African courtyard architecture: typology, art, science and relevance

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Peer-Reviewed Research
  • SDG 11
  • Abstract:

    English: Because current international trends in urban design principles are towards compact neighbourhoods and housing, attempts to accommodate South Africa’s lower-income households in massive schemes of identical little freestanding houses is increasingly being questioned. But instead of only considering Euro-American models, should planners and architects not also investigate traditional settlements for formative ideas? Most sub-Saharan vernacular dwellings, including the archetypal clustering of huts around an open living space, are conceptually a courtyard configuration, and courtyard housing offers relatively high densities, privacy and protected outdoor living space, as well as allowing a social mix – all desirable characteristics of a good contemporary neighbourhood. This study attempts to determine the relevance of traditional African courtyard houses for contemporary urban solutions by investigating a number of representative examples in terms of their potential for densification, ability to provide privacy and psychological well-being, climatic behaviour and responsiveness to social and economic needs. While both informal and formal housing have been wasteful in the use of land, functioning historic towns along Africa’s East Coast arguably offer ideas and concepts for the definition of a true African neighbourhood. The study suggests that, from the synthesis of historic precedent and custom, a contemporary model of courtyard houses could be developed that would contribute towards much more compact, low-energy and socio-economically equitable neighbourhoods.