One of my favorite texts, “A Pattern Language” begins its discussion of courtyards critical of the many courtyards built in modern buildings which are very often considered “dead” space."  “They are intended to be private open spaces for people to use – but they end up unused, full of gravel and abstract sculptures.” 

Reasons for their failure according to the authors are three-fold. 1) The connection between indoor and outdoor space and the transition between the two is not sufficiently addressed – “people need an ambiguous in-between realm – a porch or a veranda, which they naturally pass onto often, so that they can naturally drift to the outside.” 2) The space lacks functionality and circulation – doors should be on opposite sides, “the space “becomes a meeting point for different activities, provide access to them, overflow from them and cross-circulation” between these doors/portals. 3) There are no “loopholes” – or views beyond the space --- you should not feel completely enclosed within the courtyard.
 Bodleian Library (first image) and Courtyard (latter two images)

I agree whole-heartedly with the authors, but in deference to them, these “design failures” of courtyards do not always limit them.  Recently I visited the courtyard of the Bodleian Library at Oxford University, a four hundred year old space (originally built in the early 1600’s) and considered these design precepts as I meandered through it’s courtyard.   What do you think?

For a 360-degree view of the courtyard which provides a unique perspective as if one were actually there, try this link: Panoramic photograph of Bodleian Library Courtyard, Oxford

Ironically the publisher (of this text) was Oxford University Press! As another aside, The Library's fine architecture has made it a favorite location for filmmakers.  The Bodelian Library can be seen in the first two Harry Potter films.

*all quotations from A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction by Christopher Murray/Sara Ishikawa/Murray Siverstein
New York: Oxford University Press  1977
**unless noted, photograph of Bodleian Library Courtyard ©Todd Haiman 2010