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It is a remarkable architectural achievement to design townhouses that are totally modern yet fit into the environment as if they had always been there. I suggest a drive by the northeast corner of Lake and Ashland to look at the new construction by architect Ellen Galland of Rockwell Associates, developed by Tom Engel and John Cunningham.
The team had several choices: to choose a design in a radically modern language that stands apart from its surroundings; to design in a style that imitates one of the usual Evanston historical formulas; or, the choice they did make, which was to create a completely modern plan, with exterior materials and colors that blend effortlessly into the existing context.
The zoning ordinance in this area allows first-floor commercial use that is open to the public. Limestone and a lot of glass on the ground floor reflect the variation on residential use. There is about 400 square feet for rental or a home studio in the front of each townhouse and a two-car garage in the rear. The commercial space has its own bathroom and is entered through the hallway that also leads to the residence via a stair or an electric elevator.
As one enters on the second floor, the visitor faces an elegant, open, island-type kitchen on the street side of which is the living space with a small porch. Beyond the kitchen on the other side is the dining area that faces a large (10 feet by 21feet) open deck. The living-kitchen-dining space forms an almost-40-foot continuum with ample daylight at both ends. There is also a powder room located at the entry point.
The third floor contains two bedrooms. The master bedroom has a walk-in closet and each bedroom has its own bathroom. Opening from the hallway there is an enclosed washer-dryer and, near the front window, the stair landing is generous enough to use as a sitting area or computer station.
The fourth level contains the third bedroom, roughly 10 feet by 20 feet. With its own bathroom and deck at one end, this space could also serve as a study or a studio with its generous closets and bathroom.
The units are paired on the site so that the end units have a much-desired corner window. The order of the units also assures excellent sound separation, with the stairs and the elevators between units.
The plans are flawless and the modesty of the exterior is most impressive. A four-story flat-roof building would have been much more economical, but would have looked too tall and clumsy. The sloping roof avoids this and works with the dormer windows to add charm. The horizontality is further emphasized by the use of horizontal siding, with one piece painted a darker color for emphasis. These are small gestures, but indicative of a sophisticated designer reacting to the existing residential context and an equally sophisticated developer willing to listen.
This is a lovely addition to the neighborhood, thanks to a talented architect and a builder sensitive to good design.