After rows and lawsuits, work restarts on B2 BKLYN, the world’s tallest modular tower

A prototype modular skyscraper designed to put a New York City high-rise apartment within the reach of the moderately well off is back on site after a legal dispute halted work for five months.

Bob Sanna, vice president of developer Forest City, told the New York Daily News: "We are committed to completing the world’s tallest modular building by using the same technology that we started it with."

The 32-storey tower, called B2 BKLYN, is being developed by Forest City as part of the deal to get planning permission for its $4.9bn Pacific Park development in Brooklyn. It was promoted as a demonstration of how prefabrication could reduce construction costs.

About 60% of the building’s fabric was to be made off-site in a factory set up for the purpose about 3km from the site in the Brooklyn Navy Yards. This part of the scheme was co-owned by Forest City and Skanska, which is also acting as contractor.

The aim was to reduce the build cost of a 1,000 sq ft apartment in New York from $330,000 to $270,000 straight away, and then down to $230,000 once the team got better at the fabrication and assembly processes.

Shortly after the first 10 storeys of the building were completed, however, disputes that had been simmering between the contractor and the developer broke out into a public slanging match followed by mutual lawsuits.

MaryAnn Gilmartin, Forest City’s chief executive, accused Skanska of not keeping to agreed timetables and budgets. She said in a letter to the firm’s US subsidiary: "We strongly believe, as a joint venture, we have an obligation to the 157 workers who have lost their jobs because of the unauthorized, forced furlough that you, as managing member, have imposed on them."

Skanska said these claims were "completely devoid of substance". It accused Forest City of engaging in "propaganda" rather than "simply fixing the commercial and design issues that led to the unfortunate need to shut down the project and factory".

The legal cases that arose from the dispute are still pending, but in November Forest City bought Skanska’s share of the FCS Modular factory, and this has now resumed work.

The company says about 50 people have returned to work, and that 150 more union workers, who were laid off by the closure, have been asked to return as well. The developer is also advertising construction management positions.

Forest City has not said when it expects the 363-unit tower to be completed.

Photograph: B2 BKLYN, the red tower on the left of this visualisation, will introduce affordable housing into the Barclay Centre (Source: SHoP Architects)

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