I just found this great article that highlights some of the commercial applications for modular constuction.
Here is an excerpt from the article:
Squeezing Costs, Builders Take New Look at Prefab
By RONDA KAYSEN
Published: June 14, 2011
PHILADELPHIA — A package arrived on a shabby north Philadelphia block in January 2010, wrapped in Tyvek and measuring 55 feet long and 16 feet wide. Inside was a kitchenette, a bathroom and two bedrooms. The only thing missing was the toilet bowl lid. Just six weeks — and 88 similar packages — later, the Modules at Templetown, a four-story student-housing complex of 80,000 square feet near Temple University here, had completely risen from its concrete foundation.
The technique used to build the Modules, modular construction or prefab, in which major components are assembled off-site, has a long history in the single-family housing market, but its place in the commercial field has been limited. Currently just 1 percent of the commercial building market is prefab, mostly limited to schools, hospitals, dormitories or retail stores, although the largest modular building in the country is a 21-story Hilton hotel in San Antonio that was erected in 1968.
Now, with an emphasis on materials conservation and reuse, and developers looking to squeeze costs any way they can, modular construction is getting a closer look.
Often the word prefab conjures images of inexpensive and poorly built structures like trailer homes. But proponents of prefab, many of whom shudder at the moniker, say that modular design done well is anything but cheaply built. A modularly constructed building uses the same materials as a traditional one. But because it is made in a factory, workers are not battling the elements and can construct it more soundly and with less waste, proponents say.
“The quality of what you can assemble is infinitely higher on a factory floor,” said the hotelier André Balazs, who considered building a luxury modular hotel atop the High Line in Manhattan, but abandoned the idea when he found it too costly in New York.
Mr. Balazs said he was in discussions with manufacturers in Europe to build individual hotel units abroad and ship them to this country to assemble a boutique hotel in Los Angeles, a process that could be replicated in other cities.
Nearly all contemporary buildings rely on some element of prefabrication, with facades largely constructed off-site and windows and doors standardized. Even “bathroom pods,” bathrooms built and assembled off-site, are becoming increasingly common. But the idea of building most of the building in a factory and setting it atop a foundation simply has not taken off.
“Is the technology there to do it? Yes. Is the desire? Yes,” said Christopher Sharples, a principal at SHoP Architects, which is designing a possible 34-story prefab tower for the developer Forest City Ratner at Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn. “In the near future, I think people are going to become more educated about what the potential of this approach could be.”
The market share of commercial modular construction is poised to increase in the next five years, according to the Modular Building Institute, an industry trade group. In addition to the possibility of a tower at Atlantic Yards, an eight-story modular apartment building is scheduled to break ground this summer in the University City section of Philadelphia.