Is The Covid-19 Pandemic Reviving A Historic Residential Design Feature?


The pandemic has changed our relationship with our homes, possibly permanently. One of those changes is the desire to maximize our outdoor living spaces. The reasons include new pressures on indoor rooms to multi-task for study, work and exercise – at the expense of relaxation – and a desire to enjoy safe, healthy outdoor time.

“Scientific evidence continues to mount that when we spend time immersed in nature or surrounded by even modest natural features, it boosts our mood and leaves us feeling emotional restored. During stressful times, these moments to find beauty and peace become more important than ever,” comments Florence Williams, author of The Nature Fix

Emerging Trend

Homeowners are doing what they can to create private havens on their properties, and new home builders are touting the outdoor areas included in their plans. Some are harkening back to historic eras when interior courtyards were fully enveloped in the home’s architecture and accessible from adjacent rooms that opened onto them. This design provided a household with private areas to gather amid fruit trees and flowering plants, but away from the prying eyes of passersby and potential security threats. It still does, and may make a comeback because of the pandemic.

I drew inspiration from ancient Roman courtyard homes,” shares Scott Cowell, an architectural designer with house plan design firm Prim Haus. “I love the idea of courtyards because they create some of the most important elements in architecture; light and air,” he adds.

Cowell is not alone in being inspired. Home improvement site Houzz reports an increase in searches related to interior courtyards going back to March when sheltering at home began in hard-hit early states. Associate editor Annie Thornton says, “Outdoor living spaces have been extremely popular since the beginning of the pandemic, and we anticipate that single family homes and multi-unit buildings will have more connections to the outdoors in the future.” She sees courtyards being a useful feature for bringing home and landscape together. 

Courtyard Design

These interior courtyards are often open air above, though some do feature glass ceilings. “There are so many benefits for connecting to nature in all seasons and activating all of our senses,” declares Jack Carman, a landscape architect in Medford, New Jersey. “If needed, a pergola, table with an umbrella or other shade covering can provide ‘shelter’ from the sun or rain in times of inclement weather and winter months.”

In some instances, a glass ceiling may be operable for greater climate control. “Whether a courtyard is enclosed really depends on the climate of the site,” comments Laura Kazmierczak, a project designer at SFCS Architecture in the Philadelphia area, adding, “During the pandemic, there is a desire to maximize exposure to the open air as much as possible.”

“[They] can be designed for meditation, spirituality, yoga, and other activities,” suggests Carman. They can even be designed for outdoor classrooms, he notes. “Many subjects,…

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