Modular New York

Module Housing

My Micro NY – nArchitects, New York, New York. In Development.

Modular housing has been in the news lately, as the next kit-of-parts building method which is being utilized in many developments across this Vast City. The perception of the module as a potential solution to solving New York’s rapid housing needs is a promising one, and refreshing in a way which “bucks” traditional modes of construction.

Gunnison 1

The Gunnison Home from America’s Mid-Century.

The idea of the module is not new at all. It is a concept which has been investigated over time, from the early tract housing developments of America (and in crude form the multitude of trailer parks across the nation) to the more sophisticated explorations of Architecture firms in this country like Kieran Timberlake, pioneers in the ultimate potential of the module. This potential comes in the form of questions asked by the architect. What if we wrapped a building with a Smart Skin? How can we make these buildings better, more intuitive?


Cellophane House by Kieran Timberlake, MOMA Installation, 2008.

Recent activity of the module in action can be seen at a few key developments in The City. The first is a new project in Inwood called The Stack; A grouping of 56 separate modules creating a total of 22 housing units for differing incomes. The concept of The Stack is novel in that it introduces the idea of modular living on a broader scale across the City. As an inquirer of the Urban Form, one can quite readily ask, what if these modules were replicated en masse? It could be a developers dream in terms of construction timelines. Or, it could be a developers nightmare.


The Stack. Large scale modular housing. Inwood, NY. Image by Gluck +

When applied to larger scales of efficiency, at least on paper, modular housing looks like a great proposition. The new B2 development in Atlantic Yards was supposed to be the highrise pioneer in construction expediency and scale. This new tower, under construction by Forest City Ratner is directly adjacent to The Barclay’s Center and has been moving at a snails pace when compared to typical construction projects in The City. One readily asks, what went wrong?

Atlantic Yards Module

Forest City Ratners B2 Tower in Atlantic Yards, Brooklyn, New York.

The New York Times recently reported in an article on Atlantic Yards that the pace of the project was related to unforseen factory kinks in the process. Unforeseen kinks, hiccups in the process, slower delivery timelines; These are all to be expected when pioneering new housing type in a City which typically prefers the standard and conventional in its everyday development. In essence, the unexpectedness within a methodically planned process should be a given. In order to perfect the delivery method, there must be room for error.

In this vein, kudos to the new Tower rising at Atlantic Yards. The Changing City needs pioneers. It has to experiment, and sometimes fail. The Changing City should always welcome the buildings that struggled to be something greater. It always has. This spirit is ultimately the quality that people should remember, and maybe will someday in Modular New York.


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