Apartment airlift in Belltown

This weekend, NHabit will stack 49 pre-fab apartments on a 3rd Avenue lot.
Crosscut archive image.

Putting up apartment buildings? Easy as Legos

This weekend, NHabit will stack 49 pre-fab apartments on a 3rd Avenue lot.

If you want to build an entire apartment building, from scratch, on a 60-foot urban lot that’s squeezed between a high-rise condo (in this case, Belltown’s Grandview) and a grocery store, pre-fab is one way to go. Hence the new N-Habit apartment complex that’s springing up, fully formed, in Belltown.

NHabit calls itself the “future of in-city living.” The pre-fab approach is speedy fast and relatively painless. The efficiencies of (almost) overnight construction certainly benefit the neighborhood. For the new apartment raising, surrounding streets only needed to be shut down for two weekends, rather than two months – or more. 

And it sure makes for dramatic TV: a giant crane stacking 14 x 30 foot, fully-assembled studio apartments into place like Lego blocks. Inside each one, kitchen, bath, and a modular living space outfitted with a two-sided "Abodian Wall" that converts from desk to dining table on one side, folding bed to closets on the other.

Each studio unit is roughly 420 square feet in size and includes a balcony. The complex of 49 units will also house 3,000 square feet of ground-level retail, a rooftop deck, an outdoor community space and bike storage.

The project was developed by Daly Partners and designed by the Seattle architectural firm Bushnaq Studio. The modules were put together by Seattle-based OneBuild at its factory in Klamath Falls, Ore. General contractor for the operation is Charter Construction, which is also managing several projects around town, including a traditional apartment complex atop Queen Anne. 

"The difference here is that modular construction allows us to complete the disruptive part of on-site work in only two weekends, compared to several months on a traditional project," said a spokesperson for Daly Partners. 

It should be noted that these are not the undersized "apodments" that are meeting opposition in other neighborhoods; the N-Habit units are comparable in size to other Belltown studios and one-bedroom lofts; 25 percent bigger, on average, than the units in the Moda apartments across the street. Rental rates will also be similar: from $1,125 for the studios to $1,975 for a two-level loft with a view on the top floor. 

True apodments are quite a bit smaller, down to 200 square feet in some cases. Calhoun Properties, for example, is building the Cortena and the Alturra on Capitol Hill, both crammed with "apodment suites" for minimalist living. Henry David Thoreau, lest we forget, lived happily in 150 square feet when he wasn't communing with nature. And you can forget about parking; in the interest of urban density, there's no requirement for onsite parking.  

Sure, there's nostalgia for traditional, stick-built houses, If you own a piece of land on Hood Canal, chances are you can buy an A-frame kit and hammer together your own cabin, but modular construction makes a lot of sense for buildings erected as "infill." Unlike mobile homes, welded to a steel frame on wheels, modular housing must conform to all local building codes. Still, the American Builders Network would rather build on-site, disputing claims that pre-fab is more efficient. Perhaps, In some cases, but along Third Avenue, hemmed in by trolley wires, no such doubts.

The original stacking schedule was postponed because of the heavy rains at the beginning of the month. Now, with the first half of the project completed, we can expect the final units to be airlifted into place this coming weekend. Look for N-Habit, the self-described “future of in-city living,” to welcome its first tenants in early 2014.

Meantime, here's a time-lapse video of the first weekend's work (courtesy of Charter Construction.)


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About the Authors & Contributors

Ronald Holden

Ronald Holden

Ronald Holden is a regular Crosscut contributor. His new book, published this month, is titled “HOME GROWN Seattle: 101 True Tales of Local Food & Drink." (Belltown Media. $17.95).