By Megan Crider
For an elective course, I recently had to write a research paper… My topic was about courtyards. I discussed some of their psychological benefits and different design guidelines to maximize their use and advantages to their users. There was a lot to talk about, but there were a few quick design considerations that I found interesting. Below is my discussion of these topics, which I found in “A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction” by C. Alexander.
One of the challenges when designing and planning a courtyard is to create one that is alive – one that is engaging and provides use and value to its patrons. Alexander (1977) writes that “the courtyards built in modern buildings are very often dead. They are intended to be private open spaces for people to use – but they end up unused, full of gravel and abstract sculptures.” Alexander gives three critical points to combat the dead courtyard to make it alive. The first is that there is too little ambiguity between outdoors and indoors. The change from indoor to outdoor is too abrupt – “there is no opportunity for a person to find himself half way between the two.” Users need a transitional space between the indoor area and the courtyard. Examples of this are porches, terraces, or verandas. These spaces will allow users to transition naturally into the courtyard. The second point that Alexander reinforces is that there are not enough doors into the courtyard. He says that if the courtyard lies between two activities within the house, and therefore has multiple doors, then users can pass through it naturally. The courtyard then “becomes a meeting point for different activities, provides access to them, provides overflow from them, and provides the cross-circulation between them.” Only providing one door to a courtyard will likely insure that people will never pass through it or use it during their daily activity. The final statement is that courtyards are too enclosed. There should always be sight lines beyond the walls of the courtyard; it should “give at least a glimpse of some other space beyond.” If there are no openings or views to the outside the user may feel too enclosed, therefore diminishing some of the benefits of the courtyard. This space should provide an escape for the user, not evoke a sense of enclosure.
Alexander, C., Ishikawa, S., & Silverstein, M. (1977). A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction (562-564). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
The diagram below illustrates Alexander’s principles of enlivening a courtyard