Courtyards: Intimate Outdoor Spaces

Courtyards: Intimate Outdoor Spaces

by Douglas Keister
     
 

Few architectural elements are more closely associated with comfort, protection, and security than the courtyard-an outdoor living space that is partially or fully enclosed by walls or buildings. The courtyard became a major architectural design element almost as soon humans began constructing permanent buildings.

Scholars tell us that courtyards have been around

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Overview

Few architectural elements are more closely associated with comfort, protection, and security than the courtyard-an outdoor living space that is partially or fully enclosed by walls or buildings. The courtyard became a major architectural design element almost as soon humans began constructing permanent buildings.

Scholars tell us that courtyards have been around since at least 3000 b.c. The earliest civilizations in China, the Middle East, and North Africa all had courtyards. Protection was the primary function of these early courtyards, with high walls providing a shield from the weather and a barrier to marauding animals and unwanted human visitors. In later western culture, the requirements of a courtyard were looser, and any area that was partially or entirely enclosed by walls or buildings could be called a courtyard.

Today, defining a courtyard seems to depend on the elements it contains and the feelings it evokes rather than the architecture that surrounds it. The basic elements of a courtyard have always been water, walls, and sky combined to convey qualities of intimacy, security, and quiet.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781586855406
Publisher:
Smith, Gibbs Publisher
Publication date:
08/12/2005
Pages:
160
Product dimensions:
8.50(w) x 10.00(h) x 0.80(d)
Age Range:
16 Years

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Ancient Courtyards

The best places to see true courtyards are in Middle Eastern and Chinese cities, the very places where civilization developed. The ancient Persians built many of their courtyards as miniature representations of Paradise. Each contained a water element-a fountain, well, or pool--central to the courtyard design-that provided a soothing contrast to the parched lands beyond the courtyard's walls. Some of the earliest written references to courtyards are found in the Bible. In the book of Exodus, plagues of frogs, gnats and flies invaded the usually serene Egyptian courtyards. The book of Esther contains a reference to a royal courtyard. A courtyard is used as shelter at night in both the books of Tobit and Nehemiah, and Moses instructs the Israelites to build booths in their courtyards during the feast days of the seventh month. In all, courtyards are mentioned over a dozen times in the Bible and always in the context of walled enclosures.

Roman Courtyards

The eruption of Mount Vesuvius in a.d. 79 buried the Italian city of Pompeii and its hapless citizens in volcanic ash, making Pompeii the best place to study perfectly preserved examples of Roman courtyards. In the ancient Roman world, courtyard houses were referred to as atrium houses. Usually lined up shoulder to shoulder on the street, these homes usually had no windows, resulting in a rather uninteresting and tedious streetscape that belied the splendor beyond the high walls. Upon entering the home, a visitor might encounter an open-roofed room that contained an impluvium, a central pool that collected rainwater from the inward-slanted roof. This small courtyard-like room served as the entrance to the main house. In back of the main house, a formal courtyard often surrounded by Greek-style colonnades would form a peristyle. These peristyle courtyards were the templates for church courtyards, called cloisters, which developed centuries later.

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