Ahoy! Shipping Container Apartment House Docking

Allan Appel PhotoChristian Salvati is building a Superstorm Sandy-“inspired” apartment house in the flood plains of New Haven.

He plans to perch it on concrete pillars 9 feet off the ground and fashion it from 26 pinned-together shipping containers designed for hostile conditions of the high seas.

Category Four Hurricane coming ashore in the Hill? Bring it on.

Details of Salvati’s plan emerged at last week’s montly City Plan Commission meeting, where the site plan for his Salvati’s six-apartment container apartment house in the flood zone, just east of where Kimberly Avenue meets Ella Grasso Boulevard, was unanimously approved.

Salvati, who already has one container house with two units to his credit at 56 Vernon St., said when finished, the Boulevard structure might be largest container residential structure in the country.

Click here for a story and pictures of that Vernon Street dwelling under construction.

It was completed in the fall last year and now has three University of New Haven students renting the downstairs 1,000-square-foot apartment.

Salvati, whose home base for his small company Marengo Structures is New York City, uses the upper apartment when he’s in town. That will be frequent as he gears up to build at 161 Ella Grasso Blvd.

If that goes well, Salvati said will work with the city to find a manufacturing site to produce construction materials fashioned from shipping containers.

Who knows? Maybe living in a box will become the cool and even luxurious thing to do. But that’s down the road.

At the meeting last Wednesday night, City Plan coordinator Joy Ford pronounced Salvati’s plan a good use of the site right by Kimberly Field and the I-95 ramps.

“They thought I was crazy” to build with containers: That’s how Salvati characterized city officials’ initial response to his 56 Vernon building, on a site that had been an empty lot since the 1970s.

Down the block, from which Yale-New Haven Hospital buildings are visible,  Habitat for Humanity has also invested in three houses. Yale University owns other houses on the block, several of which have been long empty.

Salvati’s is the first container house on the block, and in the city.

“At least legal ones,” he said.

“I understood [the city’s initial response]. I’d be skeptical too, but a lot of people are doing this. Now they’re embracing it,” he said.

Because the Hill site is in a coastal flood zone, Salvati said, he’d have to build his apartment house at an elevation in any event. So he decided to go nearly 9 feet off the ground both to keep it safe and to utilize that space for what will now be covered parking.

The house at “161 Ella Grasso was designed with [Superstorm] Sandy in mind. After Sandy we decided to raise it even higher,” he said.

Salvati also hates asphalt. The new project will have significantly increased permeable surfaces including a “bioswale” running along the front of the building and other features to absorb and infiltrate down into the ground any time all that hurricane-force rain heads our way.

Salvati said he’s drawn to containers because he thinks the future is all about building with more efficiency and stronger to withstand more frequently violent weather.

The construction is quicker than with normal wooden framing. Both approaches require a concrete foundation. However, once you get the skeleton up, sheet-rocking, installing appliances, and the electrical and plumbing are like traditional construction, Salvati said.

He said he expects to rent the 161 Ella Grasso apartments for approximately $1,200 a month. All will be market rate and for rental only.

Salvati, who works with structural engineer and container enthusiast George Runkle, said the savings are to be made when you scale up.

He envisions eventually building a complex of from 15 to 22 apartments.

He said the Dutch are particularly active with shipping container construction. The Norwegians, too. A big project is going up on in Detroit.

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posted by: anonymous on March 26, 2013  11:27am

This is great - New Haven desperately needs more housing.

The only way to make housing more affordable is to meet demand - which means that we need to be building at least 100 projects like this one each year in our city, and/or opening at least two 360 State Street-scale projects.

posted by: FromTheHill on March 26, 2013  2:32pm

It’s steal but it reminds me of Paul Rudolph’s Oriental Gardens Co-op in the early 70’s

posted by: cedarhillresident! on March 26, 2013  3:55pm


posted by: Seth Poole on March 26, 2013  10:30pm


posted by: Noteworthy on March 27, 2013  9:23am

Great stuff. Practical, affordable and will withstand any of our storms. Awesome.