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Stacked cargo containers in New Haven’s “LEGO” apartments

Christian Salvati of Marengo Structures thinks shipping containers make great building blocks and in time, he hopes it will become an affordable and quick method of building homes.

As full-scale R&D, Salvati and his partner in Marengo built Connecticut’s first shipping container homes: a two-story duplex built from six containers. Two years later, they stacked higher, using 27 containers to build a 6-unit apartment complex they hope to rent to students in the New Haven area (the building is wedged between Yale and the University of New Haven).

While containers are uniform, modular and easily sourced (Salvati buys from a depot in Newark, NJ), the building process is still slower and more expensive than it should be given the lack of codes for this type of building.

“In the United States building with containers may be about less than 10 years old. So there are no code books. I don’t think it has anything to do with containers, it’s just the fact that it’s an entirely steel structure. Any of the typical buildings are traditionally, once we go taller, they’re steel clad with something else. Here we’re doing a building which is a steel frame building clad in steel, which we don’t have a building code or building type which works for that.”

Salvati thinks that by sharing information, architects and builders can help improve both zoning issues and the currently steep learning curve that prevents containers from becoming a more universal modular alternative.