Courtyards have been used in homes for thousands of years. You can find houses with courtyards across the globe with gardens or ornately decorated paved courts incorporated in their footprint. The ability to bring light and air into the depths of a building, plus their inherent privacy mean courtyards are an enduring feature. Whether it is to insert a glazed wall garden directly into the middle of a living space, to create a sanctuary which shuns the outer world, or as a response to challenging site conditions, architects continue to be inspired by and reinvent the courtyard.
Some architects design contemporary modernist interpretations of houses with courtyards by putting an emphasis on materiality and simplicity of form. At other times a courtyard is created when a home is remodeled and extended. Many have unassuming facades and delight in bringing the occupants in close contact with nature, or revel in the fluidity of continuous indoor-outdoor spaces.
Take a walk through this collection of houses with courtyards which often leave their finest moments tucked within.
This minimalist concrete vacation home on Gotland Island Sweden, in the middle of the Baltic sea offers views out onto the surrounding meadows and ocean, as well as an atrium within. It’s a perfect choice for our list of houses with courtyards.
Sitting low against the snowy landscape, the envelope of the house is a simple rectangular form. The roof line is flat, and the floor shifts across three offset levels below, as it follows the gentle slope of the terrain. The spaces flow in a continuous ring around the central atrium, with rooms arranged in blocks set against the outside wall.
Architects Tham & Videgård Arkitekter were inspired by local vernacular agriculture architecture. Large sliding glass windows are mounted onto the surface of the walls in the style of barn doors, and the oak frames are treated with tar on the outside to match the darkened exterior.
Okada Marshall House
Located in Sooke, Canada, Okada Marshall House features not one but two interior courtyards. D’Arcy Jones Architects designed this dwelling with an H-shape that shelters the two outdoor living spaces from the constant winds that batter the west coast of Vancouver Island. Screens also provide privacy from any new buildings that may appear in the area in the future. The inhabitants have a constant connection to nature; whether through windows that overlook the moss-covered rocks in the courtyards or through anti-glare glazed walls that open the living spaces to views of the Pacific Ocean. The architectural design also celebrates the beauty and durability of solid timber. For the exterior, the studio used timber provided by the owner’s shou sugi ban wood supply company.
The young team at Punto Arquitectónico completed this stunning restoration and transformation of Casa Xólotl into a distinctive home. We had to include it in our selection of houses with courtyards. Located in Mérida, Mexico, it has an original neoclassical facade, and heavily textured stone walls of new and old materials within.
The cool blue waters of the courtyard pool with covered area, decking and outdoor furnishings along its edge is the focal point of the residence. Old walls stretch out into the pool and water flows through what were once doorways. A restored old cistern creates the opportunity for a unique waterfall feature. The central courtyard dramatically separates the residence into two distinct volumes. The original floor plan is maintained at the front and a new master suite block added at the rear. One must cross the outdoor patio to move from one section of the house to the other, which isn’t a concern in the tropical climate of the Yucatan Peninsula.
The austere concrete bunker exterior of Cloister House in suburban Perth provides little clue to what lies inside. Italian-Australian architecture firm MORQ chose rammed concrete for construction—a mix of lime, cement, and water. The walls have the distinctive horizontal strata and formwork impressions associated with rammed earth, but without using clay. Within lies a beautiful private L-shaped green courtyard, around which the main spaces wrap. Light spills into the house from the courtyard, and exterior openings are mere thin slits.
The courtyard is part garden, part paved outdoor seating area, and a refuge for the owners. Various access points are through large glass sliding doors, with stepping stones connecting the central paving to the house. The minimal exterior and textured walls follow through to the interior. Contrasting red hardwood is used in rafters, the kitchen bench and the window frames to add warmth.
Canal House is a new build which sits on an odd-shaped plot of land adjacent the Arizona Canal. With tall gabled roofs, the design has been inspired by the mission-style architecture of southern Arizona. It features white washed exterior walls, along with exposed brickwork. The bright rust colored corrugated roof echoes the traditional terracotta used on mission buildings.
