Man goes in for a routine hip operation. In the corner of the operating room, there's a young med student watching. When things go wrong, she tries to make sense of what she sees.
The first floors of a modular apartment building are already in place behind the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
A new apartment building called The Stack is about to open in the Inwood section of Manhattan. By design, it looks like a collection of staggered Lego blocks. On the inside, it’s like any other modern rental building in New York. It has a sleek, simple design.
What’s different is that these apartments were not built here in Manhattan, but almost entirely somewhere else.
“The paint, the lighting, the kitchen cabinets, the appliances, the bathroom tile, fixtures, mirror, all of that is done in the factory,” says The Stack’s architect, Tom Gluck, with the firm GLUCK+.
Gluck has been an architect for years, but this is the first time his firm has built what’s called a modular building.
Each apartment comes out of a factory from a company, like Capsys in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. It looks like an auto plant, complete with assembly line run on a track in the ground.
“Where we’re building pieces of building like you’d build a car in a factory. You get that repetition, that precision," says Tom O’Hara, director of business development at Capsys.
On one end of the plant, a team is joining steel beams to make the skeleton of a new apartment. On the other end, a crew is putting the finishing touches on a unit. One guy is tiling the bathroom. You could cook in this kitchen. There’s even a thermostat on the wall already. The apartments are so close to finished that they look like you could move in immediately, if they weren’t sitting on a factory floor.
An apartment module nearing completion at Capsys. It will soon be trucked to the building site and hoisted into place. (Photo: Dan Bobkoff)
But soon, this entire apartment will be put on a flatbed, trucked to the Bronx, then hoisted on top of all the other modular apartments. When the building’s done, you won’t even know it was built this way.
There are many reasons proponents like O’Hara think modular construction is better: it’s built inside, away from weather and dirt. It’s faster because you can build the foundation and the building at the same time. There’s much less wasted material. And yet, while it’s popular in Europe, modular construction in the U.S. remains a rounding error, accounting for just a tiny percentage of new home and multifamily construction.
“I think a lot of people really have misconceptions about the modular business,” O’Hara says. “I think they feel somehow that there’s substandard construction in the factory.”
He says most people think modular means mobile homes or boring, blocky buildings. To him, it just means it’s built better.
“Why would I want my toaster built by a guy sitting on a bench with a ten snip banging things together. I want it out of a factory! Why shouldn’t the building come out of a factory?” O’Hara says.
Modular has been seen as the future before, and yet never caught on beyond certain sectors like college dorms and hotels.
But nearly everyone I talked to thinks this is the moment that changes.
“A lot of it truthfully has to do with this building that we’re standing in front of,” says Jim Garrison, an architect and professor at the Pratt Institute. We’re behind the new Barclays Center arena in Brooklyn, looking at what’ll soon be the tallest modular building: 32 stories of apartments.
It’s funded by a big name developer. Garrison says it’s the biggest example that modular is possible, practical, and not necessarily cookie cutter.
“We now have opportunities to build very interesting buildings using these systems. And, people are listening to the benefits that come with it,” Garrison says.
That’s not to say modular doesn’t have downsides. Because it’s made of boxes, you end up with walls against walls, taking up valuable square footage in the building. Designers have to decide everything on the front end. But more developers are attracted to modular’s faster, and sometimes cheaper construction. And, with new projects in the works, maybe this time is different.Marketplace for Monday April 21, 2014 Dan Bobkoff
The skeleton of a new apartment module comes together at Capsys's factory in the Brooklyn Navy Yard.Dan Bobkoff
A bathroom in an apartment at The Stack. All fixtures were installed in the factory, not at the site.Dan Bobkoff
A kitchen in an apartment at The Stack. Even the appliances were installed in the factory.Dan Bobkoff
A model living room at The Stack in the Inwood section of Manhattan.Dan Bobkoff
The staggered block design of The Stack was designed to highlight its modular construction.by Dan BobkoffPodcast Title Prefab apartment buildings on the riseStory Type FeatureSyndication SlackerSoundcloudStitcherSwellPMPApp Respond No
From the Marketplace Datebook, here's a look at events for Friday:
It's Good Friday. The stock market will be closed, but most banks, business and government offices will be open.
