On August 16th, 2019, a large group had gathered at the project site in South Seattle near the Othello light rail station; architects, engineers, developers, investors, community leaders, representatives from the City of Seattle and the Seattle Housing Authority as well as curious on-lookers. They were about to witness something that had rarely been seen in Seattle – erection, and assembly of a micro-apartment building using a new and innovative method of construction. What was unique about this build was that it was assembled using modular construction. The 6-storey apartment project would be erected in only 8 calendar days with 80 modules and 6 modular stairs towers being stacked on top of a concrete podium creating 85 suites for future residents of the Othello neighborhood.
Was everyone witnessing what could be a possible solution to the housing crisis so many North American communities are currently struggling with?
NexGen Housing Partners and Jackson | Main Architecture partnered with Metric Modular and Acc-U-Set Construction for this build, better known as the Cubix at Othello Project. Metric Modular manufactured the modular units for this project at their Agassiz, Canadian facility. The 70 modular apartment units they built were then shipped to a staging site just south of Boeing Field in Washington State where a final inspection was completed on each unit. The last leg of their 156-mile journey was to the project site in Seattle where they were crane-lifted into place by Acc-U-Set.
This was a unique project and the joint collaboration and high level of engagement between all parties resulted in the idea of hosting a set viewing event at the project site to demonstrate to industry, city officials and community members how modular construction can drive the future of affordable multi-family construction. This event allowed the attendees to witness the next milestone of this project – having the modular units crane-lifted and set into place. It may be compared to witnessing someone Lego-build a home right before his or her eyes, but on a much grander scale.
“Setting the modular boxes is an important milestone as it marks the transition from the factory setting to revealing how the final building will look,” stated Craig Mitchell of Metric Modular.
The modular boxes that were crane-lifted are better known as small efficiency dwelling units (SEDUs). SEDUs utilize an ultra-efficient design to provide a high degree of livability for residents. The Cubix at Othello project is the second residential project to utilize modular design and construction by the owner and developer NexGen Housing Partners and Jackson | Main Architecture.
To better demonstrate modular construction, the project team also wanted to provide the 85 attendees an opportunity to tour one of the SEDUs so they could see how these modular units arrive at the project site nearly move-in ready.
Attendees learned that 70 of the 85 apartments were built off-site at Metric Modular’s factory and they left the factory 90% complete with everything from backsplashes and appliances to even towel holders! Onlookers were able to witness the level of detail that went into these near rent-ready units before they left the factory. Once set, interconnects such as plumbing, electrical, HVAC and mechanical systems would be completed by the site team.
This event gave many a better understanding of what modular construction was but a question lingered in the air. Why would the partners for the Cubix at Othello project choose to use modular construction and build most of this apartment complex off-site rather than the traditional method of building on-site? The project partners were eager to share their answers.
This set viewing event was used as an opportunity showcase the benefits and advantages of modular construction and to educate why modular construction is a viable option that will help address the housing crisis.
“Modular construction turns affordable housing dreams into reality by creating efficiencies in the construction process,” says Daniel Stoner, CEO of NexGen Housing Partners. “Inclement weather hasn’t slowed us down. Construction mistakes have been minimized. Quality control has been closely monitored. An entire buildings’ worth of finished apartments were completed in about 40 days in the factory, ready to be shipped to the Othello neighborhood.”
In addition to better efficiency, which correlates with lower costs, modular construction also leaves a greener footprint behind.
“A lot of the conversation around the benefits of modular has been cost and time,” explains project architect John Morefield of Jackson | Main Architecture, “but I think ‘green’ is also a big component. The sustainability aspect of modular construction is often overlooked.” Because most of the work was completed off-site, the overall demand for resources was reduced. The process required smaller crews on-site, minimal materials needing transport and less waste was produced overall than traditional construction.
Changing the way things are done always comes with challenges. This is no different with modular construction.. But, opportunities to discuss these challenges at events like the Cubix at Othello site viewing event helps debunk misconceptions and accelerate discussions on necessary changes to code and city bylaws to keep up with the evolution that is taking place in the construction industry.
Industry leaders such as NexGen Housing Partners and Jackson | Main Architecture are partnering with companies like Metric Modular and Acc-U-Set to provide a compelling alternative when tackling the challenge of finding affordable housing construction solutions. Modular Construction is sustainable, efficient and economical. With many communities affected by the current housing crisis, the Cubix at Othello project team are hoping their efforts will help drive the conversation of how modular construction can provide affordable housing for those communities in need.
The Cubix at Othello project will feature 85 apartments including studio and one-bedroom units ranging from 280sq.ft. to 475 sq.ft. with 20% of the units being leased to residents making between 40-75% of the area’s median income. Opening day is anticipated for early 2020.
See more stories about the Othello Cubix blog in our project blog