Similarly to other houses with courtyards, the Ranch Mine studio created a U-shaped plan which wraps a central grassed space. At the end of the courtyard, dividing the sleeping wing from the living wing is an impressive rusted steel clad outdoor fireplace. Behind the fireplace is the entrance and a corridor connecting the two arms. The long tall hall of the open plan living area features a beautiful vaulted hemlock ceiling. Rusted steel appears again in the central hood of the kitchen, which rises to the timbers overhead.
Courtyard House by Auhaus Architecture
Located in Barwon Heads, Victoria, this is great example of elegant houses with courtyards and a sophisticated modern family home designed by Auhaus Architecture. The facade is a dramatic contrast between local bluestone and red hardwood slats which cover the entry and garage door. Both are hardy materials selected to last well in the coastal Australian weather conditions.
Designed for a relaxed Australian lifestyle, floor-to-ceiling glass windows and sliding doors open towards the central lawn, and the courtyard functions as an additional room in the house. Covered timber decking areas run around the outer edges, transitioning between and integrating the indoor and outdoor spaces. Oak floors feature throughout, and contrast with the matte black kitchen and black window frames. Bathrooms feature stone floors and white tiles offset by oak shelves and joinery.
Courtyard House by No Architecture
New York-based firm No Architecture designed this award-winning private residence to balance the client’s needs to retire amongst nature and maintain a strong community connection. Conceived as a destination that attracts people to visit, it sits nestled and partially burrowed on a forest slope.
The glass walled courtyard “conceives landscape as partitions thanks to native deciduous plants. Both the thermal mass of the hill and the courtyard provide natural heating and cooling as the seasons shift. Set across a single level, it avoids any conventional space planning of rooms and corridors. Instead, there are fluid and flexible spaces positioned around an irregular decagonal courtyard garden. Two L-shaped ‘storage cores’ section the space and all living areas can accommodate overnight guests as required.
Courtyard House by Robson Rak
This two story residence is an extension and modernization of a 1980s house wedged between two other double story houses. The street frontage is small and it sits on a long narrow block, 7.5m wide and 46m deep.
To bring light and greenery to every part of the residence, Robson Rak included two large courtyards in the plan. In collaboration with landscaper Ed Purcey they pursued “the desired outcome of reflection and relaxation.” Clean lines, white walls and a soft color palette reinforce the feeling of lightness and tranquility. The client’s love of Japanese architecture and rituals has also informed the house. Built-in custom leather seating and shelves have been incorporated to complete day-to-day activities, and maintain the simplicity of requiring minimal furniture pieces. One surprising moment a view of the courtyard greenery through a low window in the dim wine cellar and bar space.
House in Monsaraz
This house near Alqueva lake in Monsaraz, Portugal, features dramatic curved concrete forms, yet is also discreetly sunken and blended into the landscape. Lisbon based firm Aires Mateus designed a green roof which appears as an extension of the surrounding land.
Four simple shapes break the green and hint there is more going on underneath. Two circles are the small white tiled patios that function as light wells. A long slit in the ground marks where the house is entered by descending a straight narrow staircase. Finally, a large inverted concrete dome which intersects and pierces the domes of the terrace below is visible. Beneath is a refuge of textured cast concrete that offers a sweeping panorama of the lake and surroundings. Windows in the kitchen and living room also share the view which is artfully framed by the curved concrete form.
Casa Sierra Fría
Located in Mexico City, this four bedroom residence is the first architectural project of Esrawe Studio, which previously focused on furniture design. The thin bricks selected for the facade provide a distinctive fine texture which adds warmth to the tall monolithic volume. Matching brick paving unifies the project and creates a minimal feel.
To maintain privacy, all windows in this U-shaped house open onto the lush green courtyard within. A sunken paved stone path is lined by two garden beds. Large glazed expanses contrast with the solidity of the surrounding red bricks, and greenery cascades down from the roof terrace above. The interior of Casa Sierra Fría features a limited and natural material palette of stone and light timber with pale walls. The master bathroom has marbled stone and a glass roofed patio. A series of simple clean line built-in timber furnishings was also created by the studio.