Happy Birthday to Melissa Joan Hart... Sabrina, America's favorite teenage witch turns 38.
And a pop quiz! On April 18, 1775, this man earned his place in American history, for his famous ride alerting everyone that some unwanted guests were on their way.
You’ve heard of B.Y.O.D.? That’s Bring Your Own Device.
It started when office workers ditched the company Blackberry and shelled out their own money to buy an iPhone for work. And that helped bring mobile computing devices into the workplace. Right now, there's another trend reshaping the workplace, says Tom Eich, the head of the digital tools practice for the design consulting firm IDEO. That trend is called B.Y.O.S., or bring your own software.
"It's also called the consumerization of IT,” Eich says. He notes that in the not so distant past, if you wanted software for work, say, like Powerpoint or Photoshop, "you used to have to go to your IT guy to get a licensed version on your computer."
Now you can find everything online and most of it is free. Office workers are turning to Dropbox instead of FTPing files to the company server. They're ditching Word and using Google Docs, when they need to share. And they're often doing it without asking the IT department Eich says this shift in buying power is what's whetting investor's appetites.
"And a lot of the more interesting innovations are entering through the consumer channels first," Eich says.
In other words, start-ups are more focused on worker's needs. High up on that list of needs: getting rid of email.
"People are complaining about how much email is dominating their lives," Eich says. "So there's a need there that'll definitely push companies to find better solutions."
I went to check out Asana, one of the many startups in the Valley that's working on what's now being called "productivity software." Asana's co-founder is Dustin Moskovitz, who's also a co-founder of Facebook. The social network's unofficial motto is "move fast and break things." And in those early days, it was Moskovitz's job to keep Facebook moving fast.
"And I would spend a lot of my day trying to figure out what was going on," Mosiovitz explains. "And that's when we got into the pattern that most companies still use today which is just sending around a lot of email threads."
Moskovitz went looking for a software tool to help him coordinate people and projects but he couldn't find one and so he started writing a program himself. He says, engineers at Google, Apple and other tech companies have done the same thing. And those management tools have cut down on email and workers are more productive.
Moskovitz thinks these tools are part of the secret to Silicon Valley's success. And he wants to sell them to businesses around the world. And in the Valley, it sorta feels like everybody is using Asana, including start-ups like Uber, Airbnb, Nest and Pinterest.
When Pinterest's head of products Tim Kendall joined the company last year, they were 18 employees. Today, there are about 250.
"A lot of our projects require product design, they require engineering, they require marketing," Kendall says. "Tools like Asana can allow you to track all those different components that need to get executed to build and launch a product."
Kendall flips open his Macbook Air and shows me how Asana works. On his screen a dashboard, which shows all tasks, correspondence, check-ins, to-do lists -- or all the information he needs to manage a project -- on one page. I asked him how this was different from creating a Google docs list?
"It just has more flexibility," Kendell said and explained how he can re-organize information to fit the project.
It's not quite the brave new world I was expecting. It sorta looked like a mash-up of software like gdocs and a "to do list."
And Kendall was using email!
"I still use email but I'm able to track a higher volume of projects and workflows without commensurately increasing the volume of email," Kendall says.
Eich, the consultant from IDEO, sees lots of challenges. He says it's early days and there aren't any clear cut winners and losers yet. But he says, there's no turning back.
"Once you have had a workforce that’s complete grown up and immersed in digital technology, there not going to accept a tool kit from their employer that's so much worse than the thing that they experience in their personal lives," he says.
You know who he's talking about, right? Millennials.
Two vehicles from different departments were rushing to the same fire in a suburb of Los Angeles when they collided. One of them careened into the restaurant.
"Selfie" may have been the 2013 word of the year. But "belfies," or "butt selfies" are now in the spotlight. We learn more about why they earned a fitness model a spread in Vanity Fair magazine.
A lot of children grow up wanting to be doctors, but now some physicians are discouraging others from joining the profession. What has changed over the years?