Colonial Revival. Federal. Queen Anne. Neo-Gothic. The classic New England Saltbox. Cargotecture.
Thanks to Christian Salvati of New York-based Marengo Structures, the latest architectural style to hit New Haven, Conn. — home to squirrel-free Yale University and the best clam pizza money can buy — consists of decommissioned shipping containers retrofitted and stacked atop each other as giant corrugated metal building blocks.
I’ve covered numerous mixed-use and multifamily cargotecture projects in locales ranging from Detroit to St. Louis to the oil fields of South Texas, each one taking its own unique approach to the increasingly popular modular building trend. What sets Salvati’s first shipping container project in New Haven apart from some of these other projects (his under-construction follow-up project at 161 Ella Grasso Blvd, which I’ll get to later, is a whole other story) is that it doesn’t wear its industrial past on its sleeve.
In fact, passing by the front of the two-family home at 56 Vernon St. in The Hill neighborhood near Yale-New Haven Hospital., you wouldn’t even know that you’re looking at six 6-ton cargo containers stacked two-high. Salvati went out of his way to disguise it, going as far as building a small front porch and red-painted wooden façade complete with false dormer on the front of the structure. As Salvati explains to the New Heaven Independent in 2011, the façade allows the home to seamlessly "gel with the urban fabric."
Inside, it’s very much the same story — “you go inside and it’s a traditional house” explain Salvati in a video profile of the project from IFFI Productions — but when approaching the structure from the side, then you know you’re dealing with a shipping container home. The duplex features poured concrete floors, sheetrock walls with 6-inch thick soy-based cellulose insulation, ventilators, and ceiling fans. The windows were cut from the container in sizes that can accommodate air conditioning units. When things get chilly, heat is provided via radiant floor heating.
The Vernon Street home, which Salvati co-designed with Edsel Ramirez and continues to own and live in when he's in town (the second unit is rented out to local students), took less than four hours to install with the mandatory assistance of a crane; each of the individual 45-long containers took about seven days to retrofit. The total construction cost was $360,000 with the long vacant lot setting Salvati back $22,500.
"I think it’s a pat on the back for New Haven,” Evan Trachten, a staffer at the Livable City Initiative told the Independent prior to the Vernon Street project's completion. "I hope he finds other sites in the city. ... He’s here because of everything New Haven is.”
Well, he did.
Salvati’s new project on Ella Grasso Boulevard is larger and decidedly more ambitious than the duplex on Vernon Street — apparently, it's set to be the largest apartment complex in the United States constructed from Cor-Ten steel. And although it’s not due to be completed until later this spring, thus far the building looks very much like what it is: 16 shipping containers, each container stacked three-high and perched on nine-foot high concrete pilings. There’s no disguising it. When finished, the complex will be home to six individual apartment units which Salvati expects to rent at $1,200 a month.
As for the pilings, the building is located within a coastal flood zone — elevating the containers 9-feet from the ground will help to keep the building safe from potential damage while also provided covered parking for residents. "161 Ella Grasso was designed with [Superstorm] Sandy in mind. After Sandy we decided to raise it even higher,” Salvati explains to the Independent. To further mitigate surface flooding, the landscaping around the complex will include a sizable amount of permeable surfaces along with a bioswale in front of the building.
The Independent notes that Salvati, much like other architects working with shipping containers, is attracted to the building method due to the cost, efficiency, and the inherent resilience of the containers themselves — an important aspect in the post-Sandy Northeast. As for New Haven, Salvati decided to erect his first two projects in the city due in part to the availability of space and the healthy population of open-minded student renters.
As the apartment complex on Ella Grasso Boulevard enters the home stretch (keep a look out for the building if you’re traveling down 95 through New Haven), be sure to watch the above video for an inside look at the process behind Salvati’s first foray into cargotecture.
Related stories on MNN:
- For the next Sandy, NYC eyes cargotecture-based disaster housing
- Kick back with fellow 'healthy hedonists' in a shipping container day spa
- Cargotecture goes social at affordable Vancouver development