Sarah Susanka's Not So Big Minazine, Article 4 

February 2012  
 Issue: 4 
Guest Article
Redfields and the Beta Housing Model

By David P. Pollard, AIA LEED AP  


From Sarah: Architect Dave Pollard originally attended one of my presentations in Libertyville early on in the showhouse design process. He wrote a blog post about the effect that the meeting had on him that so impressed John McLinden, developer of the SchoolStreet project, that John offered Dave a job. A few months later, as his involvement in the project increased, Dave wrote an article on the subject of redfields and something he terms the "Beta housing model." The term "redfield" refers to all those abandoned developments that now sit empty and heartless, waiting to be turned into something more than a reminder of our crawling economy. The "beta housing model" I'll leave for Dave to explain, but the short version is that it offers tremendous opportunity for architects who envision house design alternatives that better fit today's lifestyles. It's a thought-provoking piece that I share here to get other creative imaginations thinking.


Foreclosure signOver the past few years, continued downturns in the real estate market have led to a large number of foreclosed, short-sold, and bank owned development properties, now called "redfields." You may have heard the term "brownfields" used for environmentally tainted properties, and the term "greenfields" for park/forest preserves. "Redfield" is a term used to describe financially damaged properties that need creative planning, financing, and design to bring them back to financial stability.
Most redfields are properties that were originally slated for Alpha Type developments - the old slam-dunk, previously low-risk model of mass homebuilding. Just five years ago, developers merely had to plan, finance, and build homes the way they had for the previous twenty years, and the buyers would show up, no question. But the collapse of the housing market has essentially removed the Alpha Type. This gives the Beta Type an opportunity to grow, which means rethinking the housing financing, planning, design, and delivery process. SchoolStreet in Libertyville, Illinois is a prime example of Beta housing on a redfield. The bank-owned property was obtained at a discounted price and re-planned to a new working housing model.
So what is the Beta housing model? It is one that is based on what homebuyers really want and need, not just what was previously delivered in the Alpha model. At the macro level, the Beta model exemplifies the planning concept of "urban infill." Before SchoolStreet construction began, downtown

School Street in Libertyville
School Street in Libertyville

Libertyville was already a thriving urban center featuring historic buildings, dozens of restaurants, shops, bars, a farmers market, music, and an outgoing, energetic population. The community sells itself, and is a place where a shifting homebuyer demographic can see themselves living for the longer term, not just a two-year condo-flip. Additionally, it is a walkable community, with public transportation access to surrounding areas, and even downtown Chicago.
At the semi-macro level, the Beta housing model rethinks the community planning of the development. More in tune with a lively urban community, out is the big front lawn, and in are sidewalks, front porches, roof decks, and narrow lots. Garages are moved to the rear, made accessible through an alley, which moves the life of the homes to the street. Some of the SchoolStreet homes even break the mold so far as to plan kitchens at the front of the house.

SchoolStreet Not So Big Showhouse first floor bubble diagram
Putting the kitchen at the front of the house increases the connection to the front porch and street 


Homebuyers and the community appreciate the new streetscape oriented planning concepts; it is something they have not seen in suburban developments, and it is easy for them to picture themselves living such a community-oriented lifestyle. 


At the micro level, the Beta housing model addresses innovation, specific homebuyer needs, productivity, construction quality, and quality of design. To achieve this, it is necessary to take a holistic approach in which every team member is working for the good of "the project." SchoolStreet's developer, StreetScape Development, has a diverse team of in-house experts including developers, production housing builders, and architects. StreetScape also

The Not So Big Showhouse
Sarah Susanka's Not So Big Showhouse at SchoolStreet

partners with subcontractors, architects, and industry-leading consultants to deliver the best home possible. For the SchoolStreet project, StreetScape brought in architect and best-selling author Sarah Susanka to design a better Beta housing model, and the Not So Big Showhouse was born.


SchoolStreet Staging Area
SchoolStreet manufacturing area
In addition, working with the carpentry subcontractors, the SchoolStreet project developed a manufacturing area for framing the walls of future houses off-site. This innovative approach increases productivity, limits worker fatigue, and helps to keep construction ahead of schedule.
The Beta housing model also realizes that information is the key to limiting risk, delivering a quality product, and keeping the customer happy.  By having diverse project experts under one roof, StreetScape is able to utilize an integrated project delivery (IPD) approach to design and construction. This process allows integrated communications paths amongst the team members and homebuyers. Additionally, the use of 3-dimensional computer modeling allows building simulation and analysis prior to construction.  Efficiencies are gained through early construction conflict detection, and accurate costs can be placed on design decisions. The building simulation also has the potential to offer visualization for the design team and customer.  StreetScape plans to unveil a new web-based customer portal as well, giving the customer open access to project documents, drawings, and feedback.
Sold properties at SchoolStreet
25 of 26 SchoolStreet homes sold in one year 
Through the sale of 25 of 26 homes in one year, the SchoolStreet development has demonstrated that in this difficult housing climate, it is still possible to build homes by rethinking the development and delivery process. A dormant redfield site can become a successful development by contributing to the community and offering the homebuyer a new end-product more tailored to their long-term needs and lifestyle.

David Pollard is an Illinois licensed architect and LEED accredited professional. In addition to a Bachelors of Architecture from Virginia Tech, David received an M.S. in Architecture from the Illinois Institute of Technology. David resides in Chicago, Illinois, and is currently the Director of Design and Innovation at StreetScape Development, the developer and construction company behind the SchoolStreet project.

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Not So Big
Home Plans

Home By Design Original house plan

Several plans designed by Sarah, as well as plans for some of the houses by other architects featured in her books, are available for purchase on the



SchoolStreet Homes
For more information about SchoolStreet Homes, please visit their website.


Shell artwork

Not So Big is the very first step in sustainability.  When the place where we live -- both our house and our life -- is right-sized for the way we really live and for the things that really matter to us, we are ourselves in balance.  We feel it daily, and we reflect that equilibrium in everything we do.  The more of us who live this way, the more the message will spread.  It's contagious.

~Sarah Susanka
The Not So Big House
10th Anniversary Edition












StreetScape Development

To stay up to date on Dave's further contributions to the conversation, check out the StreetScape Blog.