Monday, February 04, 2008

Courtyard living

click photo to enlarge
Courtyard living got a bad name in the nineteenth century. Cheap housing was thrown up around narrow, badly lit courtyards. Their purpose was strictly utilitarian - to let in light and air, with little thought given to proper planning. These were torn down in the slum clearances of the twentieth century, often to be replaced by equally poor public housing in the form of open-plan estates or tower blocks. But courtyards hadn't always been so reviled.

In the eighteenth century individual dwellings were often grouped in this way. In the big cities and provincial towns the higher densities that this type of building allows was put to good use, with proper space between front doors, and attractive shared spaces where neighbours could meet and children could play, detached from the busy bustle of the nearby street. Furthermore, courtyard developments were built for all classes of buyer, not just the poor, so there was no stigma attached to the arrangement.

Spain Court in Boston, Lincolnshire (above), dates from the late eighteenth century. It was never high cost housing, but the two-storey terraces facing each other across the cobbles offer a modest, relatively quiet, private space, with no immediate passers-by, near the heart of the town. The development has been sensitively refurbished, with proper regard for the uniformity of the dwellings, and "chinoiserie" fretwork, a motif favoured in the eighteenth century, in the arch at the end of the vista. Is there a place for this kind of development today? Or is the desire to own your own bricks and mortar inextricably linked to owning the space around it too?

The choice with a photograph of a place like Spain Court is to either stand to one side and emphasise one elevation more than the other, or go for symmetry. And, in the interests of injecting a little more "unpopular" symmetry into photography, I did the latter!

photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Olympus E510
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 16mm (32mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f7.1
Shutter Speed: 1/320
ISO: 400
Exposure Compensation: -2.0 EV
Image Stabilisation: Off