Mortenson Is Building U.S. Hotels With Rooms Manufactured in Europe

Mortenson Is Building U.S. Hotels With Rooms Manufactured in Europe

Known as modular construction, the method is part of a new trend in the U.S.

A 260-room hotel typically takes Mortenson about two years to build from the ground up. If built off-site, the Minneapolis developer predicts it can cut that time roughly in half.

Partnering with citizenM, a Netherlands-based hotel brand and operator, Mortenson is constructing a seven-story, 264-room hotel in Seattle using modular construction, a method that involves manufacturing sections of a building in a factory and assembling them on location. The hotel is slated to open in 2019 and take only 13 months to build.

To speed up the process, the rooms are entirely prefabricated in citizenM’s European manufacturing facility, then shipped to the United States. Once on-site, the 160-square-foot rooms slide into steel cages that connect together to create the structure of the hotel. For stability, a layer of cement is poured between each level. Once the structure is complete, “the only thing you have to do is add beds, toilet paper, and towels,” says Phil Greany, general manager of Mortenson’s Seattle office.

Building the rooms in a controlled environment eliminates delays associated with inclement weather and allows foundation work to be done simultaneously, says Greany. The process is not only quicker, but safer, reduces waste, and requires less on-site labor, he adds, which is particularly appealing as skilled labor shortages show no signs of abating. In May, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated that there were 253,000 unfilled construction jobs nationwide.

Although new in the U.S., modular construction has been widely adopted in Europe, Asia, and Australia. Compared to conventional construction methods, Greany says, the cost is roughly the same. While manufacturing costs are low, shipping costs are high, he says. For the Seattle project, shipping will cost over $1 million.

Mortenson is developing a second modular hotel in Seattle and two in California as part of citizenM’s West Coast rollout. Construction for the Los Angeles location will begin in the first quarter of 2019, says Greany.

CitizenM operates 12 hotels globally; it has 18 locations under development, 10 of which are in the United States. Its first U.S. location opened in Times Square in 2014. (The company is not alone here; Marriott is also getting into the prefab room game.)

“We’ve been working with citizenM for a few years now,” says Greany, “and they are really disrupting the hotel market.”