From ArticleWorld

A courtyard is a widespread and historic architectural feature, usually an open-to-the-sky space surrounded on four sides by buildings. Courtyards are used for various reasons including cooking, storing grain and keeping livestock, worship, and social life, as well as to provide contact with the elements and fresh air in privacy.


Historical form

Courtyards have historically played a role in most building traditions, from the single spaces of the Romans, to elaborate systems of multiple courtyards and Islamic and Hindu traditions, to Chinese courtyards where the life of the houses around played out. Courtyards are determined to have been part of Mesopotamian and Inca urban spaces, from the 20th to 13th centuries BCE.

From courtyard to atrium

From Roman times courtyards have served to allow light to be taken in from the front, or street-side of a house, as well as the center, or courtyard. In addition, courtyards were used as water-collection centers, and hearth space. The word atrium, which today refers to a central common space that is usually covered by glass within a building, comes from the Latin name for these spaces.

Asian courtyards

Courtyards have a long history in Asia. In the Middle East, they were the regulating feature in a home that involved moving activities from room to room, depending on the season, light and weather conditions, possibly a remnant of nomadic habits. In South Asia and China the concept of multiple courtyards took hold, often because large joint families lived together, or multiple families shared courtyards, and there arose therefore a division between private and public courtyard domains. The first courtyard was (and is) used to receive near strangers, while the most private, innermost courtyards are the domain of families. Rajasthani havelis are known for their multiple courtyards, and here like elsewhere in south sis, the innermost courtyard is often the only place for women to be 'outdoors'. In other places the single courtyard holds a holy basil ortulsi plant, or even a shrine.

Modern 'courtyards'

There is a move in contemporary architecture to revive the courtyard. The premium on space, and poor urban planning make private shared courtyards in new developments an attractive, possibly necessary feature. 'Courtyards' are also formed around small plazas. One feature already in use is the colonnaded walkway, echoing the Roman style. While this became a popular part of design of monastic spaces, they might also have inspired the arcade style of designing public spaces and open markets. For example, Slovene architect Jože Plečnik, known for his modern clean-lined take on classical motifs, designs, and themes, included as a key part of his 20th century design for Ljubljana an arcaded market space by the river. Another renowned arcade of the century is the Cleveland Arcade built in the 1890s, inspired by Milan's Galleria Vittorio Emmanuele II. Philosopher and critic Walter Benjamin saw arcades as a crucial part of the street life of Paris, and much of his most poetic writing is on the distinctive culture of flânerie.