Friday, December 1, 2023

Housing: Mad for modern

Perhaps best known for designing the Durham Performing Arts Center and other entertainment venues, these days Phil Szostak is busy with UNC System projects that grew out of the $2 billion Connect N.C. bond issue that passed last year. He also remains passionate about building Modernist-style houses, including a project put on hold during the recession and a home for his family.


Few N.C. architects have garnered as many awards as Szostak, an N.C. State University grad who started his own business in 1980, sold it to a large national company in 1990, then opened his Chapel Hill-based venture in 2002.

What are some current projects?

One of the big focuses lately has been workforce-development housing, where we’re looking at smaller units — studios of 300 to 400 square feet. That’s a huge need now. I hate calling it affordable housing, but it’s small housing, where a single person or a couple working in downtown Durham or downtown Chapel Hill can have a place in town, close by. The workforce for the universities, major hospitals, a lot of the industries [in the Triangle] attracting younger workers, where do these guys live? All that’s out there now is communal living with three or four roommates just so they can afford a place.

Do you have a goal of expanding your 12-employee firm?

We really do not have a goal to grow, but a goal to do better and possibly larger projects. This may require us to grow. We just want to do meaningful and beautiful work.

What has been the key to sustaining your business?

The ups and downs require a firm to constantly look at staff size. We have staff that have been with us for 12 to 15 years. Our staff is really what sustains us.

Describe your New American development near N.C. State University.

It’s a 12-lot project in Raleigh where we’re actually the developers. We started it in 2007-08. It was a project that had 12 different architects doing 12 different modern homes. We put it on hold because of lending, but now, the market seems to be back, and we’re getting a lot of interest, so we’re putting it back on the streets. Prices will range from $450,000 to $600,000.

Why does North Carolina have such a large concentration of Modernist-style homes? 

N.C. State’s College of Design was started in the 1940s, and we had some of the world’s best architects come teach there. A lot stayed and built houses [in that style.] There’s an incredible collection of modern houses here.

Has your idea of a dream home changed?

It’s probably changing every day. Because we’re working on other people’s dream homes, we question ours. My dream home is a single-story home close to the ground, where I can get out of the house from any room and walk on the ground. Some people used to call that a ranch, but it’s not your grandfather’s ranch anymore.


One of my personal goals for my family is to build our own house again. We lived in one of my designs and sold it [in three days] in 2010. It’s time to do another. We’re living between Hillsborough and Chapel Hill — we’re renting — and we have some land where we’re planning a house.

Allison Williams
Allison Williams
Allison Williams is senior editor of Business North Carolina. You can reach her at

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