Founded in 2019 by SHoP Architects co-founders and twins Bill and Chris Sharples in 2019, modular construction startup Assembly OSM is accelerating plans to bring its hybrid of digital design and prefabricated, modular units to the real world. On October 26, the company revealed its first completed apartment module for a real-world building, though the location and developer are being kept under wraps for the time being.
Assembly OSM has drawn backing and technical support from a number of former SpaceX, Tesla, and Boeing engineers, including former Boeing chief technology officer John Tracy. Using a single digital twin model for each module from conception to installation, the company wants to cut down on waste by controlling every step of construction. Each component used, Assembly claims, will be designed to interlock and easy to assemble for its network of qualified contractors, ensuring replicability anywhere across the world. Aside from the ease of construction, drawing from a pre-approved material bank will create a more transparent supply chain, allow developers to track the sustainability of each product, and hopefully avoid cost overruns thanks to the use of proprietary parts.
“Good design shouldn’t be a luxury reserved for the world’s elite,” said Bill Sharples in a press announcement released yesterday. “Our technology is an open ecosystem and the platform is built to be agnostic to architects, so if a developer wants a Frank Gehry facade, it can be done using our platform. Our vision for Assembly OSM is bigger than just one building, we set out to change how buildings are built in the future.”
And, thanks to a fully furnished one-bedroom apartment sitting in a warehouse in Harrison, New Jersey, the company is moving one step closer to realizing that goal. That unit marks the delivery of Assembly OSM’s first full-scale module for production, and the next phase will involve relocating and installing the actual unit in the still-under-wraps building, which is being constructed with SHoP. Assembly OSM noted that it has been in constant communication with New York City’s Department of Buildings since the company’s founding to secure pre-approvals for its modular system.
Ignoring the strange setting, the prototype in Harrison is pretty typical of a standard New York apartment, with luxury finishes across the unit. The apartment was built inside two standard-sized steel frames, then joined to create the final product. That framing system is key as once a unit is complete, it can be shipped and installed by clipping the frame to a building’s larger superstructure. Assembly OSM will also offer “plug and play” predesigned modules so that developers could theoretically forgo a design architect altogether and still end up with a high-quality final product.
Of course, two years into Assembly OSM’s life, it’s worth looking back at the comparable companies that came before it. The construction of 461 Dean Street in Brooklyn’s Pacific Park redevelopment zone, another SHoP-designed project, wasn’t smooth sailing even though the world’s tallest modular tower was eventually completed. Katerra, most notably, went bust earlier this year (some would argue after attempting to expand too fast into every aspect of the industry). Given the Sharples’ prior design experience and the litany of talent signed on, will Assembly OSM be able to succeed where its predecessors failed?