Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Entrances to Courtyard Apartments

I'm going to try and do what I normally do with these courtyard apartments, which is take a complex element, distill some of the best examples, and try and draw some conclusions.  But first I thought it might be useful to create a simple social space map of a courtyard apartment to help illustrate how they differentiate various levels between public and private space.  (My apologies to Adrian Tomine for stealing one of his color schemes from a New Yorker cover.)

The grey tones represent the public areas, including the street, the parkway, the sidewalk, and the alley.  Everything outside of the public right-of-way is private.  But there are levels of privacy.  In practice, the front yard functions as a semi-public zone, where it's unlikely you'll be arrested if your dog wanders over to the rose bushes. 

But as the courtyard establishes itself the character of the space changes, and you may find yourself more reluctant to enter deeply without a good reason.  This is very natural, and reflects the growing social control of the space as conveyed by the landscaped features, easy visual proximity to living spaces, and increasingly obscured views of the street.  By the time you get to the end of a particularly deep courtyard you feel fairly conspicuous. 

The element that divides the semi-public space from the increasingly private is the gate, or entryway.  Sometimes this is only suggested by the shape of the building, but often there's a designed element intended emphasize and formalize this division.  The location, materials, design, and visual permeability of the gate are all messages which the architect (and later, owners) wanted to convey to those that pass by or inhabit the building.

7405-7415 N. Damen, 1927
This brick and stone arcade is a good example of a substantial entrance element in the Classical Revival style.  A broken pediment with central urn is supported by paired pilasters.  The round arches are spaced with circular stone elements (called tondi).  The bottom portions of the arched openings are partially filled with wrought iron.  Despite the level of detail this screen is less than one foot thick. The open arches invite views into the court, but don't necessarily encourage visitors.  The central stone entrance reflects the design used for the main entrances into the building.

1637-1642 W. Estes, 1929
This gate is a bit more traditional. The brick and stone piers with decorative ironwork is a time-honored way to say, "Hey, we live here!"  This is for a side-court building, which has less of a span to fill between the building and the side property line.  On the left you can see that there's a half-column.  This is where it attaches to the building. It looks a bit odd in isolation, but by cutting the column in half they were able to maintain the scale without making it seem cramped.

2014-2018 W. Estes, 1931

This is one of my favorite entrances of an L-court building.  While it presents a substantial appearance the central piers are lowered, becoming more welcoming.  I haven't seen these octagonal ornaments before, but they provide the perfect emphasis for the gate.

1919-1923 W. Estes, 1928

This is one of the more modest entrances I documented.  The low wall invites you to have a seat.  The built-in urns are intended for seasonal plantings, but could also be adapted for Halloween candy.  The limited size puts this squarely in the symbolic category.

6414-6420 N. Newgard, 1932

This is another fairly elaborate arched screen for a central court building.  While this approaches the look of a gatehouse, it's not quite there.  It's designed in the Italian Rennaissance Revival mode, just like the main building.  Again, the arches carefully frame views into the courtyard while conveying a sense of exclusivity. But the detail goes a bit far in this case, almost giving the entrance a toylike quality. 

Although these gates weren't primarily intended to function as actual security elements, many have been adapted for that purpose.  It doesn't take much to fill an arched opening with an iron fence and add an electronic security door.  Frequently there are fences installed right at the sidewalk in addition to beefing up the security of the historic entryways.  This creates almost an "airlock" feel on the street, as if the building is under seige.  The most peculiar treatment I've seen uses airlock fences as well as individual fences along the walkways leading to the first floor doors.  How those fenced areas are mowed, I have no idea.

The social space map above is really a best-case scenario.  As entrances are modified to address real or perceived security concerns the semi-public space and the sense of permeability disappears, giving a fortified look to the street.  The green spaces which are so much a part of the courtyard design give way to a less rich sensory experience, where only visual access is maintained.

I have about 5 more of these entrances to document in a future post.  But maybe time for a break from courtyard apartments...

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