The courtyard inside and out: a brief history of an architectural ambiguity

Robert Hugh Nelson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


Though a mainstream building archetype for many centuries, courtyards have never been well defined in the history of language. Combining phenomenological and philological research methods, this article proposes a timeline in which courtyards grew with great architectonic presence as a vivacious stage for human interaction, but without a corresponding lexical stability to reflect their function and presence. The article reveals that the ambiguities of contemporary usage of the word courtyard are not unprecedented; because in all epochs and across key European languages, the term is weak and ill-defined. Courtyards have a unique charm which the article characterizes as social presence and which is explored through historical narratives. The article argues that the relevant history of language and narrative about courtyards not only helps us discover their enchanting spatiality but also helps us imagine an architectonic destiny for courtyards against the many factors that discourage their contemporary proliferation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)8 - 17
Number of pages10
JournalEnquiry (Washington DC): a Journal of Architectural Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2014

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