“Greenery, natural light, and a view of the sky – all of which can be achieved with a courtyard – can influence our day-to-day lives profoundly, both directly and indirectly,” landscape designer and Mud Office director Mira Martinazzo told est in a recent interview. We’ve selected five standout Australian homes built around a courtyard – or several – that attest to the far-reaching positive effects of green spaces on our wellbeing.
“It is the sensory experiences of the courtyard that best exemplify the actualisation of the client’s vision; the sound of the bamboo in the breeze; the trickling of running water; the temporal experience as light filters through the battens.” Ha Architecture principal Nick Harding’s description of ‘Courtyard House’ could be mistaken as a retreat somewhere in the Japanese countryside when in fact, it’s located in Melbourne’s leafy suburb of Hawthorn.
The brief for the home specified an “idyllic, minimalist sanctuary”. There was to be abundant natural light, a palpable connection to nature, and an unyielding sense of refuge. This aspiration manifests in the zen-like courtyard, where the rest of the home is centred, both physically and spiritually. In the middle of the courtyard stands two Japanese Maple trees, symbols of balance and peace. The planning maximises courtyard views through operable timber screens and cladding, which can be adjusted for changing light and climatic conditions.
In working within the original red brick boundary walls of an old warehouse in Sydney’s Queens Park, architect Kyra Thomas maintained the essence and history of the original building while introducing a new home shaped around four garden courtyards – inviting fresh air, light and greenery indoors. “The garden courtyards allow us to enjoy the borrowed landscaping of our neighbours and vast views of the sky,” Kyra says.
Each courtyard is designed to feel like an extension of each room, while each room shares a different orientation and view to its connecting outdoor space. “The greenery is layered and brings texture and colour into the home,” Kyra says. “It is incredibly special to have the views, openness, and abundance of natural light by virtue of the courtyard positioning. I especially love the movement of the plants in the wind.”
Overlooking the rolling hills and vineyards that meet the coastline on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula, Merricks Farmhouse appears as an extension of the landscape. The brief called for a new home away from the client’s former Melbourne base, leading Michael Lumby Architecture and Nielsen Jenkins to take inspiration from the regional vernacular. There is “a constant theme of the architecture receding, with the building acting simply as a lens from which to experience the landscape,” Nielsen Jenkins co-founder Lachlan Nielsen says.
One-metre-thick arms of concrete blockwork form the home’s bones, stretching out from the interiors to form various facade walls. These concrete walls also create various pocket gardens around the key living spaces within, “editing and choreographing views and circulation,” Michael Lumby says. Every room looks out onto a courtyard, almost as if the building has been claimed by the landscape.
Madeleine Blanchfield Architects have maximised a small site by embracing the landscape and capturing the spirit of its locale, Sydney’s Bondi Beach. With a brief to create an “urban oasis” that offered both a connection to the street and privacy, the home called for a combination of out-of-the-box thinking and expertise in site planning.
Central to Madeleine Blanchfield Architects’ approach was the inclusion of an ‘outdoor room’ on the top floor, where the main living spaces revolve around a courtyard and connect to the leafy streetscape. Prioritising light, openness and connection to the landscape, the expansive ‘outdoor room’ questions the idea that living spaces and gardens belong on the ground floor of buildings and that indoor and outdoor spaces are independent of one another. “Among the bustle of Bondi, our home feels like a sanctuary where the boundary between inside and out is blurred by luscious greenery,” the client testifies.
Rob Kennon Architects redesigned a 1920s Elwood bungalow by introducing a low-lying, single-storey extension built around a circular courtyard. The absence of walls in the curved extension, housing the main living areas and master retreat, means each space maintains an inherent connection to the next and with the outdoors. The circular nature of the extension is also reflected in the interiors, for example, the cylindrical range hood, skylights and dining table legs.
The home dilutes boundaries between inside and out, favouring an unconventional home layout through the tension of addition and subtraction. By rethinking the parameters of the site and extending the design outward, the light-filled home creates a sense of intimacy and togetherness for the family who lives there.