Friday, August 5, 2011

U-Court Apartments in Rogers Park

"Tendencies in Apartment House Design: Part VII - Courtyard Plans,"
Frank Choteau Brown, The Architectural Record, Vol. LI, 1922, p.64.
U-Court apartments are generally what people think of as the classic courtyard building.  A single deep, semi-enclosed courtyard flanked with overlooking apartments.  Sometimes these courtyards open up to the street, and sometimes they're shaped more like a keyhole.  But in reality there's a remarkable variety in how these buildings utlize their lots and organize their space.  A previous post concerned with L-Court apartments introduced some of these principles. To the right is Frank Brown's 1922 graphic that I'm recycling from the L-Court article. But in this case it's the bottom row that's of interest.
As usual, click for a more legible version.
The above footprints are adapted from Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps.  The smaller grey shapes represent interior or exterior stairs. If you look carefully you can tell that every unit has a front stair and a rear stair.  Although these aren't necessarily accurate they're the best I can do without some serious trespassing.

1639-1649 W. Touhy, 1931
Note the variety in the front yard setbacks.  While this is sometimes due to zoning it's just as likely that a property is observing a subdivision setback,  recorded to the property prior to development.  This is definitely the case for 1617-1627 W. Fargo, which observes a 30' front yard setback.  You can see these clearly on the 80-acre maps of the area.  Front yards are also a function of lot size.  The smallest lot at 1615-1625 W. Columbia has a zero front yard setback, allowing more square footage to be crammed in. 

Just like the L-Courts described previously, these buildings have multiple front entrances serving six units, two on each floor.  Arranging them in a U shape around a central court provides cross-ventilation and light from at least two directions.  The court itself functions as a symbolic entrance and a landscaped centerpiece.  No matter how dense the neighborhood may become the central court remains a green oasis.  Generally.

I realize these are tiny.  Click for a larger version.
While the first grouping shows buildings arranged on rectilinear lots, the central courtyard type can be adapted to a variety of lot shapes.  The buildings to the right are on irregular lots shaped by some of the neighborhood's diagonal streets and rights-of-way.  The modular form of the courtyard apartment allows these lots to be utilized just as easily as one made up of right angles.  In fact, adapting a building to an irregular lot can provide a variety of apartment sizes and configurations, which may help the building appeal to a variety of renters with different budgets and spatial needs. 

The challenge for many of these buildings is to find a system of ornamentation elastic enough to accommodate and unify an irregular plan. At least a few future posts will investigate some of these ornamental schemes.

7401-7411 N. Hoyne, 1931
There's a great variety in the size of lots and the number of units in each of these buildings.  But in general the lots of my unscientific sample above range from 14,500 sq. ft. to over 19,000 sq. ft.  There are normally 25 to 40 units (sometimes more) in these buildings.  In the case of 1535-1555 W. Fargo (bottom left above) the Cook County Assessor estimated 59 units, which I put down to the atypical use of a double-loaded design on one wing of the building. And also tiny apartments.


  1. These buildings are lovely. I've always been fond of the ones on the east end of Lunt, by Glenwood. They were converted into condominiums, yet it looks as if they never sold. The large front windows are charming. I live in a building that seems to be organized in the opposite way, with the courtyard on the interior of the building, our back doors facing them. Were these common? They seem like an inverse of that U-Shaped footprint.

  2. Terri, I'll be writing about S-court buildings, which have an interior and exterior court, but that doesn't quite describe your building which has an interior and side court. I'm saving that one for an "Atypical Courtyard" entry, if I get that far.

  3. Thank you for you analysis of these buildings. My parents,siblings and grandmother lived for 47 years at 6540 N. Ashland, ending in 1987.