Epstein’s Vice President and Director of Hospitality, David Scott, AIA, shares some insights on the development of modular highrise hotel construction and Epstein’s involvement on what is soon-to-be the world’s tallest modular hotel:
Construction in the U.S. has remained relatively unchanged for the last 100 years. Building materials are transported to the site and assembled into a custom assembly. With this approach, there's significant variation in the construction quality due to several variables, including the temperature, availability of skilled workers and ease of access.
If the construction is carefully planned to be repetitive, it can be put together off-site in a controlled environment; thus the quality can be better controlled. It’s much easier to sheath a wall standing on a factory floor in 65 degree temperatures than it is to accomplish the same task on a stage hanging 40 feet in the air in December in Chicago. Buildings like hotels can have the individual rooms constructed in a factory or warehouse and, once finished, they can be transported to the site.
With upfront planning, the modules, or “mods,” can be constructed to a higher standard. The materials required for the mods can be mass produced, staged for convenient access, and then assembled. The steps in the assembly of a module can be tracked, monitored and documented to insure a consistent and complete assembly. The results of this process ensure a more precise level of building tolerance and increased quality of fit and finish. Once complete, the modules can be wrapped and shipped to the site. The modules are then stacked, connected and weather-sealed into a complete building.
The modules are staged in DMD Modular's facility located outside Kraków Poland.
Modular construction requires significant prior planning to ensure that the modules are properly detailed to allow for flexibility in sequencing by limiting inter-dependencies of building systems. Architects and engineers need to make sure that the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) is on board with the modular construction approach and that all required life safety issues are properly addressed and documented early in the process.
"It's critical that the project is modeled to ensure dimensional accuracy. It’s obvious, but if a module is built an extra ¼" wide and there are four modules next to each other, that can build to a 1-inch error," said John Robertson, Epstein's Senior Technical Architect. "Rounding errors could derail the project, placing a premium on careful coordination and the BIM capabilities of the design team.
One area where modular construction has taken off is New York City, due to the high land costs and limited space for the staging of construction. A number of modular buildings have been built in the five boroughs, with plans for another, the AC Hotel Nomad, currently in progress. The hotel, located at 842 Sixth Avenue, within the NoMad (Madison Square North) neighborhood, is a 25-story, 168-key hotel being developed by Concord Hospitality Enterprises. For this project, like AC Hudson Yards, Epstein is the Associate Architect providing technical expertise and documentation of the design.
The AC brand represents a “stylish hotel for urban spirits” who appreciate modern design in urban, cosmopolitan locales. According to Marriott, the AC Hotel is tailor-made for modern travelers looking for a new way of experiencing the city. Marriott’s vision for this hotel is for its clients to “experience innovative spaces of freedom with a European-inspired style that defines contemporary hospitality.”
The guest rooms will be a mix of one-bed and two-bed units; each room will be a prefabricated 12’ by 25’ module. By applying manufacturing techniques to hospitality, modular hotels streamline the guest room construction process, reducing the overall schedule by as much as six months, therefore expediting the speed to market for the hotel. Guest room modules are delivered completely furnished and ready to hoist into place like building blocks.
There are eight modular units per floor being fabricated in Poland by DMD Modular and 168 fully furnished modules will be shipped to New York and erected by Skystone Group.
“Danny Forster & Architecture’s angled but hyper-symmetrical guest floor plan leverages all of the efficiencies one gets from building in a factory. The design still allows for variation – King, Queen/Queen, ADA-Compliant and Connecting Rooms – but with consistent room bay widths and prototypical details that capture major cost savings,” the DF&A team said.
The AC Nomad is also being designed with sustainability in mind, including making use of the ample day lighting, individual room occupancy sensors to save energy usage, and the pre-fabricated nature of the room construction means there will be less waste created during the construction phase of this unique project.
The AC Nomad will provide guests with plenty of amenities, including a reading lounge, fitness center, conference room, coffee bar, an “AC lounge,” and several outdoor amenity spaces on the 3rd and 4th floors. The hotel rooms will occupy floors 5 through 25.
In past times, modular construction was known as prefabrication and did not have a spotless reputation. Today’s modular conduction, however, is different. It is marked by a desire to bring the advantages of modern industrialized manufacturing to the construction sector. Instead of building everything from small components on-site, whole rooms or fractions of complete buildings are built in factories, transported to site and assembled in place.
Some of the advantages of modular construction include: a significant reduction in the duration of construction; the ability to control the environment inside the factory; deployment of the most up-to-date digital design and manufacturing techniques; execution of the work under the strict quality control rules of the manufacturing industry; a reduction in on-site labor of up to 70 percent; and delivery of an improved finished product over traditional construction.
Once complete, at 25 stories, the AC Hotel Nomad will be the tallest modular hotel in the world, rising above the CitizenM at 189 Bowery.
"I believe the potential for modular construction is steadily growing," David said. "Epstein is at the forefront, bringing high-rise modular from Europe into the U.S."