A two level courtyard lies at the heart of this semi-detached residence by Hyla Architects in Singapore. The tall vertical courtyard brings light to the center of the house and allows a buffer from major roads in vicinity of the house.
The lower level of the courtyard looks like a large timber framed museum display case. Within is a single frangipani tree surrounded by a pond. The minimal styled main living areas, kitchen and staircase flank the courtyard. Running along two sides are floor to ceiling windows which open onto a deck area and a line of bamboo plants. The upper courtyard is above the dining area. It is surrounded by walls of glass which are divided with a series of dark timber slats running horizontally and vertically. The timbers are grouped as four slats together which sit perpendicular to the glass and creating depth and screening.
Houses with courtyards can also look distinctly modern. Located in the beach community of Scarborough in Perth, Western Australia, House A is a compact minimalist concrete residence. It stands out against its neighbors and is notable as the first carbon neutral building in the area. Architects Whispering Smith are a self-described ‘staunchly feminist’ practice driven by principals of sustainability, local craft and livable minimalism. The house feels light and bright. Pale concrete walls, white tiles, whitewashed bricks and polycarbonate, with a corrugated roof. There is selected use of light timber details for contrast and warmth.
A mere 70m2, the three-level residence has a single mezzanine bedroom with bathroom, open living area, galley kitchen, plus garage. A concertina glass door opens the living room to the courtyard with decking, creating a continuous indoor-outdoor space. Built-in seating, potted plants and an outdoor shower near the entry add to the atmosphere and utility. There is also a partially covered concrete patio accessible from the kitchen. Lined with black stained timbers it recedes against the otherwise light exterior.
Courtyard House by And, And, And Studio
And, And, And Studio completed this light and airy house in Silver Lake, Los Angeles as a project for themselves. This modern take on the houses with courtyards concept is a renovation and extension of an existing house into a T-shaped plan, and a wonderful expression of their playful design philosophy.
A casual, partially paved courtyard in the front functions as an arrival hall and integral outdoor room of the house. A 50 year olive tree was brought in and planted to be its centerpiece. The rear yard is occupied by a curvy swimming pool. Richly colored timber decks run around the home’s exterior as additional living spaces overlooking the courtyard. A re-framed roof provided a tall gable ceiling in the main living spaces. The interior look takes inspiration from a mid-century modern palette. Warm golds, rusty reds, black and off-white creates a fun and eclectic living area. The kitchen cabinets are bold olive green, plus a ribbed oak clad island with sink. Counter tops and splash backs are in white marble.
With this stunning project, award winning architect Alberto Campo Baeza sought to create “a well balanced house full of light and shade.” Guerrero House sits as a huge white box 8 meter tall in the middle of a field in Andalucia, Spain, and is a testament to the endurance of modernist design principles and to the appeal of houses with courtyards.
You enter through a simple doorway—the only perforation in the wall. Inside is an impressive white minimal form. A delight to behold for its sculptural simplicity. You can immediately see through the glass walls of the living area, to the far outer wall. There are two courtyards—one at either end—each with four orange trees planted in neat alignment. The first courtyard is narrower, as inner walls along the sides hide service areas. Running the full width of the rear courtyard is a cool blue pool. The central dwelling area is about 9×18 meter and a core 9×9 meter square rises to the full 8 meter height of the outer walls. Protecting the inner core and allowing a softer light to enter are 3 meter wide porches at either side. Bedrooms and other areas are to the sides.
MAKA Arkitektur designed this neat contemporary dwelling located in the fishing village of Torekov, as an interpretation of the local gable roofed one-and-a-half-story vernacular building forms. It’s a charming addition to our curated list of houses with courtyards. An old cherry tree marks the central grassed courtyard and offers protection from the harsh coastal winds. A minimal and soft material palette of lime stucco walls, oak floors and a zinc roof feature. Details are in teak, copper and brass. An L-shaped block forms the main dwelling, which includes ground floor living spaces and an upper level with bedrooms, mezzanine space and roof terrace. A separate wing is a detached guest house, with its own bathroom and kitchenette.
