Man With A Plan

Architect Gabriel Kroiz Says Recycling A Rowhouse Involves Keeping What Works And Rethinking The Rest

April 08, 2007|By Stephanie Shapiro | Stephanie Shapiro,Sun Reporter

In a booth at the Sip 'n' Bite, Gabriel Kroiz talks omelets and Formica with manager Tony Vasiliades. It's the mid-afternoon lull and a few patrons dawdle in the Canton fixture.

Keenly aware of the waterfront neighborhood's new wave of residents and their healthy eating habits, Vasiliades serves omelets made with egg whites and has banished cooking oil laden with trans fats.

Now it's time to update the diner, faded from wear and tear, as well. But after consulting with local customer Kroiz, the architect who will design the renovations, Vasiliades has nixed other "yupdates," including -- gasp! -- exposed brick, that telltale marker of the young urban professional's feeding grounds.

Why emulate every other refurbished restaurant (and rowhouse for that matter), Kroiz asked him, when he could build on Sip 'n' Bite's rich history as a 24-hour redoubt for city workers, students, artists and those with sketchier job descriptions?

A former vegetarian chef who now enjoys a good steak at the Sip 'n' Bite, Kroiz, 42, takes the same holistic approach to a growing portfolio of redevelopment projects in Baltimore, including a green rowhouse, Donna's Cafe in Charles Village, and Sprout; an organic beauty salon in Hampden.

"Architecture is marginalized when it becomes a formula and does not solve a broader range of problems," Kroiz says. In his view, retail and residential projects must take into account history, urban life, tradition, pragmatism and available, preferably sustainable, resources.

With each project, "I consider the ability to benefit the environment or the community as [equally] tangible and important as creating good forms," the architect says.

Kroiz urged Vasiliades, 35, to keep the Sip 'n' Bite's vintage allure, while making critical structural and cosmetic changes. Swivel stools, neon, booths with individual coat racks: "These are the hallmarks of the place," Kroiz says.

The young restaurateur with red highlights in his dark hair came around. "Just because the neighborhood is changing, doesn't mean the character has to change," says Vasiliades, who stepped in for his father when he could no longer operate the diner that he opened 50 years ago.

With his transformation of a rowhouse in a block that straddles Fells Point and Canton, Kroiz proved that maintaining a community's character does not have to come at the environment's expense.

He sees his work in the context of a timely cultural moment, when society, science and economics have come together in support of green sensibilities.

Intended as a model for restoring Baltimore's rich rowhouse stock, Kroiz's project, dubbed "Green-HAB," completed last year, renounced conventional materials such as joint compound and paint in favor of wheatboard, bamboo, concrete, recycled drywall and other sustainable materials.

Many architects make their mark with "big and important" efforts, Kroiz says. But even "the smallest alley house" presents challenges that "can be really, really interesting."

The 725-square-foot home, tucked into a tiny alley called Winterling Court, is austere, yet made inviting by a palette of earth tones. Unlike paint, which "scratches and gets dirty," Kroiz says, "natural surfaces have a beauty to them and age well."

Not only did the project eliminate costly line items, it demonstrated that the current generation of fluorescent lighting nestled in a stretch of galvanized gutter can cast a friendly, indirect glow. Green-HAB also testifies to the ingenious use of off-the-shelf products from Home Depot, such as the electrical conduit that Kroiz turned into a handsome metal railing. .

Kroiz is part of a burgeoning green movement in Baltimore, says Tom Liebel, who chairs the committee on the environment for the Baltimore chapter of the American Institute of Architects. "I think there's a very impressive number of architects in town who are all trying to explore some of the issues and [Kroiz] has done a very good job."

The "overall tenet of sustainability is to reduce your consumption of materials," Liebel says. By recycling rowhouses, "You're saving the construction waste of the demolition and you're not using additional material," says Liebel, an architect with the firm Marks, Thomas. "It's a very sound approach."

In 2006, the Baltimore AIA presented Kroiz with a Residential Design award for his project, calling it "truly innovative."

Rehabs with open floor plans, few doors and non-existent paint jobs are scarce, Kroiz says. Typically, homes are remodeled with "incredible redundancy" and often boast that all-too-common feature, exposed brick, he says.

Projects in Korea

With its economical use of space and sliding doors that hide compact appliances, Kroiz's Green-HAB, which he owns and rents, benefits from his exploration of Korea, where homes are small and living areas are put to multiple use.

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