Modular Building Institute

Green Student Housing Made from Recycled Containers

A modular, two-story student housing complex made out of six 45-foot-long recycled shipping containers, located in New Haven, Connecticut.

Interview with Marengo Structures' Director, Christian Salvati, on the New "Green" Student Housing.

Q:  What interested you in developing housing using shipping containers?

A:  In the early 2000s I was the Project Manager for two prefabricated log cabin homes in upstate New York. The homes were like large Lego sets with each piece numbered and detailed instructions for how to assemble the home. While not enamored with the design, I found the efficiency of the approach intriguing and began investigating ways to further streamline and mechanize the construction process. This led me to shipping containers which possess a unique blend of modularity and ease of mechanization.

Q:  Yes, but why shipping containers in particular?

A:  There were four primary reasons to pursue containers. First, shipping containers are largely uniform in materials, construction and dimensions allowing for the development of standard acquisition, processing, transport and installation. Second, the modular nature of the containers provides designers with nearly endless design possibilities without sacrificing efficiency. Third, more than 23% of containers are used once or sit dormant in shipping yards. I found the idea of reclaiming and sustainably redeploying these containers very attractive. Finally, as the container architecture is scaled, it has significant potential economic advantages compared to traditional construction techniques.

Q:  What is your previous background in architecture and construction?

A:  I have a degree in architecture from Cornell and have worked on several prefabricated homes as well as traditionally constructed residences in New York City. I received an MBA from the IE Business School in Spain where I focused on project finance and logistics.

Marengo has been in business for four years and is based in Manhattan.

Q:  I understand that your current project is not your first attempt at container dwellings.

A:  Our first container project was a prototype two family container home built in New Haven in 2012. The first home was purposefully small in scale and intended to enable Marengo to test our hypothesis regarding design and process. We called the first project "full scale R&D". To put it in perspective, the R&D project involved six containers and two units whereas our current project involves 27 containers and six units.

Q:  What is your target market?

A:  Our target audience is a forward thinking individual or individuals who appreciate our unique blend of aesthetic and sustainability. In New Haven we have targeted sites near to the university to expand our target audience to students as well as families. We believe one of the major value drivers for potential residents will be energy efficiency which is a major concern especially when we experience extreme conditions as we have this winter. According to our research, it costs $0.55/square foot to heat a Marengo home versus $2/square foot for a traditional stick-built structure.

Q:  How do you acquire and customize your containers?

A:  The containers are purchased from a container depot in Newark, NJ, and are processed at in an off-site facility in New Haven, CT.

Q:  What are typical construction timetables for this type of building?

A:  In general, the timelines for this type of construction are faster than traditional building techniques. For example, despite taking the first project slow and testing a number of ideas, it took a crew of three with the addition of the typical trades less than 5 months to complete construction once the containers were set on site. The whole project from conception to occupancy, took just under 2 years. For our second project, which is just under 11,000 sft, we project completion in less than eight months with a crew of five people.

Q:  Are Marengo Structures environmentally advantageous?

A:  In terms of “Green” we are up-cycling. To literally recycle a container is virtually impossible. To break a container apart and melt down the steel is a tedious and costly process that often is not pursued due to de minimus returns. We are re-purposing these containers and deploying them in way that is both environmentally friendly and economically viable.

Q:  Where does Marengo go from here?

A:  We are focused on increasing operational efficiency and continuing to move down the cost curve. We are most excited by the possibility of increasing the verticality of the structures as we aim to develop more multi-family housing. We are currently looking at another residential building in New Haven and possibly two residential towers in Astoria/Long Island City.

Q:  What type of demand do you think there is for this type of housing?

A:  We think that there will always be demand for innovative design that combines aesthetics, sustainability and attractive economics. We do not see containers as type of housing, but rather as a system that we can deploy to meet the needs of our clients.






© Modular Building Institute. Modular Advantage eMagazine Spring 2014. All media copyright of their respective owners and no portion of this story may be reconstituted or printed without owner permission.


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