Gallery: PHOTOS: Couple Moves into Stacked Shipping Container Home in W...

The sprinkler pipe was also used as a clothing hanger.

An open kitchen space leads out onto a balcony that was created by cutting away pieces of the shipping container.

So how does one come up with the idea of building a shipping container house in New York City? By 2008, the couple had already purchased a 20 by 40 foot plot of land on Keap Street, but were shocked to find out that it might cost upwards of $500,000 to erect a traditional house there. Then they started thinking about how Bertomen’s NYIT architecture students had used a shipping container as part of their building’s structure for their entry into the Solar Decathlon, a design competition held by the U.S. Department of Energy. The concept got the couple thinking about how they could create a cargotecture home of their own, but the process wasn’t quite as simple as they thought it would be.

Pairing her architecture expertise with his construction experience, the couple purchased six shipping containers at $1,500 each and began building. But after an article about the house was published on the internet, the city took notice, and the project was slapped with a stop work order from the Department of Buildings. Since then, numerous changes were made to address the DOB’s seemingly endless complaints, and it wasn’t long before Bertomen and Boyle ran out of money to finance all of them. Faced with the frustration of not being able to move into their half-finished home, the couple was lucky enough to find a rental apartment in a neighboring building so that they could at least supervise the site. Another break came when they were finally able to secure a loan from Bethex Federal Credit Union after a long list of other vendors turned them away. Undaunted by the adversity they continued to face, Boyle and Bertomen trooped on with the help of friends, colleagues, and even new neighbors they’d met on their block until they finally addressed all of the DOB’s concerns and were able to secure a Final Certificate of Occupancy this year with a move-in date of February 28, 2013.

But just when they thought they could breathe a sigh of relief, the pair spotted a DOB official snapping photos of their container house once again. An article on the home had just been posted on DNAinfo, and though the reporter had been kind enough to honor his promise to wait until the certificate of occupancy had been obtained, Boyle and Bertomen couldn’t help but feel that the story had inadvertently tipped off the authorities once again. Luckily, that was the last they heard of from the DOB (thus far), and the two have been happily occupying their self-built abode ever since. Well, that is if you don’t count a warning from the Humane Police that happened to coincide with our visit. Apparently, a neighbor had called the authorities after seeing Zero lying on her reflective pad in the front yard, but the officers were relatively pleasant and simply advised Boyle to build a shelter for his dog if he wanted to avoid a write-up. “You need to come up here and see what they’re saying to me,” he said as he came to tell us what was going on upstairs at the front door. “You can’t make this stuff up.”

+ Michele Bertomen

Photos © Yuka Yoneda

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7 Comments

  1. jedics May 27, 2014 at 11:13 pm

    no insulation = unlivable without spending insane amounts of money to heat and cool. How the hell did they get council approval for this?

  2. ssculptor March 2, 2014 at 1:36 pm

    I like this idea and I am pleased that the couple persevered and finally got a PO from the DOB.
    The DOB should be encouraging different and innovative types of construction, not throwing road blocks in their path.
    Maybe the couple can start a firm that will produce buildings of this type for others in New York City.
    Ho-ray for them!
    Stephen

  3. laluna7 December 10, 2013 at 5:50 pm

    Michele,

    I am actually looking to build a shipment container home myself in the city. Would you be so kind as to contact me? I am very interested in speaking with you before I move forward. My email is laluna7@gmail.com.

    Luna

  4. Tim Smoak September 21, 2013 at 10:33 pm

    Do you sell the design, I would so buy it. I believe in a greener today for a better tomorrow.

  5. homebuilder April 11, 2013 at 10:56 am

    My hat to you guys. I myself have persue this type of structure
    for about a year and I\’m in the process of designing one myself.
    I can tell you, it WILL NOT BE IN NYC. Dealing with DOB is the most fustrating as you already found out. What trouble me the most is the lack of vision and any expertise this so called inspector and city planers have in the subject of urban planing.
    Again, congratulations on your achivement.

  6. sspsyd April 10, 2013 at 10:17 pm

    Having seen how difficult it can be to get through the bureaucracy of NYC for approvals of some pretty basic construction projects including a rather conventional renovation of a Manhattan apartment, I applaud this unique accomplishment!!

    Congratulations!!

    PS: I\\\’m curious what the material of the shipping containers is made of and how they have managed the changes in temperature in this structure.

  7. helshire April 10, 2013 at 5:37 pm

    I think this is great and a nifty idea. I would not be surprised if this idea catches on in NYC and attract others to help design thier home. It is so expensive to live in NYC, you can literally just work to pay rent/mortgage.