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How It’s Done

Constructing the World’s Tallest Modular Building

Author Jennifer Nalewicki Illustration James Provost

howitsdone

As the most expensive city in the U.S., New York has notoriously high rental rates. In a move to offer more affordable housing, Forest City Ratner Companies (FCRC) and SHoP Architects have teamed up with Skanska to build a residential tower partially earmarked for low- and middle-income households that, upon completion later this year, will be the world’s tallest modular building. Called B2, the 32-story structure will contain 363 apartments, each of which is fabricated at a factory and transported to the Atlantic Yards construction site in Brooklyn via a fleet of flatbed trucks. From there, workers will piece the building together like a giant Lego set. Depending on the project’s success, this modular construction method could very well be the norm for future real estate developments in urban centers around the globe. Here’s how they’re pulling it off.

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1. Using an assembly-line method like the one used to build automobiles, teams of skilled carpenters, iron workers, plumbers, painters and electricians construct the 930 steel modules, taking about a week for each one. They install drywall, plumbing, windows and other features that turn each steel box into an apartment.

2. Once each module is complete, a truck with an attachment that can lift up to 100,000 pounds hoists it onto a tractor trailer, which then transports it to the construction site. Though this journey is less than two miles, it often takes more than an hour. Upon arrival, each module is lowered into place by a crane. Construction workers click them together.

3. To ensure that each dwelling remains secure in the final building, workers apply a high-performance rubber sealant—similar to the kind used in subway cars—to each module once it’s been slotted in place. For extra stabilization, they then bolt an intricate framework of steel lattices to the modules to guard against high winds.

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