From Gehry to pre-fab.
Developer Bruce Ratner will build the world’s tallest pre-fabricated tower as the first residential building inside his Atlantic Yards mega-project, dealing a blow to labor unions and architecture enthusiasts — whose original support for the development was conditioned on job creation and the promise of a mini city built by starchitect Frank Gehry.
Renderings released on Thursday by SHoP Architects reveal a 32-story building rising at the corner of Dean Street and Flatbush Avenue, just south of the under-construction Barclays Center.
Two identical-looking pre-fab buildings would come later — and one of them would be 50-plus stories, which would set a new record for modular buildings.
The first residential tower would be constructed using 930 pre-fabricated steel boxes known as modules that would be built in a factory and transported to Dean Street, where they would be bolted into place.
Ratner says that the method could cut costs by up to 25 percent because most of the work would be done in factories where union laborers earn less than they do at construction sites.
The design would also save money because it would take less time to build: the world’s tallest modular building, a 25-story dormitory in Wolverhampton, England, was built in less than one year.
Ratner said that construction on the first tower would begin early next year, with ground-breakings for the others following at six- to nine-month intervals after that — the first three residential construction in the stalled, 16-tower development.
That timetable could change, given that Ratner still hasn’t secured financing for the first tower, according to the developer’s spokesman, Joe DePlasco.
Ratner has also not sold the plan to unions, who loudly supported the project from the outset because of its promise of thousands of jobs. Those same union supporters, already angered by a shortfall of jobs at the project, have signaled that they oppose modular construction because it could cost hundreds of jobs.
On Thursday, however, union leaders appeared willing to have their members work for lower wages to move forward with the prefab model.
“We are in the process of attempting to reach an agreement on modular construction that will work for the building trades,” said Gary LaBarbera, president of the Building and Construction Trades Council.
Ratner still hasn’t committed to the modular design for the entire project. But longtime critics of Atlantic Yards slammed the plan, which came one day after seven residents filed a federal lawsuit against Ratner alleging that he falsely promised them jobs on the project.
“It’s another despicable slight to the community surrounding the project by eliminating more crucial jobs for residents,” said Councilwoman Letitia James (D–Fort Greene).
James and others felt similarly slighted by the notion that a project that was once meant to be an architectural showcase by legendary designer Frank Gehry will now comprise far more mundane pre-fab buildings.
Gehry was fired in 2009 in a cost-saving move.
Ratner’s spokesman said the developer will begin to seek financing for the first building, but declined to comment further.
Reach reporter Daniel Bush at [email protected] or by calling (718) 260-2531.