The Future of Apartment Towers Is Coming to Singapore

Katerina Ang
·3 min read

A pair of fascinating 56-story residential towers will soon rise on the western edge of Singapore’s urban core. The addition of more skyscrapers to a densely populated city-state is hardly surprising, but Avenue South Residences will also feature a selling point that will separate the building from all the rest. Slated to be completed in 2026, the towers will be the world’s tallest buildings created with Prefabricated Prefinished Volumetric Construction (PPVC) technology—where semi-finished apartment modules are built in factories offsite before being stacked, Lego-like, on top of one another.

The 988-unit condominium towers will eventually comprise 2,984 total modules. Everything from the bathrooms with Hansgrohe fittings to kitchens with marble backsplashes will be constructed in factories in Singapore and neighboring Malaysia. They will then be transported to the 5.6-acre building site, which sits next to a High Line–styled, 15-mile-long former railway corridor now transformed into a park, and hoisted by cranes into place.

PPVC-built homes could become a new norm since the design allows for factory workers to build the space at a safe and controlled distance before the units are shipped to the site.
PPVC-built homes could become a new norm since the design allows for factory workers to build the space at a safe and controlled distance before the units are shipped to the site.

The coronavirus pandemic could accelerate the spread of PPVC-built homes. Much of the finishing and construction work is carried out in factories, where social-distancing measures can be more easily implemented than on a building site, says Markus Cheng, associate partner of ADDP Architects, which oversaw the Avenue South Residences. “When you build in a factory, you minimize workers having to work at height. You also don’t have lots of workers mingling around taking an elevator up 40 stories.”

Modular homes also require less physical bodies to be present on a building site. This is an asset at a time when the U.S. construction industry—which has struggled to fill open positions—has seen its pool of migrant labor sharply reduced due to closed borders. Lower labor costs, faster construction times, and economies of scale mean that modular housing can produce cost savings of as much as 15% in some cities, experts say.

Singapore’s government went so far as to sell the land to the developer of Avenue South Residences on the condition that PPVC technology was used in its construction.
Singapore’s government went so far as to sell the land to the developer of Avenue South Residences on the condition that PPVC technology was used in its construction.

Unsurprisingly, pre-finished modular buildings are increasingly common in cities that face housing crunches—Singapore’s government sold land to the developer of Avenue South Residences on the condition that PPVC technology was used, Cheng says. Carmel Place, a micro-apartment development in midtown Manhattan where rents run upward of $2,500, was constructed with a similar method. Hong Kong and at least two Canadian cities are using prefabricated units to build social housing. Major hotel chains like Marriott, which recently built the world’s tallest modular hotel in New York’s NoMad neighborhood, have embraced the technology.

But PPVC homes aren’t always cheaper: The median price of an apartment at Avenue South Residences is just under $1.1 million. The condominiums cost about 5% more to build than if traditional methods have been used, says Cheng, whose firm recently worked on another 40-story PPVC tower in Singapore. That said, he notes that prices are quickly becoming more competitive as the technology evolves further and more developers and builders achieve expertise in PPVC construction.

The building features a verdant sky garden with views of the surrounding city.
The building features a verdant sky garden with views of the surrounding city.

When residents move in, the hope is that they’ll pay less attention to how the towers were built and more to their amenities, whose luxuriousness stands in opposition to the old notion that modular homes are soulless and cookie-cutter. Both towers will have a floor dedicated as “sky gardens” that offer soaring views of Singapore’s Greater Southern Waterfront. Smaller “pocket gardens” will also be scattered throughout the towers, so no homeowner will be more than five stories away from green space. “There are green lungs all around the edges,” says Cheng. “It’s a relief space for all the residents.”

Originally Appeared on Architectural Digest