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May 11, 2018

Here’s how a modular hotel stacks up in Seattle

  • Mortenson says modular can alleviate ever-increasing construction costs, labor shortages and congested jobsites.


    It doesn’t take an industry expert to see that ever-expanding and unprecedented growth in the Seattle and Bellevue markets is unsustainable — something must give.

    Mortenson has teamed up with citizenM hotels to make sure safety, quality, cost and schedule are not the “give” by going modular on citizenM’s new 264-key hotel in South Lake Union at 210 Westlake Ave. N. As a first for Seattle, the road to stacking modular Lego-like hotel blocks has been quite the journey but should pay off in spades for all stakeholders.

    Stagnant industry

    The development, design and construction industry struggles to embrace change. The approach often is: “If things are working why disrupt the process?” The tools in our toolkits and how we use them have seen little change over the past 50 years.

    Manufacturing lean techniques were driven by vision and necessity to solve a series of problems: from Henry Ford, who in 1910 assembled his rolling production line to reduce cost and increase production to supply affordable cars to the masses, to Toyota, who developed the Toyota Production System in the 1960s and 70s to reduce the upfront cost of inventory and allow for more variety through just-in-time production.

    Lean principals and just-in-time production are now considered the model for manufacturing and have become widely adopted and improved upon by some of the world’s largest manufactures, including Boeing, Paccar, IBM, Apple, Dell and General Electric.

    Images from Mortenson [enlarge]
    Finished hotel units are lined up for transport in Europe.

    Hotel rooms are shipped with everything except mattresses, pillows and towels.

    Units are based on steel cages.

    Each unit is outfitted with an air and water barrier before it leaves the factory floor.

    Stars align

    Vision and necessity have come together on the citizenM South Lake Union hotel project to help propel us, our industry and our city into a new chapter of the development and delivery model.

    We have a necessity: With the ever-increasing cost of construction, lack of skilled labor and construction congestion shutting down lanes and clogging our streets, we cannot be as successful with the “business as usual” approach.

    We have the vision: As owner and operator of its hotels, citizenM long ago understood the value of modular construction, especially that quality and speed-to-market equals early revenue. With 10 hotels in Europe and eight in deployment or under construction in the U.S., modular design and delivery is something citizenM sees as a key ingredient to success. Combined with the experience and leadership of Mortenson, Gensler and Arup, the stars have aligned to gain some traction and push our stagnant industry forward.

    International lesson

    Modular design and construction has been widely adopted in Europe, Asia and Australia for all the reasons we are now looking at. It also solves the specific regional issues we are facing in skilled labor shortages, capacity/backlog of the local subcontractors and suppliers and the logistical nightmare created on our streets, with projects on what seems like every block.

    With modules manufactured in a controlled environment, not only have we mitigated these issues, but we have enhanced the delivery of the product.

    You get what you put in

    The team — including Polcom Modular for modular manufacturing — has spent a year and a half planning for modular delivery. The approach and commitments we have established to function as one team has been a journey for us all and I can say it has been a bit uncomfortable at times.

    That is exactly what Menno Hilberts, project director with citizenM, was looking for in a team. A team that is not afraid to break out of its comfort zones. From his experience in the delivery of citizenM’s modular hotels in Europe, he knows it means getting past the traditional way of working and thinking. Instead, we are all responsible for everything.

    Where we stand

    Currently all 264 modular hotel units are in production with full-time inspectors in the factory. Hotel units will leave finished — down to the toilet paper holder. The only items to be post-factory installed will be mattresses, pillows and towels.

    Modular units will also be fully protected from the elements with an air and water barrier that will remain through the installation process.

    The entire hotel will be shipped via one private vessel from Europe to Seattle, a four-week journey will that includes a brief stop at the Panama Canal.

    Stay tuned

    Stacking of our hotel Lego blocks will begin in late August. The widespread adoption of modular development, design and construction is well underway in the Pacific Northwest.

    Phil Greany is an executive with Mortenson and leads its commercial, hospitality and multifamily businesses.

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