Nestled into the Triangle Neighborhood of downtown Phoenix is a new apartment complex that takes on the challenge of dispelling incorrect notions of city living. Made by Benjamin Hall Design in collaboration with 180 Degrees Design + Build, White Stone Flats is made up of four "micro flats" contained in two identical volumes—and all four flats sit in a footprint of just 600 square feet. "White Stone Flats is a true example that being connected to the outdoors doesn’t need to be compromised by high-density, micro housing," says designer Benjamin Hall.
White Stone Flats sits in an infill lot that remained empty for two decades, until it was purchased by Hall. "Our goal was to design and develop architecture that could withstand the harsh desert climate and hopefully stand the test of time," he reveals. "To do so, the project needed to be financially sustainable, which in this case meant a minimum of four units. This would allow us to generate enough income to reduce the possibility of being torn down relatively soon."
The site is located at an intersection within the Triangle Neighborhood, which was developed as temporary housing for rail workers in the early 1900's. "Walking around the neighborhood, you can feel the effects of gentrification moving in, but also a sense of its prior history," says Hall. "At 2:30pm every day, the ice cream truck rolls around and at 3:30pm the horn of the Mexican candy push cart rolls through. It's charming."
With easy access to the University of Arizona and Arizona State University in downtown Phoenix, the complex was originally developed for young couples or roommates who might want to split rent to make living costs more affordable. Interestingly, once they were built, the flats also attracted newly retired couples who wanted to downsize yet still be centrally located.
"The idea of bringing high-end design that's hyper-focused on detailing to multi-family housing, generally has not been embraced professionally," says Hall. With this approach in mind, the architecture was conceived as a simple box and the budget was spent on "fine tuning the little things".
Residents enter the complex through a steel gate and are greeted by the sound of a fountain, which drowns out the city sounds. The apartments are located through a complex pathway between the two building volumes. "The architecture creates a self-shaded pathway—like the old barrio neighborhoods of Tucson, Arizona—through the composition of the complex," says Hall. "You meander till you are welcomed by simple vertical ipe wood gates, with a simple steel letter, denoting a unit coordinate, north, south, east or west."
Behind each timber entry gate is a private two-story "slot" atrium, which opens up to the desert sky. The apartment is then entered through a glass door in a glazed wall. "The idea was that every space should have access to an open-air atrium and abundant desert light, while the hard-shell exterior does all the hard work of shielding the sun," says Hall.
The ground floor features an open-plan living/dining/kitchen space, with a "secret" door to the bathroom/laundry room hidden behind one of the white birch plywood cabinets in the kitchen. The glass shower opens out to the private atrium.
Upstairs, there are two identically sized bedrooms with floor-to-ceiling frameless doors and authentic French oak floors. "The combination of frameless doors and windows and the full height wall-to-wall, high-gloss white closet doors help bounce the ambient light in a way that makes the modest dimensions of the space feel expansive," says Hall.
The most notable material used—and the one from which the complex takes its name—is the custom white concrete masonry unit (CMU blocks). Although the construction appears simple, it’s actually a matrix of 42 different block types with two to three subtle surface treatments on each block. The outside face, for example, is honed once, while the inside face is honed twice with a high-gloss, water resistant coating.
"The white concrete blocks were the most costly part of the build, but it's money well spent because they serve so many functions," reveals Hall. "They reflect heat off the walls, are durable, and it’s the final finish of both the inside and outside. It doesn't require paint and it ultimately lowers the maintenance costs for the longevity of the building."
The resulting micro-flats are a study in crafting high-density homes in a city environment, while still remaining connected to nature—something Hall points out is more important than ever these days. "It’s especially unique to leave your doors and windows open all night to the atrium and feel as if you are living outside without any hesitation walking around in the nude," he says. "We’ve also had tenants comment on how lovely it is to lay in bed at night and rest your head on a pillow and watch shooting stars through the top of the atrium."
Related Reading: This Arizona Home Takes Design Cues From the Mighty Saguaro
Architect of Record: 180 Degrees Design + Build
Structural Engineer: Struktur Studio
Civil Engineer: Site Engineering
Get the Dwell Newsletter
Be the first to see our latest home tours, design news, and more.