Courtyard Gardens – as relevant today

Aug 4, 2017 Architecture

Courtyard-style gardens are not a new phenomenon. Architects such as the eminent Guilford Bell regularly included courtyards in his homes designed in the 1950s through to the 1980s. Often concealed behind high brick fences, these private and secluded oases were inspired by the architect’s travels to the Middle East. Other architects, equally as respected as Bell, such as Kevin Borland, also used courtyards in their schemes. Find out what lies behind the walls in modern courtyard transformations.

“There’s nothing more satisfying than seeing a garden not just from one aspect, but appreciating it from several rooms which is what a courtyard offers,” says architect Warwick Mihaly, Principal of Mihaly Slocombe Architects. “The courtyard garden also strengthens the connection back to the house,” he adds.

Slocombe recently reworked one of Borland’s homes in Oliver’s Hill (perched above Frankston), receiving a commendation from the Australian Institute of Architects (Victorian Chapter). Designed in 1977, the house is located on a steep site offering glimpses of Port Phillip Bay. Mihaly Slocombe Architects replaced some of the solid walls with floor-to-ceiling glass in the two-storey home. “Even though there was a great courtyard garden at the front of the house, it didn’t fully embrace it or the swimming pool within it,” says Slocombe. The informal living area located on the first floor replaced a bathroom and now looks directly onto the eastern courtyard garden. “We also reshaped the pool which was originally given as a gift to comedian Graham Kennedy (a former owner) by Channel 9,” says Mihaly, who recalls the pool being used as a fishpond when the new owners moved in.

Courtyard view from inside Chamfer House by Mihaly Slocombe Architects. Image Credit: Andrew Latreille

The architects not only redesigned the swimming pool but also reconfigured the bluestone paving that surrounds it and added new planter beds. On a slightly lower level to the swimming pool was a ‘winter garden’, open to the sky but protected by the first floor of the house. “We planted out this area with ferns to create a more verdant outlook,” says Mihaly, who sees the value of using courtyard gardens, both in the 1970s and also today. “There’s protection from the wind and in summer there’s shade. Courtyards are also a valuable tool in creating privacy from neighbouring properties,” he adds.

Mihaly Slocombe is presently working on a couple of other courtyard-style homes. One in the design phase, located in Ivanhoe, is conceived to create a microclimate on the northern side of the property. “Courtyards are perfect for gathering spaces, feeling like an outdoor room,” he adds.

Pool view of Chamfer House by Mihaly Slocombe Architects. Image Credit: Andrew Latreille

Multiplicity has also designed a number of homes that centre on a courtyard. One of these houses is located in Richmond. “We were essentially given a shell to work with. The owners weren’t satisfied with a previous scheme (from another architectural practice) and asked us to rework the interior and the courtyard garden,” says architect Tim O’Sullivan, who worked closely with his life and business partner, interior designer Sioux Clark.

While new skylights in the kitchen and informal living areas bring additional light into the interior, new glass doors and windows strengthen the connection to the courtyard-style garden, located to the south and rear of the property. “We were restricted in how far we could rework the plan as the owners had already spent considerable time with the planning process and didn’t want to stretch it out any longer,” says O’Sullivan.

Courtyard designed by Multiplicity. Image Credit: Emma Cross.

Multiplicity reworked the courtyard garden, located between the garage and the house. “Our clients had young children and wanted a place they could play, as well as a place where they could entertain their friends,” says O’Sullivan, who created a built-in timber bench seat that wraps around the courtyard. “The bench is wide enough for the children to climb on it even while adults are sitting,” he adds.

One of the more unusual features of the garden is a macramé-like installation. Made from nylon rope and ‘laced’ between a steel frame, this artwork can be used for climbing as well as screening a neighbouring home. “As a child, I used to experiment making ‘string art’ where one would wind string into a picture around tacks on a board,” says O’Sullivan.

Macramé installation by Multiplicity

Like Mihaly, O’Sullivan sees the relevance of courtyard-style gardens today. However, as with any architectural project, “a courtyard has to be appropriate for the site and respond to the way clients live.”

Mihaly Slocombe Architects can be contacted on +613 9080 2238 or at
Multiplicity can be contacted on +613 9388 0790 or at

About the Author: Stephen Crafti

Stephen Crafti has been writing about design and architecture since the early 1990s and is a regular contributor to DesignBUILD. Inspired by the architecture around him in Melbourne, Australia, he was keen to share the things he saw, whether buildings, furniture, fashion or other stunning pieces of contemporary design. After many years of writing about his favourite things, and with numerous books and articles behind him, Crafti still delights in discovering and promoting exhilarating design. He is a regular contributor to several Australian newspapers and local and international design magazines.

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