The Dorset Street Flats in Christchurch were designed and built between 1956 and 1957 and are amongst the most important domestic buildings built in New Zealand in the second half of the twentieth century. Miles Warren (b. 1929, later Sir Miles Warren) designed them as a young architect and with these flats he launched an architectural vocabulary that would come to distinguish the 'Christchurch School' of post-war architecture and also helped to shape modernist architectural design nationally for over two decades.
Warren designed the Flats for himself and two associates as owner-occupied accommodation with an extra flat for each owner to let for income. Built on a 771 square metre inner-city section, Warren's design allowed for eight one-bedroom flats and the conversion of an existing stable block for a ninth flat, four garages and a communal laundry space. These flats marked the emergence of a new kind of residential living in New Zealand, that is, a small-scale group of purpose-designed, modern, modest-sized one-bedroom city flats for minimal living.
The Dorset Street Flats, with their axial planning, load-bearing exposed concrete block walls, concrete beams, negative detailing and bold use of colour typify the attitudes to materials and structure in architecture favoured by New Brutalism, an avant garde architectural moment within the Modern Movement that began in Britain in the mid-1950s and was highly influenced by the post-war work of Le Corbusier. Warren experienced the birth of New Brutalism when he was working in Britain in 1953-54 and encountered several key exponents of this architectural approach that were highly influential in the Flats. Warren was also concerned with developing a modernist architectural expression suitable for Christchurch's climate and conditions. He considered masonry construction more suited to Christchurch and selected concrete block as the principle building material for the Flats. The Dorset Street Flats are one of the earliest attempts to construct a building in New Zealand from load-bearing concrete block.
Warren took a total design approach to the Dorset Street Flats by designing built-in furniture and fittings for all of the flats, reflecting what would become a career-long interest in total design. This not only satisfied his architectural ideals but also provided practical solutions for young men living independently with few possessions or furniture. The design also incorporated landscape design with four private courtyards and outdoor amenities. While all the Flats have had some alterations to the interior fabric, many of Warren's original design elements remain extant and the Flats retain many of their original fittings and finishes.
The Dorset Street Flats is one of Miles Warren's earliest architectural projects and is a key work within his oeuvre. Warren has been recognised nationally and internationally as one of the most important New Zealand architects of the second half of the twentieth century. The Dorset Street Flats set new architectural, social and aesthetic standards for domestic buildings in New Zealand and are recognised as one of the most important Modern Movement buildings constructed in this country.