The Spanish Courtyard: Building Green in the Tropics

Patio Access to my Room in Copan
After living in Copan for more than a month, I have slowly come to realize that there is more than meets the eye in the Spanish courtyard garden, or 'patio' in Spanish.

The courtyard garden, in its simplicity, is actually another outdoor room. Where I was living, it was the corridor from the street. The vines and flowers provide a source of beauty, peacefulness and relaxation.

In the health design literature, many studies have shown that gardens and green spaces actually increase the healing rate among hospital patients. Researchers theorize the reason for this 'biophilic response', as it is called, is related to a deep hardwiring within us going back our ancestral home on the savannahs of Africa, our Eden. For this reason, similar natural environments lead to stress reduction, which in turn, allows the body to heal.

But beyond health, the garden also provides natural cooling and shading. The best gardens for the tropics are deep-valley design, which limit direct access to the sun, yet at the same time provide daylighting in the building center. The high walls and vegetation provide an informal sun-screen. The heat that does reach into the garden is absorbed by the concrete blocks of the building, the patio pavers, plants and sometime a fountain. At night, this heat is re-radiated, taking the edge off those chilly 60 degree mornings.

Patio at Ixbalanque Spanish School


So here is what the courtyard garden accomplishes:
1.) Aesthetics,
2.) Simplicity, 
3.) Cost-effectiveness,
4.) Health,
5.) Daylighting and
6.) Natural cooling.

Not bad!!!

And the bottom line for the designer: stay away from glass buildings, with their intensive heat gain and air-conditioning costs.

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