By Jack Stubbs
“There’s a huge housing deficit across the world; skilled trades are disappearing…the result of that is necessity. People want answers… a modular solution, or an idea of changing the design paradigm of buildings and construction, is a necessity to try and increase productivity. That has been recognized at this point,” said Roger Krulak, CEO of Brooklyn-based FullStack Modular.
FullStack Modular merges modular building with new construction technologies to bring a higher level of control, predictability and scalability to development. The company is a design, manufacture, construct, turnkey solution for developers of hotels, rental, multi-family and owners and operators of student housing.
One of the primary challenges currently facing FullStack and other modular construction companies is how to define the industry, according to Krulak. “How to define modular construction is a huge problem in the industry right now…there are two areas of definition as it relates to modular…one of them is the height of the building and whether it’s combustible or noncombustible…the other area of definition is how much of [the process] is done in a factory versus how much of it is done on-site,” he said.
The modular construction industry is at a critical juncture, with FullStack Modular playing a role. “Our problem is that we don’t have enough manufacturing supply…there’s demand, but supply has to meet it. That’s where we are in the cycle of this evolving industry,” Krulak added.
We talked with Roger Krulak about how FullStack’s approach fits into the wider modular construction industry—and where he thinks the industry is headed.
With over 25 years in the construction industry, Roger has extensive experience on both the construction and development sides of the real estate business. Prior to starting FC Modular within Forest City Ratner Companies, Roger spent 12 years at Forest City Ratner Companies as SVP of Mixed Use and Residential Development, entitling and planning over 1,000 residential apartment units integrated into many of FCRC’s retail projects.
Tell me a bit about FullStack Modular: its founding, how the company began, its guiding values and principles, etc. and how it currently seeks to transform the multi-family urban building design process? In a nutshell, what does FSM do?
FSM is a design manufacture construct solution for the built environment focusing primarily on multifamily housing. At the same time, we also build hospital rooms, data centers and ADUs. It was founded and created by Roger Krulak during his 13 year tenure at Forest City Enterprises. Upon the company’s conversion to a REIT in January, Roger purchased the business and all of its assets including 100,000 square feet in the Brooklyn Navy Yard from Forest City with a group of investors.
FSM provides modular construction for developers of residential buildings, hotels and dormitories. In its aim to provide modular solutions for the construction of a wide range of building types—from luxury apartments to student housing—how applicable is FSM’s general process to different building types across sectors?
As mentioned above, our primary market is all forms of multi-family generally in the middle 70 percent of the market and in projects that range from 8 to 45 stories tall; our sweet spot are projects that range from 60,000 to 100,000 square feet. At the same time, we do projects outside of that range. We also manufacture, construct and design hospital rooms.
What is FSM’s reach and who are the company’s primary clients? What geographic demographics or individual companies does FSM predominantly serve?
Our primary clients are developers of hotels, rental multi-family and owners/operators of student housing. Our primary target markets are from Boston to Washington, DC roughly a 500-mile radius.
How is FSM’s construction and design process different from that of different modular construction companies? How does FSM strive to differentiate itself from other Brooklyn- and New York-based companies in the region?
We are a design, manufacture, construct, turnkey solution for developers. Our focus is on developing customized libraries of housing types for these developers to increase productivity and decrease cost over time in partnership with these developers.
FSM is one of the primary movers in the volumetric off-site builds high-rise modular construction through constant innovation and technology. We expect to continue to be a leader of the pack. Note we are one of the only high-rise modular solutions currently in the United States.
The modular construction industry is increasingly mediated by and dependent upon efficiency—increasing speed of product delivery while at the same time emphasizing cost-control and overall quality of the product. In a sense, all design and construction companies are participating in this trend. This being the case, how does FSM ultimately set itself apart?
Manufacturing is always more efficient than a traditional construction process regardless of the technology applied to that process. Our solution of volumetric modular construction is specifically geared towards dense urban environments where building on-site is extraordinarily complicated.
Over the last decade, the construction industry has transformed immeasurably and continues to change day by day. Ultimately, how does FSM strive to contribute to this dynamic, evolving industry? In short, what is FSM’s role in this larger process of reconfiguring the construction industry?
I am not sure that I agree that the construction industry has transformed significantly especially in the United States. One of the advantages of volumetric modular construction is that it pushes the design process all the way through a manufacturing process, thereby eliminating real time clash and coordination efforts created by trade focused design. This discipline and VIM focused DFMa will push the industry in this direction. Productivity and construction has not significantly increased since 1995 whereby manufacturing has had a 360 percent increase in productivity.
The shift [from ‘stick built’ to modular construction] is only 3 to 5 percent of the market right now…the construction industry and other industries in the U.S. are very entrenched…the U.S. is very slow to adapt to new technology, and there’s been little productivity increase for thirty years.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
One of the things that I’ve always wanted to do is make the design build process shift from one that is now very [inconsistent] to something that is more disciplined and focused…where the answers are figured out on a computer before you actually put a shovel in the ground.
The question is whether the words or the actions come. In my mind, in this industry, the words come first…People want answers. We have this problem, productivity isn’t increasing, and our demand is massive, with the housing deficit growing on an hourly basis. If you don’t increase productivity, you’re never going to start to catch up.