Architect of Mainstreet Station Condominiums weighs in

Mainstreet Station Condominiums

Back in March, one of our writers here at the Yo briefly mentioned Mainstreet Station Condominiums, Bernard Katz and Associates‘ 71- unit development at Main Street and Chicago Avenue in southern Evanston. He wrote: “The nine-story building, the design of which can best be described assssdddddddfsfgkj;s… sorry, I dozed off for a bit there.”

The post prompted a long, thoughtful email from the building’s architect, John Clark, principal in Cordogan, Clark & Associates. We’re posting it here with his permission:

From a certain perspective, it’s almost a compliment. Let me explain why.

I think for years Evanston has been victim to a lot of new development that seems out of place and that fights with or doesn’t reinforce Evanston’s very special “sense of place.” The older architectural fabric of Evanston has wonderful integrity and coherence. And for me, this particular corner, and the older buildings to the east of it, is a great part of Evanston. As you may have, I’ve known this corner, and this area, for a long time. Perhaps I like this area, and its old building stock, more than most people do. And I worked to design a building I thought would be worthy to replace the existing white terra cotta / tan brick building that is currently on this corner. In many ways this new building pays homage to this existing building and its context . I hope Mainstreet Station, when built, looks like it was meant to be here. And I wouldn’t find it insulting if people thought it was the original building on this corner.

New construction always creates some disruption. Given its scale, I wanted this new architecture to disrupt this area as little as possible, to minimize the shadows it casts on its neighbors, and to enhance its setting.

Alderwoman Melissa Winn and Carolyn Brezinski, head of Evanston’s Department of Architecture, and I were all on the same wavelength here, which helped smooth the design process.

On the first floor, our building incorporates aspects of the existing retail building into its design. Retail storefronts extend along Main Street, interrupted only by the entrance to the Condominiums. They wrap around the corner onto Chicago Avenue, extending south to the retail parking entrance.

One big difference between our building and the existing retail building on this corner is that our building is set 4 feet back from its north and west property lines. On the West elevation, and portions of the North, the storefront glazing is pushed 3 feet further back. So the sidewalks on Chicago Avenue are gaining about 7′ of usable space; and overall we are adding about 2300 sf of usable area to the public walkways.

The way the upper floors of our building form an L shape that is pushed west and south, moves our building about as far away from the neighboring residential building to the east as it can go. So instead of creating a wall on Main Street we create a landscaped courtyard, with the majority of the upper residential floor area set so far back that it minimizes the shadow it casts onto Main Street. The roof offsets are accented with plantings and, at the third floor, with a roof garden.

On Main street, the 2nd and 3rd floors are pushed back, to retain the feel of single story retail on Main. The setback above retail is accented with planting. Except at the corner of Chicago and Main, about 60% of the upper condominium floors are pushed even further back, about 80′ back on average, to minimize their presence on Main Street, and to push away from the residential building to the east.

In elevation, our building is organized in 3 main parts:
· First floor Retail and Retail Parking;
· Second and Third Floors Condominium Parking
· And Floors 4 through 9 Condominiums.
The design and detailing of our building is somewhat traditional, in the sense that it is similar to some of its older neighboring buildings: Like them, it is divided into three parts: a base (the retail and parking floors) a middle (the condominium floors) and a top (the upper floor and cornice)

At the first floor level, the detailing is similar to the existing building on this site, in that its off-white frame, in this case is made of limestone colored precast, is accented with tan Endicott ironspot bricks. And we are further accenting these with glazed blue tiles. Also, we have accented the retail level with wall sconces, signage bands and banners which are unified into the design and enliven the streetscape.

Similar detailing carries throughout the building, on the balcony railings, and on the top floor capitols which feature blue tiles set into reveals: These are small, but they will sparkle when sunlight hits them. This will subtly enliven the facade. At the lower levels and above they add a great complement to the tan brick and cream colored precast.

Overall this design is different than any recent building to be built in Evanston. In many ways it more directly continues earlier types of design, on this block and elsewhere. But it is also one that fits comfortably in the 21st century.

One of my main design inspirations for this building was Otto Wagner’s residential and public work in Vienna, and also Wagner’s student Josef Hoffmann’s. I wanted Chicago and Main to respect the two buildings to the east. Wagner explored a transitional architectural vocabulary that bridges traditional and contemporary design . His work has long interested me also because of his link to Chicago: There was some strong design cross pollenization between him and both Sullivan and Wright in the early years of the 20th century. And I think the traditional aspects and abstracted classicism of much of Wright and Sullivan’s work is now more apparent in the hindsight provided by so much proportionless contemporary architecture. Also, I think exploring this vocabulary further at this corner helped create and aesthetic “bridge” between buildings to the east and the new building on the northwest corner diagonally opposite it .

I do think this building will be special for the area. I also think it’s an elegant design, if perhaps understated. But If to an extent it looks like it was already there, or perhaps reminiscent of buildings you’ve seen before in Evanston, and does not especially jump out at you as being different, to me that’s a good thing. Because many parts of Evanston seem in need of design that helps restore and reinforce what makes it a very livable, pedestrian friendly and human scaled city.

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