The Stack is New York City’s first prefabricated apartment and it’s rising away from the real estate fray in Inwood. Nonetheless, people are watching it closely as it could be the sign of things to come. The winning design of the 2012 city challenge, adAPT NYC, will be built using pre-fabricated modules assembled on the Brooklyn Navy Yard by 2015. Forest City Ratner will use modular construction for its first residential building in Atlantic Yards.

The Stack, designed by architect Peter Gluck, will be seven floors and made up of 56 modules. Targeted as mid-income housing, 20% of the units will be below market rate. As The New York Times points out, prefab construction disrupts long-standing construction practices in New York City:

The trend toward modular does pose issues, particularly for New York City’s powerful construction unions. It means exporting some construction jobs to factories outside New York, and while many modular factories are unionized, the employees tend to earn less than traditional construction workers.

There are some benefits however. The modules can be built on an assembly line off-site (The Stack was put together at DeLuxe Building Systems in Berwick, Pennsylvania) while the foundation is being dug. This speeds up construction by 7-9 months in total, and costs 10-20% less. While many design changes have to be made upfront, quality control can be monitored as the modules are built. In fact, once the change is made, it’s automatically applied to subsequent modules, whereas “with traditional construction, oversight is more time-consuming because someone must be on the site at all times to catch mistakes,” reports The New York Times

But Gluck has a larger vision for this project. Talking to Co.Design, he says, “This is all about urbanization, the moving back to the cities. Now the technology and the methods for doing it have evolved.” Historically, The Stack is the evolution of architectural ideas that stem from the 1920s through the 1960s. Gluck also sees prefab as an efficient tool to improve housing in New York City: “It allows the flexibility with sites that normally resist that smaller, but necessary, development.”

The lot The Stack, sits on is 50 feet wide, similar to other plots in its vicinity zoned for multi-family walk-up buildings. The lot itself was previously designated as “Parking Facilities.” Fast Company has a video of The Stack, which they’ve been watching closely, being installed in Inwood:

Read our previous coverage on micro-apartments in New York City and the MCNY exhibit last year, “Making Room.” Also see the house built of shipping containers in Williamsburg. Get in touch with the author @untappedmich.