What is Bluefield Housing?

‘Bluefield Housing’ is both a land definition and an infill housing model, each created by Damian Madigan as an extension to the widely-understood definitions of Greenfield, Brownfield and Greyfield Housing. As a land definition, Bluefield refers to established suburbs of a city where new infill housing is achieved through low scale and low-intensity. As a housing model, Bluefield sees existing housing stock and landscape retained and incorporated into new infill housing developments as an alternative to Knock-Down-Rebuild (KDR) development. Based upon the discoveries of his 2016 ‘Alternative Infill’ PhD thesis and follow-on design research projects, Bluefield Housing was first defined and described in Damian’s shortlisted design competition entry for the AA Prize for Unbuilt Work 2021.

At its heart, Bluefield Housing is about increasing housing diversity and choice while retaining and enhancing neighbourhood character: infill that is low scale, low intensity but high impact.

Existing urban housing policy in Australia largely falls into three distinct categories:

  • Greenfield Housing, where undeveloped land (most often on a city’s fringes) is developed for housing for the first time, extending suburbia;
  • Brownfield Housing, where redundant non-residential land is converted to residential use, often at a medium- to high-density scale; and
  • Greyfield Housing, coined by Professor Peter Newton in 2010 to describe the middle suburbs, where ageing housing stock is demolished and replaced with new medium-density housing on subdivided or consolidated allotments.

Each of these models, along with transit corridor apartment development, aims for density increases to be achieved without negatively affecting the more established and character-laden parts of a city. However these older ‘no-go’ suburbs nonetheless continue to face character and amenity pressures externally, due to their adjacency to medium and high density ‘go-go’ development zones, and from within, due to a constant erosion of character via small scale KDR infill.

Bluefield Housing distinguishes itself from these models in three ways:

  1. It acknowledges that older suburbs change regardless of policy – as existing properties are continually adapted in ways that their original owners could never have imagined – and it leverages this by increasing density and diversity in the likeness of these alterations.
  2. It creates small yet complete backyard dwellings by eschewing the subordinate Accessory Dwelling Unit model, creating instead a flat hierarchy of dwellings across the allotment.
  3. It is a design-led and whole-of-site approach. Rather than determining infill opportunities metrically through identifying minimum site areas, the Bluefield model ignores allotment size and instead empowers the proponent to demonstrate appropriateness of the development based on resident need, contextual fit and design responsiveness.

Why ‘Blue’field? Associated with calmness, stability and tradition, blue represents the perceived immutability of established suburbs, while ‘blue chip’ acknowledges the values – both financial and emotional – in play.

The Bluefield Housing approach, underpinned by conceptually rigorous and multi-layered design research investigations, sees single allotments in older suburbs sensitively densified by using the tropes of suburban alterations and additions – the mainstay of practice for so many architects and a vital contributor to the global construction industry. Rather than reading a site as divisible into pre-determined minimum allotments, a Bluefield approach treats the existing housing, new additions and private open space holistically, offering opportunities for ageing-in-place, working from home, build-to-rent, multi-generational and cooperative living in established suburbs where housing diversity is elusive, yet so desperately needed.

Design research projects that utilise the Bluefield Housing model include:

Recommended citation: Madigan, Damian. "Bluefield Housing: Shortlisted Competition Entry, AA Prize for Unbuilt Work 2021." Melbourne: Architecture Australia, 2020. https://architecturemedia.com/events/aaunbuilt2021/

Bluefield Housing