Originally published August 19, 2011 at 10:00 PM | Page modified August 21, 2011 at 4:58 PM

New prefab system may be tested in South Lake Union apartments

Seattle Times business reporter

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Seattle architecture firm Collins Woerman has filed preliminary paperwork with the city to build two apartment projects in South Lake Union using a prefabricated, modular-construction system it has developed over the last few years.

The six-story, steel-and-concrete buildings should cost no more to build than conventional, wood-frame buildings, partner Arlan Collins said. The materials would cost more, he said, "but we can put it up in half the time.

"And you get a better building."

The two sites are on Dexter Avenue North between Valley and Aloha streets, and on East Galer Street between Eastlake Avenue East and Interstate 5.

The Dexter project would have about 160 units, the Galer project about 50. Each would have ground-floor retail space.

Both sites are owned by Alexandria Real Estate Equities of Pasadena, Calif., which specializes in lab space for life-sciences companies. Alexandria would not develop the apartments itself, Collins said, but instead would probably sell the properties to other investors once permits are obtained.

Because Collins Woerman's modular system, called "Sustainable Living Innovations," is untested, the firm also has filed paperwork for similar projects on both sites using wood-frame construction. The idea is to get permits for both, Collins said, then let developers decide what kind of building they want.

But the architect said other developers have expressed interest in using the Sustainable Living system for projects on other sites, and he's confident someone will commit to construct a building using the system within the next month.

The system would work like this:

First a concrete podium would be poured, then concrete slabs for each floor stacked on top of it. After a steel frame for the building is erected, workers install prefabricated walls, complete with wiring and plumbing, as well as cabinets, appliances and other fixtures on the slab for the top floor.

Then that slab is hoisted into place and bolted to the frame — and work begins on the slab for the next floor down.

Collins Woerman's partners in developing the system include McKinstry, DCI Engineers and Lydig Construction.

The city's Queen Anne/Magnolia Design Review Board, an advisory group, has scheduled a meeting on the Galer Street project for Sept. 21, followed by a meeting on the Dexter Avenue project on Oct. 5.

Eric Pryne: 206-464-2231 or

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