4.4.13 Courtyards

If the assumption that space internal to a private/domestic building complex would be set back from the immediate street frontage, because of the need for privacy, is correct, then is the position of large open spaces/courtyards adjacent to streets more likely to be indicative of communal space within the urban landscape, for example, the courtyards of public buildings?

Is it possible to create a hierarchy of courtyard sizes that reflects their function/role? The assumption might be that smaller courtyards are part of residential units, indicative of domestic space built around the internal courtyards. Even elite or higher status residential units do not necessarily have larger courtyards: for example, the excavated house within Shahriyar Ark, perhaps of one of the Viziers, still only had a modest courtyard, less than 5m across. Did elite residences have two courtyards rather than simply bigger internal spaces? Perhaps, therefore, we can generalise about the division between aspects of public space and domestic space. If we examine the plan of the city centre at Fez al-Bali (Bianca 2000, 144-5), for example, only two residential spaces have courtyards that come close to the scale of those in communal/public buildings, with courtyards over c. 10m across, or greater in area than c. 100m². So would it be far off the mark if we characterised everything above 100m² as public/communal and less than that as domestic? The crucial issue, perhaps, is less the identification of specific spaces, but rather the general patterns and rhythms of the urban organisation.

So can we isolate some form of hierarchy in the scale of open space against function (Fig, 24)?

Of course, spaces of less than c. 5m across could be roofed rather than open to the air, so the identification of courtyards is complicated by assumptions of internal and external space.

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