DWARA | Green-Hab: Baltimore Row-House Prototype
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04 Oct Green-Hab: Baltimore Row-House Prototype

The first time I set foot on this city, nothing more impressive for me than its brick row-houses. This scheme is so distinctive and made me realize Baltimore City is brick building and row-houses, discern it from other city in the U.S. Indeed, the history of Baltimore City can not be detached from the row-house development since it was established in 1729, named after Lords Baltimore of Calvert family.

In present times when the buildings from the past still exist along with modern architectural issues, there comes a new conception on how the Baltimore row-house could be more than just be preserved but sustain its presence in the future as well. The green building movement which started as energy efficiency in a building has developed into reducing building impacts on human health and the environment through better siting, design, construction, operation, maintenance, and removal—the complete building life cycle. Merging these factors conferred an ingenious solution by a local Baltimore architect who called his project “Green-Hab”.

 A Glimpse of Baltimore Row-House in The Past

Baltimore City sprung from its harbor that once was a local tobacco shipping point before 1750 and prospered after 1760 when it started shipping wheat and flour to Great Britain. In1830 it was the second largest city in the US behind New York City, and became immigrant entry point in early 20th century after Ellis Island. All activities and utilities that mostly served a life of a port grew to be more complicated and demanding with the escalation of economy, population, and transportation.

The row-house in Baltimore City was on track in mid-1790 as an adoption from its origin of Adelphi Terrace in England, alongside row-house development in Boston and Philadelphia. This style of building with decorative elements and articulated basements was built by wealthy Baltimore merchants; function as commercial space in high basement level and residential at upper level. When population and city-border doubled in a decade, developers built smaller and simpler row-house in Federal Style (and later Italianate Style) to accommodate people working and living within walking distance in harbor area.

Fells Point was one of original settlements that formed Baltimore City along with Baltimore Town and Old Town. By mid 19th century all of people from English descent, German, Irish, and African-American (Baltimore had the nation’s largest population of free blacks) lived in Fells Point, providing a vibrant racial mix. All classes still live close to one another. The bigger row-houses facing main street was occupied by well-to-do merchants, professional men and shop-keepers; craftsmen and skilled labors lived on side streets; while unskilled labors occupied the row-house facing narrow alley-street that ran down the center of center of each block.

Of all architecture styles that grow and change until now, brick façade has been the red line that ties the street walls. By the end of 18th century row-house builders had utilized bricks of good quality clay that vastly produced in this city, after the passage of the 1799 ordinance outlawing frame construction. Marbles were also habitually used as steps, trims, lintels and sills -even whole façade in bigger projects- since it was supplied from Beaver Dam marble quarries in northern part of Baltimore City.

After a century since it was first built, Baltimore City row-house is still intact as the most effective urban housing and gives the city its charm through brick façade. Especially in ever-growing harbor area with its historic passage, including Fells Point and Canton where the property is sky-rocketed (it has doubled the price since 2 years ago) and became first preference for young professionals living in the waterfront part of the city.

Green Architecture and Baltimore Row-House

 As quoted by architect Julie E. Gabrielli in Urbanite Magazine, there is no better model for sustainable design than the classic Baltimore row-house. “The great thing about row-houses is, they are inherently energy-efficient because of the party walls [that divide the houses]”. Pioneering the greening of row-house rehabilitations in Baltimore City, she drew up the Green Building Template for Row-house Renovation, aimed to increase the energy efficiency of the typical Baltimore row-house, improve indoor air quality, and reduce consumption of natural resources—all while ensuring easy home maintenance and keeping the initial costs of the renovation down.

Green-Hab is the project of row-house rehabilitation through green concept. Located in the alley of Fells Point area, it was designated as a prototype for row-house renovation considering sustainable approach in design. The architect of this project, Gabriel Kroiz –principal of Kroiz Architecture– invented the name Green-Hab to distinguish the extent of his design. He quoted, “This project accepts the premise that this building is a shell that will receive new systems and surfaces constructed from off-the-shelf parts. The parts however are reconfigured from a concealed succession of layers to become an exposed and articulated systems.”

This alley row-house has the size of 12ft width and 40ft depth, with living room, kitchen and dining at ground floor; and bedroom loft with bathroom in upper floor. Considering diminutive size of the house, it was planned with open space and imposing creative details to maintain its purposes. The black front door with light-holes as introduction, it differentiates from almost similar façade of neighbors.

Green materials emerge ubiquitously without trying to be flaunted. Bamboo flooring in the first level is going throughout the back; and clear finished gypsum ceiling with metal stud interval which not only give an aesthetic value but also factual construction system. Exposed clear-finished wheat board on the wall employ metal stud intervals as well, eliminating paint uses and give natural look. The kitchen counter is bared in-cast concrete, and has a contrast sense amid the high technology and energy-efficient kitchen appliances.

The stair to upper level is of solid wood over steel pipe structure which is bended to support the railing. Below the stair is a small mechanical room which is shrewdly concealed with hole-punched homasote sliding wall. Open bedroom loft with skylight at second level is all true to its construction. Rubber flooring of recycled material is applied throughout to bathroom wall, which actually a sliding door as well function as shelf cabinets. Whereas it is seldom seen as open airy room in any other alley row-house, The Green-Hab achieve this with a more modern and sensible space.

Along with all renovations in Fells Point, Canton, and Patterson Park area, Baltimore City row-house had made a come-back, and expectantly it will be more responsive of sustainability in the design. The Green-Hab prototype house is trying to introduce this sentiment for a better built environment, and had opened its door in Baltimore Green Week event. In a friendly neighbor scale, it has proven that even smaller scale row-house can participate in eco-friendly design for a greater cause. Thus not only preserving its historical value, it had already thought on the future. This year the Green-Hab received the AIA Baltimore/Baltimore Magazine Residential Design Award.

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Reference:

  • Hayward, Mary Ellen. Baltimore Row House. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 1999.
  • Urbanite Magazine. Rethinking the Rowhome. Baltimore, May 2005.
  • Shivers, Natalie W. Those Old Placid Rows, The Aesthetic and Development of the Baltimore Rowhouse. Baltimore: Maclay & Associates Inc., 1981.
  • Office of the Federal Environmental Executive. Defining Green Building. http://www.ofee.gov/
  • http://www.kroizarch.com/
  • http://www.baltimoregreenweek.org/
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