Architects & Developers Discover
Greener Features Using Modular Construction
Economic & eco-friendly advantages realized with in-factory construction
The time-lapse video shows six months of construction. According to Steiner+Associates, the modular construction process is faster and uses less labor; best of all, unless you point out the features that might indicate the buildings are modular, you would never know they are modular. (Video courtesy Corna/Kokosing Contruction)
The Greene Town Center (The Greene) in Beavercreek, Ohio is a mixed-use town center, featuring upscale retail, restaurants and apartments. Completed in the fall of 2008, this $40 million, 360,000sf expansion of the town center may look like others in the Steiner + Associates portfolio, but there is one unique difference. The Greene incorporates modular construction technology that makes the building process not only greener, but more profitable. Recently The Modular Building Institute (MBI) talked with Bob da Silva, Senior Vice President of Construction for Steiner + Associates as well as Matt Canterbury, Director of Business Development for M+A Architects (architect of record) about the unique advantages of modular construction.
Modular Delivers Profit Advantages
For Steiner + Associates (Steiner), this was the first town center in which they incorporated modular construction techniques. According to Bob da Silva, the modular process was considered specifically because of both labor shortages and materials cost escalation. Steiner's owner and CEO, Yaromir Steiner, wanted to investigate modular construction as a solution to these problems. Yaromir, da Silva says, exhibits a healthy curiosity for better processes and cutting edge technologies. "He's willing to take a calculated risk and try something others may not have."
Matt Canterbury of M+A Architects (M+A) adds that he was not surprised that Steiner was looking at the modular method when the two companies started collaboration on The Greene. "Steiner + Associates is always willing to try leading edge processes; it’s a part of their philosophy." Coming into the project, M+A did have some experience with modular construction—but only within single-story classrooms and offices. Because of this, they knew that the modular process would not inhibit their design.
"It's a delivery method that doesn't limit our designs in any way." Canterbury explains. The architect can design condos or apartments to normal specifications. The how of getting those individual units constructed is usually negotiated by the contractors and private developers. "We have found that if contractors have experience and a comfort level with the modular process, they are willing to use it."
In this case, Steiner was introduced to Champion Enterprises through the general contractor for The Greene, Corna/Kokosing. Champion is a nationwide leader in modular commercial housing and had just the experience and portfolio Steiner felt good about. Both proven leaders in multi-family commercial properties, the two developers decided to work together on the residential portions of The Greene—about 13% and 48,000sf of the entire build.
The Flexibility Advantage Becomes Key for Developers in the New Economy
And da Silva views the final modular build as successful. So much that Steiner is now planning to apply the modular advantage toward future town centers. At the time The Greene was built, the modular advantages for adequate labor supply and cost control were the overriding ones. "But times are different now," da Silva points out. The flexibility modular construction affords is an even greater advantage in this economic climate. Steiner plans to build one-story retail centers with a platform on top, allowing them to bring in modular residential units at a later date. "The modular construction technique allows us to set residential above the retail much faster and with less disruption."
M+A also sees the economic advantage to developers. It's a process that can deliver under tight deadlines, Canterbury points out. If you are looking at an apartment complex of 120 units that needs to be done in 9 months, modular is the best way because of the accelerated timeframe.
The Architect’s Perspective: Lessons Learned
As The Greene was the first multi-story modular project for M+A, the architects also learned some powerful lessons about in-factory construction. "We were pleasantly surprised that the coordination with Champion went so smoothly," Canterbury comments. "The modular providers understood the big picture right away. Furthermore, we found it to be a really precise building method. When you think about how precise and flexible the process of modular building is," Canterbury reflects, "there are many reasons to use this delivery method."
In fact, M+A is actively working with other modular providers and clients to offer faster construction schedules. The acceleration advantage is particularly powerful for certain markets that M+A serves so well, like multi-story residential housing and franchise retail applications. In these instances it is a matter of replicating the original design, either in multi-story fashion for residential, or from site location to site location for retail franchise.
Modular is Greener, Period
In the future, though, it may be the green advantages themselves that outweigh all other factors. Modular construction is simply a greener process. Although Steiner may not have considered the green advantage as the key factor at the outset, da Silva points out that they now realize they had delivered a greener build through improved use of materials and less disruption at the site. This translates into quite an advantage for a development company that "seeks to sustain or even add 'greenspace' to the landscape."
As for M+A, they were sold on the green advantages of modular construction going into this project. Canterbury points out that M+A has been aware of modular's green advantage for several years. "The inherent advantages for sustainability result from not having to doze an entire site, but instead just enough area to crane modules in."
M+A has been actively promoting the greener building advantages, in addition to the acceleration features, to their clients. A smart move, considering the fact that green building is the major driving force in construction trends for the foreseeable future, as well as the one area where growth is certain for some time to come.