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Stocky modular buildings are popping up in East Bay – developers share their experience

By John King, San Francisco Chronicle, April 10, 2021

“Modular construction has been touted for years as a way to trim development costs and get more housing built in the Bay Area. But by time the Logan [204 apartments that were assembled on-site from 572 prefabricated modules, located in Oakland’s downtown Temescal district] opened late in 2020, the development firm had closed its factory and put all future projects on hold.

“While the potential of modular housing has attracted considerable attention in the past decade, the first large batch of residential buildings using the method is only now being completed. Sometimes the savings meet expectations; often, they don’t.

“ ‘It can be less expensive, but it’s not a slam dunk,’ architect Ken Lowney said of modular construction. ‘You have to know in advance what you’re doing, and design that in from the start.’

“[Developer Rick Holliday has a] project nearing completion […] which will open this spring near the West Oakland BART Station. It stacks 110 apartments into a pair of six-story rectangles, one long and one squat.

“The design is by David Baker, whose 53-person studio last year was selected the state’s top firm by the California Chapter of the American Institute of Architects. His approach to modular projects is to keep things simple but add a few bold accents.

“The complex in-house design [of the Logan] added to the costs, no question. But [Randy Miller, founder of Oakland’s RAD Urban that designed the Logan,] said that the main impact on the budget came from unexpected costs in preparing the site, which hid long-forgotten building foundations and an incorrectly mapped underground creek.

“ ‘We’re regrouping and re-evaluating,’ is how Miller described his company’s current status. ‘I’m not done with modular … (but) it has been an incredibly challenging journey.’ ”

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