Marengo Structures thinks outside the box – specifically, the shipping container – when it comes to sustainable building.
By Jim Harris
The resiliency, portability and manufacturability of the shipping container have long made it the backbone of the transportation and logistics worlds. For Marengo Structures co-founder Christian Salvati, these qualities also make shipping containers an ideal option for environmentally minded homeowners and communities.
“Shipping containers have an extremely strong structure of corten steel, which is traditionally used to build bridges, overpasses and ships,” he says. “Corten steel is prohibitively expensive to recycle, consequently unused shipping containers are piling up in our ports. Our process enables them to be up-cycled for use as sustainable buildings.”
Salvati first considered shipping containers as a viable option for buildings in 2006, when another company he co-founded was hired to design a luxury hotel that could be disassembled and moved between locations in Europe and the Caribbean. That company, The Virtual Office of International Design – also known as Vooid – designed the hotel from shipping containers because of their mobility.
“At the time, employing containers for buildings was a low-traction concept in the United States outside of the military, which has done it for more than 20 years,” he says. “There were a lot of concepts and renderings, but very few things were actually being built.”
A Solid Process
Advancing the use of shipping containers as a modular building method is the mission of Marengo Structures, which Salvati established in 2010. The company designs, develops and produces custom, cost-effective buildings using containers, which typically weigh two-and-a-half tons, and are designed to be stacked as tall as eight stories.
Marengo Structures prefabricates and retrofits shipping containers in a yard before bringing them via crane to a work site, where the containers are assembled into buildings and placed on concrete foundations. Fabrication work includes cutting the boxes to accommodate windows and utilities, as well as removing exterior walls.
“Traditional construction works from the ground-up. We prepare foundations and bring in utilities on-site while prefabricating the building off-site,” Salvati says.
The company’s two completed projects are the first of their kind in the state of Connecticut. In 2013, Marengo Structures completed a two-story, 2,160-square-foot two-family house in New Haven, Conn.
The home, which is comprised of six containers, was built by a crew of four people in six months. Although the home is comprised of shipping containers, it blends into the surrounding neighborhood because of the company’s use of Hardi board for its façade. “You cannot tell what the building is when you look at it from the front,” he adds. “The aesthetic flexibility we have is a distinct advantage for planning permission.”
Marengo Structures’ second building, also in New Haven, is a six-unit apartment complex consisting of 27 containers. Containers make up 8,460 total square feet of the 9,760-square-foot complex’s total area. The four-story building was completed in 2015.
With both of its completed projects fully occupied, Marengo Structures is looking ahead to future work, including potential projects in New York City. The company is also in talks to build a single-family home in Vermont, as well as a large apartment complex in the United Kingdom. The U.K. project could potentially include 60 to 100 units and be six stories tall, Salvati notes.
Future projects will likely include a structurally integrated solar roof system by Designergy, a Switzerland-based company, with whom Marengo has collaborated with in the past. The prefabricated system integrates solar panels and insulation directly into a single structure that can be picked up and placed onto a building by a crane.
“By using this technology we can combine three tasks – building a roof, putting insulation into a building and then covering a building – that take a lot of time,” Salvati says. “No one else in the United States is doing this. We are always trying to find a better product that will simplify the construction process and lower the cost.”
Marengo Structures is a member of the American Institute of Architects, National Fire Production Association, U.S. Green Building Council and the Modular Building Institute (MBI). Salvati credits the MBI in particular with assisting Marengo Structures with project development. “None of what we do would be possible without the MBI,” he says. “It is a tremendous resource, and we appreciate the help it gives to us.”
Home Depot is another invaluable ally to the company. The national retailer’s Pro Desk services act as the company’s main supply chain management and logistics provider, as it ships supplies directly to its jobsites. Home Depot’s help desk also offers guidance on the use of various building products.
“We are taking methods that are typically associated with concrete or wood frame construction and applying those to steel, suppliers with a professional knowledge base is invaluable,” Salvati says. “Having a partner like Home Depot means we can function anywhere in the country where they have a store, which is practically everywhere.”