Our love of the courtyard house
Courtyard houses are renowned for their ease of living, privacy and abundance of natural light. In this article we walk you through the early sketch designs that informed the design process.

  • Richie Willemsen
Every architect and every project has a unique set of constraints and opportunities that inform the decision making process. In our practice, we never rubber stamp our buildings or copy layouts from project to project. There is always new thought and energy put in at the design stage that seeks the best way to satisfy the client expectations.

Spatial planning is one of our favourite stages in the design process. It's the opportunity to explore ideas using hand drawn sketches, and start making assumptions on how you think spaces should be arranged. You can be adventurous and test new concepts with no fear of being locked in.

Over the years, from project to project, we consistently fall back to a house layout that contains some sort of courtyard. I asked myself the other day as we prepare to embark on a new small scale residential project, why is this?


When I started working in Queensland, one of the first houses I designed was the Type D house, a single storey house in the Glades Golf Course. Take a look at the floor plan.

Facing west to the Glades Golf Course, the goal was to maximise views from deep within the interior.

By positioning the courtyard in the center of the floorplate and to the north, I was able to get transparency through the heart of the house. This in turn created opportunities for cross ventilation and natural lighting. The whole interior opened up as you walked down that passage from the Entry.

822 - GLADES

Fast forward a few more years, and I find myself designing again in the same street. This time the site is on the other side of the road, and is much larger and faced east

Notice the main north facing courtyard.

As stated, the site for Glades 822 was much larger, so it afforded way more spatial separation and allowed us to create view corridors that strategically overlooked a landscaped external area.

Because the site was long and wide, we made the passage from the Entry zig-zag at the Courtyard, maximising lighting and creating a sense of exploration as primary Kitchen, Family and Meals areas are hidden from initial view.

The Courtyard also helped split the mass of the house into two, and became the start/stop point for two identical pavilion style roofs.


A couple more years go by and I'm working for a client who has bought a block in a new stage of Hope Island, along Bolsena Circuit. They were fond of our house at Glades 822, and wanted something similar.

Now, let's take a moment and compare Bolsena Circuit with Glades 822 - as it was the model we the client wanted us to replicate.

Both have an Entry in center, and are located with the Golf Course to the East. Both have a Living and Dining arrangement that looks over a Pool. Both have that a zig-zag in the Entry passage that terminates at the Courtyard.

Whilst there are similar themes, the planning in Bolsena Circuit is fundamentally different. They both feature the courtyard, but in the case of Bolsena Circuit, everything is more compact, as the site area could not afford that luxury of generous spatial separation.

Glades 820

Let's move forward to another Golf Course house, this time back at the Glades and we have the privilege of working on a larger site, that has an awkward shape with an easement along the southern splayed boundary.

Noticeably, this plan has a more direct approach in from the Entry, with minimal passage. That zig-zag is employed once more at the Courtyard, obscuring the Kitchen and Dining from initial view.

The site had significant fall, so we sunk the Living area and made it flow outside with a deck that followed the shape of the Gold Course boundary. The Courtyard was also the starting point for the pavilion style roof where we employed a 'frieze' or step in the vertical wall plane and pumped out the wall mass to lighten connection to the roof.

The pool was positioned off the internal Courtyard, and followed the line of boundary, looking South over the easement.

Once again the Courtyard was a central element in the spatial planning, and was used a driver for organising structure, and maximising internal views and daylight penetration.

All of the house plans I have described were designed over 12 years ago, yet I still remember how the concepts evolved and favour the courtyard as a key element in the process of spatial planning bespoke houses.