn

Posting in Architecture

SHoP Architects' 32-story B2 building in Brooklyn, New York will be the world's tallest prefabricated tower. It's also the latest example of why the prefab process is ready for primetime.

The world's tallest prefabricated tower may rise in Brooklyn, and New York City will have SHoP Architects to thank for it.

The 32-story building, called "B2" and intended to rise in the ashes of a rejected Frank Gehry design at the Atlantic Yards site, will contain 350 units, half of which will be designated for low and middle-income families. It's part of a bigger, 22-acre, $4.9 billion complex that will include a new sports arena for the (soon-to-be) Brooklyn Nets basketball team, now playing across the river in New Jersey.

"Tallest prefab tower" has a nice ring to it, but when you get down to the details, it's all about efficiency and cost. Gehry's original, triumphantly ribboned design came before the market crash in 2008; its successor must embody the austerity of the period immediately after, without descending into drab. After all, the Atlantic Yards site is a prominent one for Brooklyn, and boring just won't do.

Enter prefabrication. We're familiar with the concept of building homes in a sterile factory, where conditions are controlled and modular design -- with wiring and ductwork preinstalled -- saves big on construction costs.

But what about a skyscraper?

The technique has been embraced by SHoP, whose work elsewhere in the city (the proposed FIT C2 building; the Porter House building in the Meatpacking District) justifies the B2 building as the next, most logical step.

Nevertheless, it's a big step: a three-dimensional digital model is created, then deconstructed into components -- in B2's case, 12,000 panels and 940 composite "megapanels" -- that can be manufactured off-site. Once each part is carved out and wired, they're trucked to the construction site, where they are assembled not unlike a huge Lego tower.

It's not as easy as that, of course, but the point is that prefabrication allows more control of the process, reducing scrap material, wasted time and room for error. In other words, it's an architect's dream.

Construction workers' unions are understandably worried that the prefabrication process will eliminate their jobs. While that's true for some, we'll still need people to put the pieces together. Only this time, they'll come with directions.

Less Really Is More [New York]

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Andrew Nusca

Editor Emeritus

Andrew Nusca is editor of SmartPlanet and an associate editor for ZDNet. Previously, he worked at Money, Men's Vogue and Popular Mechanics magazines. He holds degrees from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and New York University. He is based in New York but resides in Philadelphia. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure