Despite the touted economy of off-site, prefabricated housing, the building methodology has made limited inroads in New York, stunted for decades by a wary local bureaucracy and a public that seemed to prefer flashy one-off condominiums.

Following a 2008 exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, however, interest in the potential that prefab offers for the dense urban environment was renewed. That interest only grew more urgent after Hurricane Sandy devastated parts of New York in 2012, leading officials to reexamine prefab prototype disaster-housing schemes.

This summer, the interest in prefab is yielding its first real fruits: The Stack, a seven-story, 28-unit apartment building in the Inwood section of Upper Manhattan. The 38,000-square-foot project is the product of a partnership between Peter Gluck, of design-build firm Gluck+, and independent developer Jeffrey Brown, who turned to Berwick, Pa.–based DeLuxe Building Systems to turn out the building’s structural modules.

“We took some inordinate risks,” Brown says. The results are fairly astounding: a contemporary, upscale-looking project with reported cost savings over comparable buildings of between 15 percent and 20 percent.


Video courtesy of Gluck+. Still photographs by Christopher Payne.

The apartment building comprises 56 modules, which are not necessarily contiguous or disparate—residents might live in several, or parts of several. “Unless we point out to them, they won’t be able to tell where one ends and another begins,” notes Gluck.

The apartment building comprises 56 modules, which are not necessarily contiguous or disparate—residents might live in several, or parts of several. “Unless we point out to them, they won’t be able to tell where one ends and another begins,” notes Gluck.

Credit: Christopher Payne



Taking shape here, the Broadway-facing façade, Gluck says, is “the only place where the modular structure will be evident” with the individual boxes protruding at different depths from the building plane.

Taking shape here, the Broadway-facing façade, Gluck says, is “the only place where the modular structure will be evident” with the individual boxes protruding at different depths from the building plane.

Credit: Christopher Payne



Further complicating the project was the peculiar site—a narrow urban infill lot 50 feet wide and 150 feet deep. That’s fully a third deeper than the typical Manhattan lot, and required a complex interior courtyard plan to allow for natural light and air circulation.

Further complicating the project was the peculiar site—a narrow urban infill lot 50 feet wide and 150 feet deep. That’s fully a third deeper than the typical Manhattan lot, and required a complex interior courtyard plan to allow for natural light and air circulation.

Credit: Christopher Payne



Crews lower the modules into place and secure one to the next; later, others will come through to hook up the wiring and plumbing. But from the sinks to the doors to the countertops, “Everything else is already in place,” Gluck says.

Crews lower the modules into place and secure one to the next; later, others will come through to hook up the wiring and plumbing. But from the sinks to the doors to the countertops, “Everything else is already in place,” Gluck says.

Credit: Christopher Payne



Each 12-foot-wide prefabricated box can easily be guided by the workers as its being suspended from the crane with a slight push. The small modules do mean low ceilings, however—necessary, in part, to make it across the bridge to the city.

Each 12-foot-wide prefabricated box can easily be guided by the workers as its being suspended from the crane with a slight push. The small modules do mean low ceilings, however—necessary, in part, to make it across the bridge to the city.

Credit: Christopher Payne



“When the construction workers got started,” Brown says, “they were all taking pictures of each other.” The novelty of erecting a building Lego-style soon wore off, however, as the crew quickly focused on completing the project in a scant 10 months.

“When the construction workers got started,” Brown says, “they were all taking pictures of each other.” The novelty of erecting a building Lego-style soon wore off, however, as the crew quickly focused on completing the project in a scant 10 months.

Credit: Christopher Payne