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    Image:Residenz5 München.jpg|thumb|Courtyard in the Residenz palace of Munich Bavaria A court or courtyard is an enclosed area often a space enclosed by a building that is open to the sky These areas in inns and public buildings were often the primary meeting places for some purposes leading to theother meanings of court

    Historic use of courtyards

    Courtyards—private open spaces surrounded by walls or buildings—have been in use in residential architecture for almost as long as man has lived in constructed dwellings The earliest known courtyard houses were built in India and China and date as far back as 3000 BC Courtyards have historically been used for many purposes including cooking sleeping working playing gardening and even places tokeep animals Before courtyards open fires were kept burning in a central place within a home with only a small hole in the ceiling overhead to allow smoke to escape Overtime these small openings were enlarged and eventually ledto the development of the centralized open courtyard we knowtoday Courtyard homes have been designed and builtthroughout the world with many variations in every century
    Courtyard homes are perhaps more prevalent in temperateclimates as an open central court can be an important aidto cooling house in warm weather However courtyard houseshave been found in harsher climates as well for centuriesThe comforts offered by a courtyard—air light privacysecurity and tranquility—are properties nearly universallydesired in human housing

    Comparison of courtyard houses throughout the world

    Ur 2000 BC — two-story houses constructed around an open square were built of fired brick Kitchen working and public spaces were located on the ground floor with private rooms located upstairs
    The central uncovered area in a Roman domus was referred toas an atrium Today we generally use the termcourtyard to refer to such an area reserving the word atrium todescribe a glass-covered courtyard Roman atrium houses were built side by side along the street They were one-story homes without windows that took in light from the entranceand from the center atrium The hearth which used toinhabit the center of the home was relocated and the Romanatrium most often contained a central pool used to collectrainwater called an impluvium These homes frequentlyincorporated a second open-air area the garden which wouldbe surrounded by Greek-style colonnades forming a peristyle This created a colonnaded walkway around the perimeter of the courtyard which influenced monasticstructures centuries later
    Courtyard houses in the Middle East reflect the nomadicinfluences of the region Instead of officially designatingrooms for cooking sleeping etc these activities wererelocated throughout the year as appropriate to accommodatethe changes in temperature and the location of the sunOften the flat rooftops of these structures were used forsleeping in warm weather In some Islamic cultures privatecourtyards provide the only outdoor space for women to relaxunobserved
    The traditional Chinese courtyard house is an arrangement of several individual houses around a square Each house belongs to a different family member andadditional houses are created behind this arrangement toaccommodate additional family members as needed The Chinesecourtyard is a place of privacy and tranquility almostalways incorporating a garden and water feature In somecases houses are constructed with multiple courtyards thatincrease in privacy as they recede from the streetStrangers would be received in the outermost courtyard withthe innermost ones being reserved for close friends andfamily members
    The medieval European farmhouse embodies what wethink of today as one of the most archetypal examples of acourtyard house—four buildings arranged arounda square courtyard with a steep roof covered by thatch Thecentral courtyard was used for working gathering andsometimes keeping small livestock An elevated walkwayfrequently ran around two or three sides of the courtyardsin the houses

    Relevance to the architecture of today

    More and more architects are investigating ways that courtyards can play a role in the development of today's homes and cities In densely populated areas a courtyard ina home can provide privacy for a family a break from the frantic pace of everyday life and a safe place for children to play With space at a premium architects areexperimenting with courtyards as a way to provide outdoor space for small communities of people at a time A courtyard surrounded by 12 houses for example would provide a sharedpark-like space for those families who could take pride in ownership of the space Though this might sound like a modern-day solution to an inner city problem the groupingof houses around a shared courtyard was common practice among the Incas as far back as the 13th century BC
    In San Francisco the floor plans of "marina style" housesoften include a central patio a miniature version of an open courtyard sometimes covered with glass or a translucent material Central patios provide natural lightto common areas and space for potted outdoor plants

    Examples of courtyards

    • Trinity Great Court in Trinity College Cambridge

    See also

    • Cloister
    • Patio garden


    • Atrium: Five Thousand Years of Open Courtyards by Werner Blaser 1985 Wepf & Co
    • Atrium Buildings: Development and Design by Richard Saxon 1983 The Architectural Press London
    • A History of Architecture by Spiro Kostof 1995 The Oxford Press