La Torre Bianca
Built in Puglia Italy, for DOS founder Lorenzo Grifantini, this is a second family home and get-away from busy London life. Two standout features are the 12 meter tower and the large central courtyard, which is the “real heart” of the residence. A lush example of houses with courtyards design, the outdoor space features a swimming pool, built-in seating and selected vegetation. A low perimeter wall unifies the entire project while square openings punctuate the white washed exterior. The tower is a stack of bathroom as well as two bedroom suites, with a small terrace on top.
The living areas of the main dwelling stretch out on the ground floor. A second cluster of spaces house a series of guest suites. All opening towards the courtyard, they are linked to the main building by a canopy of white-painted iron and bamboo which wraps around this courtyard and along the buildings. DOS describes: “each and every element of the house contributes to its cohesive architectural synthesis…the volumes, the canopy, the planters, the interior furnishings embedded in the masonry, the pool and the fireplace in dialogue with each other create a unique architectural block.”
House for a Ceramic Designer
This contemporary residence by Slovenian practice DOS is another example of houses with courtyards that offer raw concrete walls and an impenetrable surface to the outside. Located in Ljubljana, the house combines a home and a ceramic studio under one roof. The single-story house has a U-shaped plan with full height glass walls surrounding a paved courtyard area; a feature the studio describes as “the in-between space.”
The interior palette is simple with white walls and blond timbers. There is single open plan living space and block of bedrooms in one arm. The studio space is in another arm and also has its own entry from the parking space. When needed, a door can close it fom the living areas, while white curtains can block out the courtyard.
House in Akashi
Sitting in a quiet suburban street of Akashi, Japan, this square timber clad building contrasts with the surrounding houses with courtyards. On a tight block arbol has created a single level dwelling with three garden courtyards nestled within. The courtyard spaces allow residents to enjoy the sunlight and closeness to nature. They bring a beautiful filtered light into the home and lit at night cast wonderful shadows on the walls and exterior timbers.
The architects describe each courtyard by its function. The first, ‘a yard with kitchen garden’, has a traditional dirt floor and sit adjacent to the entry area with black wood stove. Several small trees and a grape vine are planted here. Moving through the house is a semi-public living area, with ‘a yard for viewing’ at one end. Full height glass walls with sliding doors mean the first two gardens can be viewed from the living area. An intriguing combination of floor and ceiling height openings offers glimpses of the third courtyard, referred to as ‘dry area’. It is a small concrete floored light well within the private bedroom and bathroom block. A traditional tatami room sits in the front corner adjacent both the first two garden courtyards. ‘A yard for viewing’ is visible through a ground level window which sits under built-in shelving.
Built on a slope with dense vegetation in Mexico, this house features a cluster of stone volumes. Designed by AM30 Taller de Arquitectura and Stephane Arriola, the project was heavily influenced by the site conditions which included numerous large pine trees. The plan has been split, allowing the trees to remain and the occupants to feel integrated and in ‘constant interaction’ with the surrounding landscape.
Three volumes offset around a central circulation core form the main residence. A variety of interesting spatial experiences are created with stepped level changes and mezzanine areas.
On the other side of a large terraced courtyard lies a block of guest rooms. Like in the best houses with courtyards concepts, here the stone walls offer richness and texture to the exterior as well as interior walls. This is contrasted with warm hardwood floors and timbers used throughout in doors, stairs and ceiling areas. A large outdoor deck area extends from the kitchen-dining and living areas. Also, tucked behind the stone walls and enriching the space is an internal courtyard with pebbled floor and planted tree.
