/ Karen Pickering / Creative Workspace

Court is a word full of associations. As a noun, meanings extend from architectural definitions of space surrounded by buildings, to settings for royalty, the administration of justice and sports. As a verb it appears to prompt activity that seeks to gain favour or hold forth. This dual spatial and social interpretation seems pregnant with possibilities to inform our design approach.

Our project for the University of Edinburgh around George Square tests this model. It involves the restoration of the Robert Matthew Johnson Marshall courtyard grouping of buildings in the southeast corner of the square. At differing scales a sequence of courts can be seen – at the larger city scale George Square itself with its contained facades, then the smaller courtyard at the corner of the square, then the small grouped functions within each building and finally the groupings of space around seminar and meeting spaces.

Each scale of city building is designed to create a sense of public enclosure and at the same time support communal activities appropriate to that scale. The well formed city naturally creates the enclosures for public gathering at these varied scales, allowing the citizen to understand a series of diminishing but crucially related scales. Connectivity across these scales enriches the civic experience.

The fractured development of our cities has disconnected that social sequence. Car use has spread development so that the mutually supportive framework becomes too dilute to be understood. While individual buildings may in themselves be designed around courtyard settings they tend not to be linked to a grander sequence of ‘urban courts’ that would provide that continuity.

Our aspiration is wherever we can, to support the creation of that continuity.

Two projects discussed highlight different stages and contributions to that process.

At Caledonian University the city is expanding to embrace the university setting as it moves north from the Concert Hall developments. Meeting that expansion three courtyards define the middle scale of the university’s contribution, forming a framework for the more local settings within the buildings.

At Glasgow Academy the new Science and Technology building will contribute to a civic academic quadrangle addressing Great Western Road, reinforced by the sense of the new building performing as a multi storey loggia to that quadrangle. In turn this leads to a sequence of smaller courts overlooking the River Kelvin.

It is as if each project is in microcosm a miniature version of a civil city. The typology which supports that civility is the court, the setting for social life.

George Square, University of Edinburgh