For many of us, we recognise our cities as largely, if historically, being made up of buildings defining the public streets and more occasionally squares and parks. Less visible but still an important part of this urban form are the back gardens associated with these buildings. Some of our projects such as for New Gorbals Housing Association work within this framework of public street frontages and rear back courts, and indeed a public garden.
In the return to these more traditional urban models, and thereby the more intensive use of both the public spaces and back gardens, questions are being asked about their qualities. In particular whether the car should occupy so much of the front door realm? And whether the back gardens can assume more activity rather than just something to look at and somewhere to hang washing.
The idea of courtyard becomes emblematic of this. The courtyard typically suggests a multifunctional space but set into the built fabric. It is private space which can assume a number of activities; arrival, meeting, play and celebration. We created such a space many years ago in our Italian Centre which both served residents and visitors but was limited to certain opening hours.
Our project on the Gallowgate at Moore Street working within the Richard Murphy courtyard masterplan, developed such a private courtyard but in this case facing the street. A variation in this was our residential project at Yoker where the back court was brought into the frontal composition, ideas that were developed in the village setting of Newmilns and also in the new town setting of Grangemouth.
Reflecting on the courtyard ideas, there are a number of types that might inform our contemporary thinking, the cloister as the seminal model of an interior space with its silent perambulation, the university ‘quad’, the more domestic ‘outdoor room’, the farmyard with its mix of activities sitting beside each other, and the metaphorical courtyard conceived as a theatrical setting for life in the image of the Globe Theatre as an enclosed street.
This latter idea of the enclosed street highlights the potential of this courtyard thinking. In intensifying our back garden area activities and uses in our densely developed cities, might this typology influence how we use the front streets when the cars stop taking up so much space? The streets then become courtyards too, and with the additional benefit, as places where the young might practice their football skills in the hope we once again might grace the World Cup stage.