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October 2, 2018
John A. Morefield of Jackson | Main Architecture in Seattle says modular projects don't have to be dull.
He's the project architect for Cubix Othello, a modular six-story, 85-unit apartment building set to begin construction this week at 7339 43rd Ave S. in Seattle.
“Some of the stigma of modular is they are all boring cookie-cutter boxes that look the same,” Morefield said.
But architects can add elements that make the buildings unique, he said. Cubix Othello uses a variety of siding, including cement board and vertical metal panels, and created a steel shadowbox cowl around windows and balconies to give the facade depth and shadow.
Some of the modular apartment boxes will also be divided on-site and offset in places to add interest to the facade.
Morefield said some modular boxes were offset on the east and west side of Cubix North Park at 1008 N. 109th St. in North Seattle to give the facade “playfulness.” He was also the project architect on that development, which has 101 small efficiency dwelling units, two retail spaces and seven live/work units. It is expected to open in mid-October.
Seattle-based Parkstone Properties / NexGen Housing Partners are developing and own both projects. They say Cubix North Park is the first modular constructed micro-apartment building west of the Mississippi. Rents will be $895 to $1,195.
Parkstone, a real estate development and investment firm headed by Daniel Stoner, introduced the Cubix apartments brand in 2013. In 2015, Stoner recruited David Hanson and Mehul Vora to join him in forming NexGen Housing Partners, to build and operate micro apartments in Seattle under the Cubix brand.
NexGen is the general contractor on Cubix Othello, which will overlook Othello Park and be about a four-minute walk to light rail.
It will have 56 small efficiency dwelling units of 265 to 300 square feet, and 29 one-bedrooms of 412 to 465 square feet. In exchange for a larger envelope, eight percent of the apartments will be affordable to people making no more than 50 percent of the area median income, said Morefield.
The studios are expected to rent for $1,095 to $1,395 and the one bedrooms for $1,295 to $1,595. The rent-restricted studios will go for $672 and the one bedrooms for $900.
The first two floors will be traditional concrete/steel construction. The modular units will be stacked similar to Legos on the top five floors, after arriving at the site fully built from the Metric Modular factory in Vancouver B.C. Those floors will be completed in three weeks rather than the typical eight months, according to Jackson | Main.
“The appliances are in, the walls are painted, the tile backsplash is on there. Once the plumbing and electrical is hooked up, the units are ready to go,” said Morefield.
He said the project is expected to be complete in 10 months to a year.
Fifteen apartments on the first floor will be built using traditional construction. Morefield said the city requires the first floor and basement be concrete and steel, which takes up half the construction cost.
To lower the cost of modular multifamily projects, a developer could set the boxes on a slab foundation, with minimal to no basement, Morefield said.
The architect said it is difficult to get modular housing financed because there is a large upfront cost to get the boxes built that lenders are not used to. He said he is working with the Housing Development Consortium to find a more sustainable financing method for modular low-income housing.
The city and the Washington Department of Labor and Industries Prefabricated Buildings Division oversees offsite and onsite construction of the Cubix projects, which also had to meet design review and neighborhood design guidelines.
Morefield said he hopes some of the stigma of modular will be alleviated through design review.
He is a Seattle Design Review board member and he said he expects the boards to apply the same rigor to modular as they do to traditional projects.
“We mentioned modular in the design review process, but we never used it as a crutch,” he said.
‘N' Habit Belltown, a seven-story, 49-unit modular apartment and retail building that Daly Partners opened in 2014 near Third Avenue and Bell Street laid the groundwork for modular midrise apartments in Seattle, said Morefield.
He said modular can be built quicker than traditional construction, but it takes longer to get permits because municipalities' review and inspection processes have not kept pace.
“If we can't move the needle on permitting we're always going to be stuck right there,” he said.
Morefield said he is talking with the city of Seattle to try to improve design and permit review. For instance, 75 percent of the design of a modular project could be reused in another modular project, which could expedite the permit review for subsequent projects, he said.
Parkstone Properties / NexGen Housing Partners are planning another Seattle project using modular technology, and expect to secure a site and start the entitlement process in the second quarter of 2019.
The team for Cubix Othello includes ABKJ, structural engineer; Richard Ward, landscape architect; and Jay Decker Civil Engineers, and Jackson | Main was the interior designer.
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Lynn Porter can be reached by email or by phone at (206) 622-8272.