Located in one of the old huton districts of Beijing, this project is a dramatic renovation and update of a traditional Chinese Siheyuan residence. It’s an obvious choice for our selection of houses with courtyards. Designer ARCHSTUDIO explain that the guiding principle was “renovating the old and inserting the new.” The name of the project makes reference to the seven pitch roof blocks which comprise the original layout. With the addition of verandah space to connect the buildings, the plan has been transformed into the large continuous flow of spaces of a single home with a distinctive Chinese character.
The original houses with courtyards were old and in a state of disrepair, but the basic structure of wooden beams, a gate and two arched door openings are preserved. Several temporary blocks had to be demolished and their materials were recycled and repurposed during construction. The front courtyard is now mainly a garage space. The two internal courtyards are reduced in size and enclosed by curved glass walls surrounded by the undulating timber eaves of the new verandah corridors. Four small bamboo courtyards were also added. Flooring is in stone to match the original stonework exteriors, and there are impressive timber ceilings with exposed rafters throughout.
Located in Casablanca, this three level residence offers no visible openings to the street, only an abstract block composition. In a play with notions of privacy and fluidity that influence the designs of some houses with courtyards, architect Driss Kettani designed the side and back to be bright and open. Urban planning rules dictated that the building fit to the wall shared with the house on the east.
Traditional Zellige tiles in mint green cover the entry wall. In keeping with cultural tradition to maintain privacy, a chicane style path was created to enter the home. Likewise the tiles wrap around and continue on the interior surface of the L-shaped wall of the front corner. On a small wall section at the rear of the house the tiles appear again inside and out. The ground floor is dominated by a large open living area with floor to ceiling glass along the side and back. From here, you can take in the rear courtyard garden and the thin pool which runs along the side of the house. Timber screening divides spaces and contrasts with the otherwise light neutral surfaces.
Set on a sloped block overlooking Mexico City, this project consists of two main concrete volumes and a smaller block at the entry for the garage and machine room. A perfect example of modern houses with courtyards, ViGa Arquitectos planned it to be constructed in stages and some spaces took on differing functions as the project progressed. The mezzanine level in the second block is a bedroom, but will become a studio with the completion of the third block’s private spaces. Rooftop patio areas are accessible on both main blocks. The raw concrete is marked with by square panels, texture and joins of the formwork, and is also left exposed on the interior walls. Softening the rough raw concrete is greenery planted around the blocks and within a courtyard space that sit between them. Stone steps, terracing and gravel pathways connect areas and weave across the plot.
Many houses with courtyards reference tradition. Constructed in suburban Córdoba, Argentina, the idea of the “courtyard and the party wall” represents the driving force behind the design of the Casa Carmela – both concepts central to the culture of Argentinian cities. The dwelling features a sequence of spaces and courtyards which move progressively from public to the very private. Architects Fae + NOMADA explain that ‘non-heirarchy of spaces’ as well as ensuring non-obsolescence and adaptive use over time were also important considerations.
The first of three courtyards is a front lawn, followed by a garage and barbecue space covered with a butterfly wing corrugated iron roof. You pass through another grass courtyard before entering into the main house block. A third private courtyard with gravel floor is behind and surrounded by the main dwelling. It is a casual home with a variety of materials and textures, plus moments of industrial styling. Brick, steel and concrete are the primary materials. Colorful square tiles liven up the kitchen and bathroom. Brickwork screening tempers window light, while steel mesh appears in a mezzanine floor and in concertina shuttering set outside glazed sliding doors.
Train House by On Architects
Some houses with courtyards have a distinctly creative design. For Train House, challenging site conditions led On Architects to propose a unique solution for a home designed for a couple to live with elderly parents. Built in Ulsan, South Korea, the project stretches out as a concrete form like a series of interconnected carriages. Facing south and sunken below the road level, it presents initially as only a tiny concrete block with rusted iron gangway and door. The architects liken the rough concrete finish to that of “the old tree bark of a Korean traditional house.”
To facilitate enough light entering the home, a series of courtyards have been introduced. The courtyards allow separation and privacy, as well as connection between the couple’s and the parent’s quarters. Courtyard gaps are marked by screens constructed of hollow square concrete blocks.