Getting your Evanston news from Facebook? Try the Evanston RoundTable’s free daily and weekend email newsletters – sign up now!

Good architecture can be so simple, and fit so comfortably into its surroundings that a viewer may assume it has always been there. The “Cornerstone” project – a recent development at 645 Custer Ave. – is a hidden gem of this kind.

The project, just north of 601 Linden Place, is a rehabbed industrial building converted into condominiums. The entire formerly semi-industrial area shows real energy, both in the transformation of the industrial structures into residential ones and in the relatively modest, but also well-designed row-houses (619 and south) and the pair of new houses just north of 645 Custer. This handsome and intelligently rejuvenated former mixed-use area is one block from both the Metra and the CTA stations.

Cornerstone was designed by the eminently talented architects Nagle and Hartray (Nagle Hartray Dacker McRay Penney Ltd.) known in Evanston for the Public Library and for Borders Bookstore.  It is a complex structure with a simple, easy-to-understand geometry. On the street-front are four townhouses in two pairs. Attached to, but behind, the townhouses is an attractive apartment building. 

The townhouses are four stories tall. The ground floor of each consists of the entry and a sitting room, as well as access to the two-car garage that also opens into the garage of the apartment building at the rear. The second floor of each townhouse contains the living/dining room, a generous open kitchen and a powder room. The third floor has two bedrooms and two bathrooms.  The fourth, and top, floor is set back, providing a roof terrace. The projecting bay window acts as a balcony serving the third floor.

Between the two pairs of townhouses there is an open set of stairs leading to the court on the top of the garage.  From here one enters the lobby of the four-story rear condominium building with four apartments on each of the first, second and third floors and three apartments on the fourth – and top – floor.

The large volume of the project is successfully broken up into three elements, giving it a decidedly residential scale. This is a complex but ingenious plan. The exterior is extremely simple dark red brick, relieved by the tan-colored siding of the projecting bays.

The developer points out that each townhouse has its own front yard, rooftop deck and garage. Also, each condo is a corner unit, some with three exposures. The very large living/dining room can be subdivided with sliding doors to provide an additional “flex” room.

Visit the Cornerstone project and see what good planning can do on a difficult site. Townhouses are 2,370 square feet; apartments vary from 1,425 to 1,620 square feet. The townhouses are priced around $550,000 and the apartments range from $360,000 to $430,000. If anyone has questions, they may contact www.Cornerstone645.com.

Finally, if readers see new and noteworthy buildings – modern or not- please contact me at ijmacsai@uic.edu.   I cannot promise that it will appear in the RoundTable, but it will be followed up.