Courting daylight: using the courtyard paradigm to bring daylight into residential architecture on east coast Australia

  • Susan Lambert

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This study is an investigation of the available daylight qualities of the courtyard model of house design in the context of the East Coast of Australia. A geographic region that has had only limited consideration in terms of its unique daylight qualities in relation to architecture. The research thesis focuses on the way available daylight is an integral consideration in architectural design, that minimizes the need for artificial illumination, improves air quality and conserves energy.

The Case Study research method is used to review and assess the daylight contribution in six design solutions and the awareness of site and orientation by experienced architects with well-developed design processes. Schramm (1971) provides a definition of the case study as a research method stating, “The essence of a case study, the central tendency among all types of case study, is that it tries to illuminate a decision or set of decisions: Why they were taken, how they were implemented, and with what result”. This was the basis for the set of questions that were developed to investigate the design principles used by a group of experienced and highly regarded architects in order to find a level that would establish this understanding of how beneficial natural lighting is and gain new knowledge behind the success of the courtyard paradigm as a means to provide access to ‘daylight’ during the day.

Research questions were developed to interrogate:
• How can naturally day lit courtyards and screened interior spaces create an environmentally responsive architecture that is more conducive to wellbeing providing adequate natural lighting during the day?
• Are courtyards an effective design paradigm to capture daylight – what does it need to provide to be effective?
• How will the guideline principals be defined?

After spending time living in isolation, and the ongoing considerations that will form part of everyday life, where working from home has become the new norm. Many will be spending ever increasing amounts of time at home in the future and will no doubt have increased expectations of living in healthier environments, with greater access to natural light and fresh air. This ideal may see a shift away from the typical forms of urban and suburban living.

The purpose of this study is to investigate one of the most universal and enduring of design solutions, the courtyard typology, that enables access to the essential elements of daylight and fresh air and how with inspiration from past precedents, this may be achieved, going forward within the context of the east coast of Australia.

The courtyard has been an inherent essential feature of traditional vernacular building cultures around the world. With many ancient cultures placing enclosed gardens, hortus conclusus, within their architecture and cities, as abstracted and idealised recreations of the natural world and paradise. These courtyards also most importantly served to bring daylight and fresh air to the interior spaces surrounding the courtyard.

Despite the inherent environmental, and aesthetic qualities that courtyards provide, there has been a tendency particularly within modern architecture, to see buildings as more monolithic objects within the landscape, rather than a gathering of building elements around a courtyard. However, there have been notable exceptions, that serve as precedents for a contemporary re-emergence of the courtyard paradigm. This is particularly appropriate in the design of houses on the East Coast of Australia, where the benign climate and outdoors lifestyle, makes the integration of courtyards all the more beneficial.

This was well understood by the Danish architect of the Sydney Opera House, Jørn Utzon, who was responsible for the still exemplary Kingo and Fredensborg courtyard housing in Denmark. Who sought to promote the courtyard typology in Australia in the 1960’s, as did such notable Australian architects at the time, as Robin Boyd and Ken Woolley, that has been furthered developed by leading contemporary architects, including most notably Richard Leplastrier and Timothy Hill. This paper thus examines the background to the courtyard typology, its advantages especially with regards the improved quality of daylighting and cross ventilation, and its recent forms of architectural expression, within the context of the East Coast of Australia and more broadly.

Architecture is traditionally judged by the subjective opinions of historians, journalists, critics and peers. This is the first time that the principles have been quantified to obtain adequate illuminance levels provided by the intangible quality of daylight. The amounts of daylight received in the case study houses has been quantified and assessed to benchmark the design principles used to achieve the positive results. The contribution to knowledge is the documented and quantified evidence. For the first-time information of significant houses that are precedents within the architectural field have been expertly measured for the amount of daylight received in the living areas.
Date of Award8 Feb 2024
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorAdrian Carter (Supervisor) & Daniela Ottmann (Supervisor)

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