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Indoor Courtyards: Designs, Strategies, and Uses

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Courtyards, from the Roman ages, have been an integral part of vernacular architecture. Indoor courtyards have become salient and even iconic across Indian vernacular architecture.

Be it the Havelis of Gujarat, the Nalukettu of Kerala, or the courtyards of Chettinadu houses and Goan houses, courtyards are influential in the design of homes.

A Nalukettu House
A Nalukettu House

Indoor courtyards, throughout history, have been implemented for climatic, aesthetic, and communal purposes.

Purpose of Traditional Indoor Courtyards

  • Courtyards are designed based on the climate, to provide cooling and ample daylight.
  • They are used to collect rainwater, which will be then stored in tanks.
  • A central space in houses, courtyards are the main gathering space. Marriages and funerals are held in courtyards.
  • Furthermore, family members interact with each other in the courtyards. The space will always be buzzing with activity.
Wedding in a Chettinadu House Courtyard
Wedding in a Chettinadu House Courtyard

With the world having entered the modern ages, and housing taking a vertical approach owing to the growing population, indoor courtyards are becoming less utilized.

However, even today, a well-designed indoor courtyard can be beneficial, even for apartment dwellers.

Uses of Indoor Courtyards

  • In compact apartments, the courtyard space can be used to add greenery and bring about an indoor-outdoor connection.
  • Indoor courtyards can be a simple method to showcase local materials and craftsmanship.
Local Craftmanship 
Local Craftmanship 
  • They can be used as viewing decks, or even as recreational spaces that provide an escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.
  • Indoor courtyards are climate-responsive architecture tools, bringing in daylight without heat gain, and ventilation.
Climate-Responsive Courtyard
Climate-Responsive Courtyard
  • A courtyard can be a focal point of a room.
  • Faux Courtyard as Focal Point 

Designing an Indoor Courtyard

Greenery

  • Dense foliage covers the entire depth and floor area of the courtyard.
  • Differences in heights create interest.
  • Compose a garden with flowering and herbaceous plants.
  • Use of local foliage to reduce excess water consumption, and reduce costs.
  • Vertical gardens can be implemented for compact courtyards.
Assorted Foliage
Assorted Foliage

Boundaries

  • For a better indoor-outdoor connection, the boundaries must be seamless with the courtyard.
  • The roof can be extended into the courtyard.
  • A walkway that connects to interior spaces through the courtyard can be designed.
  • Glass can be used to separate indoors and outdoors.
  • The courtyard can be on the same level as the interior floor.
Courtyard Functioning as a Walkway
Courtyard Functioning as a Walkway

Aesthetics Elements

  • The courtyard can be part of the decor, by incorporating landscaping features that tie in with the interior.
  • Providing level differences in the courtyard creates interest while walking through it.
  • Add different material finishes such as stones, grass, wood, and cloth for an enhanced design.
  • Landscaping the courtyard and giving contours makes it more natural.
Hills Add a Touch of Wilderness
Hills Add a Touch of Wilderness

Functional Elements

  • An indoor courtyard can serve various purposes and is required to be designed for the same.
  • Dining and Seating 
    • It should have paved flooring, to place tables and chairs.
    • The paved flooring should be raised to allow for rainwater drainage and prevent the pooling of water.
    • The shelter must be designed for the seating area to provide cover from harsh sunlight and rainfall.
    • The courtyard’s aspect ratio must allow for good ventilation, and good daylighting, without heat gain.
Dining with Adequate Shelter 
Dining with Adequate Shelter 
  • Recreation
    • The courtyard can function as a recreation space.
    • Activities such as swimming, yoga, and meditation, walking, reading take place here.
    • The courtyard should have a paved flooring boundary around the pool, or even a bridge to get across from one end to the other.
    • Proper seating adjoining the greenery present, with an interesting view, is desired.
    • The courtyard should be semi-sheltered, providing it above all seating and walkways.
Swimming Pool with Bridge 
Swimming Pool with Bridge 

Lighting

  • Lighting plays a key role in the user experience.
  • Daylighting
    • Courtyards are to be designed to bring in as much daylight as possible.
    • The daylight should be diffused into all the surrounding spaces.
    • One might think providing large courtyards is a good solution., however, it can lead to heat gain.
    • The aspect ratio of a courtyard must be calculated based on the climatic conditions and building orientation.
Diffused Daylight Into All Spaces
Diffused Daylight Into All Spaces
  • Artificial Lighting
    • The right luminaire in a courtyard can add to the functional and aesthetic aspects.
    • A warm-toned luminaire is preferred over a cool one, as it is more welcoming and relaxing.
    • Furthermore, adding numerous, small luminaires throughout the courtyard, gives diffused and even lighting.
    • Some examples of these luminaires are artificial Japanese-style lanterns.
Uniform Warm Lighting
Uniform Warm Lighting

Indoor courtyards are ideal and flexible for any type of space. A classroom design that wishes to stand out, a compact home that yearns for daylight, or even a crematorium that uses a courtyard to symbolize the circle of life.

A well-designed courtyard, with the right balance of greenery, a mix of materials, functional spaces, and climate-responsive design, will be the attraction of any building.

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