Though not a newcomer to the commercial construction landscape, modular building is nevertheless picking up steam—and making significant headway in healthcare, to boot. From shortening schedules to reducing waste, the practice offers solutions to a variety of project challenges.

In 2012, engineering and construction consulting firm FMI released a white paper that delved into this concept (see “The Answer to Better, Faster, Cheaper?"), responding to a statement from the National Institute of Standards and Technology that targeted prefabrication, preassembly, and modularization as one of the primary ways the construction industry could improve productivity and become more efficient over the next 20 years.

Recently, Jennifer Kovacs Silvis checked in with Tom Hardiman, executive director of the Modular Building Institute, a nonprofit trade association serving modular construction, on what’s pushing modular building’s progress and what opportunities exist for healthcare.


For someone who may be new to this concept, describe modular building.

This is a process that constructs a building off-site, under controlled plant conditions, using the same materials and designed to the same codes and standards as conventionally built facilities—but in about half the time. Buildings are produced in modules that when put together on-site, reflect the identical design intent and specifications of [a] traditionally built facility.


Modular construction has existed for some time, but how have you seen its use grow over the past decade or so?

We’ve seen a significant increase in interest using modular construction for permanent multistory projects, such as apartments, student dorms, and smaller hotels. We’ve also seen a greater interest from the healthcare community for smaller projects, such as clinics and rural healthcare centers. 


What kinds of advancements in technology, manufacturing, etc., have pushed this? 

Many developers and general contractors are taking another look at modular because of its efficient processes, both in terms of minimizing material waste and streamlining labor costs. Technology improvements and the increased use of BIM, as well as the interest in green building and Lean manufacturing, are also helping to drive the industry.


How significantly is modular building being used overall and, specifically, in the healthcare market? 

Overall, modular construction accounts for about 2% of new construction starts in the United States. The percentage is higher in some regions, such as the northeast, and within some markets, such as educational facilities. 

Growth in the healthcare industry is being driven by a few factors: (1) a growing awareness that modular construction can be used for complex buildings, evidenced by the recent completion of the Mercy Hospital in Joplin, Mo.; and (2) the desire for healthcare facility managers to grow and expand services without disrupting current services by utilizing off-site construction to minimize site disturbances. 


Where do you see further opportunities for its use in healthcare? 

We don’t see a limit to the opportunities in the healthcare market. Entire hospitals have been built using this process. Practically speaking, there are currently more modular manufacturers that build smaller facilities (under four stories and under 25,000 square feet), making clinics and rural expansions the most obvious opportunities. 


What are some limitations for healthcare in particular?

Limitations for modular construction typically center on transportation and site limitations. Since the building is constructed in large modules, there are various height, width, and length limitations for the modules depending on the route from the manufacturing facility to the site.

Likewise, a multistory modular facility requires a crane to lift the modules in place after construction. So a tight site location that doesn’t allow room for a crane would be challenging.


Already touted as a solution for controlling budgets, shortening schedules, decreasing waste, etc., what do you expect to be saying about modular construction a decade from now?

That more architects, contractors, and developers are using it than ever before. The industry is poised to grow significantly over the next decade as those in the industry recognize the benefits. 


Jennifer Kovacs Silvis is managing editor of Healthcare Design. She can be reached at