Tuesday, 20 April 2021

Q is for ... Quadrangle

A rather famous quadrangle was on the TV news the other day, but of course there are perfectly obscure ones all around. My school had one where the entire senior school assembled every morning and belted out hymns and such like. I've also lived in several gated compounds where the buildings were constructed around a central open space. A quad or a courtyard is a feature in many different types of buildings. It transcends cultural and geographical borders, and has a history that goes back pretty deep into the past. 

Wikala al Bazaraa. Merchant Inn. Cairo. 

The evidence of the first courtyard houses is found in the Jordan Valley in the Yarmoukian Culture dating back to Neolithic times around 6400-6000 BCE.  That is more than 8000 years ago! The houses were constructed around courtyards  ranging from 250 to 700 sq m, that's large! and buildings on this scale are unique and haven't been found in other cultures of that time.  

It is theorised that the courtyard evolved from the nomadic practice of pitching tents around a central open area where animals were herded and community activities were carried out.  It is easy to imagine cooking, eating and relaxing around fires going on in such spaces. When the transition was made to a settled lifestyle, the open area morphed into the courtyard. 

In the Middle East, where the first courtyard houses were built, the courtyard has evolved to occupy a very important place in Islamic architecture. Not just in residences, where they provide transition and privacy, separating the more private women's quarters from the rest of the house and the street entrance from the sitting rooms. Most mosques and other public buildings also are usually built with a central open courtyard with a fountain.  

Courtyard and fountain of the Alabaster Mosque, Cairo.

Ancient Roman architecture also featured courtyard houses - buildings built around a central atria. These would often have a garden and a pool to collect rainwater. Courtyards are also found in Ancient China, Inca, and Ancient India. They have remained a popular design feature of single family homes right up to the 19th century and even now many low rise homes have one or more courtyards. Only as skyscrapers have been constructed has the courtyard receded, for obvious reasons. But then, residential multistory buildings often come to be grouped around a quad. The open space that was meant for a single family use has morphed into a communal, more public garden. Just like it used to be perhaps when humans had a nomadic lifestyle all those millennia ago.

Beit Sheikh Isa ibn Ali. 19th century courtyard house. Bahrain.

A-Z Challenge 2021   


  1. Hari Om
    I do like a good quad... YAM xx

  2. At my high school it was an unofficial "Senior Quad," where only seniors could sit. I don't think I bothered when I was a senior. Actually, I think it was for "popular" seniors!

  3. Our school quad was a place of hell.
    The ones you have depicted are much more appealing. I hadn't considered that their origin could be traced back to nomadic times but it makes a heap of sense. Thank you.

  4. Beautiful places and quads! It's very interesting to know their origin.

  5. Interesting post. Our school quad was the smoking court - that's where the "bad" kids hung out. I do like visiting fancy homes that have the quad effect - always lovely gardens and sitting areas.

  6. Hi Nila - fascinating history ... I know they dated back to early Greek and Roman times ... but even further than that - it's incredible how buildings adapt.
    I'd add cloisters too - where there'd be some shade 'built' into the quad ... so scholars could read and discuss ... as well as the open area. I love them - thanks for this - Hilary