MAKE - Courtyards not backyards

The courtyard house is a typology that has existed for thousands of years. Its use spans history, civilizations, cultures and climates. At Kelder Architects we like to make courtyards, light courts and on a larger scale piazzas and public squares. Regardless of scale a courtyard is space that can make a place that is connected to the environment, the landscape and our city.  

A Brief History

Courtyard housing could be considered as the oldest form of residence, examples have been found in ancient civilisations from Kahun in Egypt and even further back to 2000 B.C. in the Chaldean City of Ur. Although similar in form the historical attributes of the courtyard house are varied depending on the environment and culture, we see examples from Sumerian Culture, Egyptian, South American, Middle Eastern and Islamic, Chinese, Japanese and later western cultures such as the Greeks and the Romans. 

Domus atrium entry with peristyle garden beyond, the open skylight would collect household water in the reservoir below. Pompei 6th Century B.C.

Domus atrium entry with peristyle garden beyond, the open skylight would collect household water in the reservoir below. Pompei 6th Century B.C.

The Brisbane Courtyard House

Here in Brisbane the courtyard typology is sadly a much neglected form of residence. Typically our model for the occupation of the site is a single detached dwelling sited approximately in the middle of the lot with a front yard and a back yard. Often this results in a home that is somewhat detached from its site and its garden, this detachment is further exacerbated when the home has multiple levels. Take for example the typical Queenslander, it is raised high from the site flanked by a veranda space on one or all sides. This creates a darker home where the living spaces often have no visibility to the main outdoor spaces. Below is an example of a typical Brisbane small lot with a traditional ‘Queenslander’ site use vs a courtyard house site use.


Courtyard Benefits

Over time the courtyard model has been proven to be both beneficial and infinitely adaptable. The typology works in all climates and environments from rural to urban areas. Even on a larger scale the courtyard as a piazza or public square has been frequently adopted. Here are a few of the many benefits of a courtyard house:

  • The courtyard works as an extension of your interior spaces. The kitchen, dining and living rooms become connected to a larger outdoor space for relaxation in the mornings or entertaining guests in the evenings.

  • A space for family members and guests to connect and interact, rather than deep set isolated spaces the courtyard plan allows rooms to be connected to the larger house and garden. Courtyard spaces can contain pools, fireplaces, gardens, lawns, shaded seating areas, cooking and dining areas.

  • The courtyard offers visual and acoustic privacy even in dense urban areas. The walled entrances and screens offer seclusion and commodious peaceful spaces.

  • The courtyard can create opportunity to live around the garden; shade, water, trees, lawn and flowers can all be part of the courtyard space and have proven physical and psychological benefits. Maintenance of outdoor spaces becomes more a part of the interior routine and less an isolated chore in the ‘backyard’.

  • Climatic benefit, the courtyard can create a micro-climate due to their ability to mitigate extreme temperatures by adjusting the degree of humidity, channel breezes and reduce or increase heat gain. Energy consumption and reliance on air-conditioning is reduced as interior spaces have access to cooling breezes and natural light for heating and pleasant well-lit interiors.

As a typology the courtyard house continues to evolve, here at Kelder Architects we understand the effectiveness of the courtyard and are actively contributing to its further use and evolution (see our work here). We believe it is a mode of site occupation that is perfectly suited to the Brisbane lifestyle and to the Queensland sub-tropical environment. Below is a plan of our Kingscliff Beach Courtyard House, a house designed for a larger family with indoor / outdoor living spaces and bedroom spaces positioned around a central courtyard.



The shearers quarters is sited as a stand alone building to an existing farm house property. The small residence will house family and friends for visits and weekend retreats.



Construction and design development continue at our Virginia Ave house with an outdoor garden fireplace and BBQ bench.



A major renovation to a beautiful Queenslander on one of Hawthornes best streets. Kelder Architects working with K2 Projects and starting construction later this year 2017 - 2018.