Our desire to connect with nature through design fuels the ever-increasing importance of landscaped spaces. We’ve engaged  Australia’s leading landscape architects and designers in a new series that explores the myriad ways they design to live in harmony with nature, concurrently improving human health and wellbeing. 

Landscape design practice Mud Office director Mira Martinazzo launches the series by discussing courtyard spaces and how to maximise them. Favoured in inner-city homes and apartments for their often compact size, courtyard spaces are commonly referred to as a home’s ‘lung’, situated in the centre of the floor plan to encourage connection to natural light and greenery.

Beyond their visual appeal, they can also be used as a core outdoor entertaining space, especially when the site doesn’t permit a large garden. Drawing on three stand-out case-study projects by Mud Office, all located in inner-city Melbourne, Mira shares how courtyards can enhance the liveability of a home and anchor inhabitants within their natural context. “Greenery, natural light and a view of the sky – all of which can be achieved with a small courtyard – can influence our day-to-day lives profoundly, both directly and indirectly,” she says. 

How can a well-landscaped courtyard enhance the livability of a home?

Mira Martinazzo: Typically, we yearn for greenery in our homes. A well-landscaped courtyard will draw people out of the home and into nature while also providing a beautiful outlook. Courtyards also play an essential role in cooling the home with shade and cross ventilation and in buffering the home from surrounding buildings.

What are some effective ways you’ve introduced greenery into a courtyard space?

Mira Martinazzo: It is first useful to think about the varying layers of vegetation; small shrubs can provide interest and rhythm, while trees can provide a focal point and raise the eye level. Restraint is sometimes required while selecting planting for a smaller space, or alternatively, one can choose a tapestry of species and plant them tightly together. We prefer to be generous with our planting and obscure the garden bed surface with foliage – that way, we can maximise the small surface area available.

Are there any particular materials you rely on more for a courtyard space than others? Why?

Mira Martinazzo: When selecting surface materials for our courtyards, we generally borrow from its built surroundings or site context. An inner-city courtyard, for example, may use materials derived from the building palette, such as concrete or timber, while a coastal garden may include more rugged, raw materials, such as granitic toppings or sandstone.

How can a courtyard be used to anchor a home within its natural context?

Mira Martinazzo: A courtyard, regardless of its size or position in the home, can provide a direct line from inside to outside. Plus, planting within a courtyard, particularly that which creeps under or up a structure, can softly mark the transition from the built to the natural, effectively integrating a home into its surroundings. 

You approached the courtyard in FIGR’s Ha Ha Haus project as a means to connect the home to the seasons. What are some of the ways you were able to achieve this?

Mira Martinazzo: One focal vine leaf maple tree was carefully placed in the space to interact with the changing seasons. In autumn, the leaves turn beautiful shades of scarlet, gold and amber; in winter, when the tree is bare, extra light spills into the home; in spring and summer, the leaves turn a vibrant green shade and provide protection from the sun.

Why is it important to maximise even the smallest green spaces for human health and wellbeing?

Mira Martinazzo: We all instinctively feel better when we are connected to nature. Even a small window looking out to greenery can significantly improve our mood. Greenery, natural light and a view of the sky – all of which can be achieved with a small courtyard – can profoundly influence our day-to-day lives, both directly and indirectly.

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