In a sparsely attended press conference late Thursday evening, the UC Student Housing and Development Office announced a series of major changes to the People’s Park student housing project.
“We are under increased pressure to provide more student housing,” explained Isadora Jarr, planning manager for student housing. “And we also need to lower costs. The university faces new budget constraints due to the high probability of future limits on admission growth. Therefore we have switched architecture firms, and we are very pleased with the result. Modular housing is perfect for the next generation of students.”
“The original plan,” Jarr said, “could only accommodate 1,100 students despite the project’s 12-story height. It was a very good design, but too conventional. We needed a more progressive housing concept, and a more distinctive architectural motif. By bringing in Hapag-Lloyd as consulting designers we doubled the number of beds and added a bold new look to the project.” She explained that the stackable modular living units made the higher capacity possible without increasing height. This approach also shortens the construction time by at least 18 months, she said, while dramatically reducing the project cost from $312 million to less than $200 million. “Some of the savings will be passed on to the students living in this complex, making an education at Cal that much more accessible.”
“Supply chain, man, think supply chain,” added Ellis Dee, long-time People’s Park activist now in charge of coordinating construction logistics. “The modules will be fabricated in China, I think, complete with interior fixtures and all that stuff, and shipped ready to occupy, like, just minutes after they are lashed in place. How cool is that?”
Traditional construction would require sourcing components from a number of different suppliers, all with different supply chain delays, he explained. “Desks, beds, bookshelves, lava lamps, and all the other things students need, although I can’t think of anything else off-hand.”
The modular units will be single-sourced and off-loaded from a Hapag-Lloyd ship at the Port of Oakland container terminal.
Many of those present expressed skepticism, mostly focusing on the unconventional exterior aesthetics. “It looks rather industrial, not at all academic,” remarked Roxanne Scholes, another long-time park advocate.
“Not everyone will like the new look,” admitted Dr. Jocelyn Shaike, the design team’s structural engineer. “But consider that our modular design offers far superior seismic resiliency. The entire structure can heel over to 45 degrees and nothing will come loose,” she said. “And it’s rated to withstand longitudinal accelerations of up to 1.5 g.”
Sue Nahmie, chair of the Berkeley Resilient Design Commission, added that although the site is not particularly subject to problems associated with sea-level rise, the modular concept, in general, is easily adjustable to withstand flooding simply by re-stacking on top of water-resistant ground floor units.
But the press corp demanded more quantitative information: “How big is each living module?” asked Mai Tan, from The Sun.
“Eight by 20,” answered Jocelyn Shaike. “160 square feet, which is a standard 20-foot by 8-foot container. But there will only be one student in each module. Typical dorm room size is 300 square feet for a double, and current practice puts three students in those rooms, for only 100 square feet per resident. Our survey shows that students have a strong preference for single rooms.” She said that even with “extremely economical” double occupancy, 80 square feet per student is well over the building code minimum in some states, which is only 50 square feet per occupant.
“We look forward to seeing other major universities follow our lead with compatible modular systems, added Doris Luce, representing the chancellor’s office. Accommodating transfer students will be a snap: Just lift off that student’s residential module and ship it over. There will never be an easier way to relocate.”
Local contractors expressed objection to the basic concept of prefabricated offshore manufacturing. Waldo Wahl, from the interior design firm Curt ‘n Rod, noted that they would lose the chance for a lucrative contract outfitting the new dorm. Phil Tubb and Luke Wharm, two plumbing contractors, had similar complaints against the pre-fab shared bathroom units, claiming that local businesses like theirs, and the Berkeley economy, would suffer.
“True, we will lose the economic trickle-down of wasteful on-site construction. But it cannot compete with the low cost of building the finished housing modules in Chinese factories,” said planning consultant Bjorn Toulouse, citing a recent paper in Dorm Design Journal by Miles B. Hind. “Our first priority is to find ways to reduce the cost of attending Cal, and this design saves over $100 million in the cost of building the new dorms.”
Hapag-Lloyd is better known as a global shipping company, but their selection as the architectural firm for the final design seems like an excellent fit.
“They have more than half a century of experience stacking containers,” added Toulouse. “This was an easy problem to solve.”