by Erin Tiernan Like a real-life game of Legos, a crane hoisting building blocks into place at 1500 Hancock St. has built Nova Quincy, the newest apartment building to rise over the downtown. The top five floors of the 171-apartment building are made of prefabricated modular boxes, a first in Quincy and on the South Shore. There are signs that modular construction could be catching on as a time-saving alternative to traditional construction as the Boston region’s building boom continues and the demand for more housing endures. It’s a technology that could shake up traditional construction practices that have barely evolved in the past 100 years. As construction costs rise, the region is suffering from a dire housing shortage, and modular construction has the potential to cut costs and save time. But industry experts say the technology has a long way to go before local developers see those benefits. The 1500 Hancock St. property required six months’ worth of site work before construction, including redirecting a culvert that a brook flowed through. Using modular construction allowed LBC Boston, the commercial real estate developer building the project, to work on the upper floors of the seven-story building at the same time that the site work was being done. “It saved us about five months of time on site,” said Joe Apruzzese, construction superintendent with D.F. Pray, which is managing the project. “Things can go on simultaneously.” Modular construction is the process of building off-site in a controlled manufacturing environment, and it’s becoming more popular, industry experts say. Permanent modular construction is on the rise, according to the Modular Building Institute’s Permanent Modular Construction Annual Report for 2018. Overall market share for commercial modular construction increased slightly from 3.18 percent for 2016 to 3.27 percent in 2017. The number of projects using modular technology tripled from 2010 to 2016, according to a FMI Prefabrication and Modularization in Construction Survey. Boston has had a few such projects for large commercial builds, including Trac 75 in Allston. In the case of Nova Quincy, the 140 modular boxes that constitute the top five floors were assembled at RCM Modular, a facility in Saint-Benoît-Labre, Quebec, and shipped to Quincy. Each box is finished out before it arrives at its final destination. Cabinets, floors, faucets, closet doors and countertops — everything is already installed. When the boxes get to the construction site, they just need to be lifted and set into place, a surprisingly precise and fast process. It took seven weeks to assemble the Nova building. The boxes were staged at the Quincy shipyard and then taken to the Hancock Street site and assembled “like building blocks,” Apruzzese said. Although it saved five months of construction time, Apruzzese said, that’s not always the case when it comes to modular building. Tamara Small of NAIOP, the Commercial Real Estate Development Association, said modular construction has great potential to be a cost- and time-saving tool for the construction industry, but she said so far most projects have yet to see those positive results. That’s because the vast majority of companies that build the modular boxes operate in Canada. The cost and time to ship the units has meant the technology hasn’t saved much for local developers. "Some people thought this would be a major revolution in the industry, but the reality is the benefits are just not that significant,” Small said. She said she hopes the potential for cost and time savings improves. “We’ve seen a little bit of an uptick, but this is not something that is sweeping the industry yet,” she said. LBC Boston spokesman Jonathan Miller said the $40 million project didn’t save any money by using modular technology. For them, he said, it was about recouping the time spent on site work. The seven-story residential tower will include stores on the ground floor. So far, LBC Boston only has one lease signed, with Gentle Dental. The 15,000 square feet of ground-floor retail space includes more than 160 feet of frontage along Hancock Street and will ultimately host a mix of businesses including a restaurant or tap room, Miller said. Though the last box for the Nova building was placed and secured on Jan. 16, move-in day won’t be until Sept. 1. The interior connections and facade, which will be a mix of brick and other materials, still need to be completed. LBC Boston plans to have its model units ready for potential renters to view early next month. The building is mostly made up of studio and one-bedroom apartments and rents are slightly lower than many of the new luxury apartments coming into Quincy Center, something Miller said was a conscious decision by the company. “We’re not titling this a ‘luxury’ building,” Miller said. “We think we are offering an A-class product, but at a reasonable price.” Rent for one-bedrooms starts at $1,899, and at $2,229 for two-bedrooms. Each unit has air conditioning, a washer and dryer and walk-in closets, Miller said. The building will have a communal fitness center, a lounge and co-working space available for tenants. Cats and small dogs will be allowed. The building’s second floor is made up of 31 micro-studio suites outfitted with what Miller described as “smart furniture.” A moving wall separates the 380-foot studio space, transforming it into a bedroom or living room. “We believe there is unmet demand for people who want to be close to public transit, close to major highways and who don’t spend a ton of time at home and who don’t want to spend $3,000 a month on rent,” Miller said. The studio suites start at $1,499 a month, he said. Once the finish work is done, Miller said it will be almost impossible to tell Nova Quincy was built with modular technology, but one benefit that will be obvious to renters is how much quieter the assembled modular blocks are than traditionally built apartments. “It should be a very quiet, nice place to live,” Miller said.