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R-E-4cHave you noticed how many functions these days are hosted in spaces that are enclosed on almost all sides but open to the sky? From Bollywood scenes of haveli weddings, to book launches in Karachi, the courtyard is one architectural space that is certainly in fashion.

The Sharjah Biennial, one of the region’s premiere cultural events (being held this year from March 13), is also using the courtyard as its theme. According to the curator, Yuko Hasegawa, the courtyard is where public and private life come together and new ideas can be discussed and pondered over; the choice of the courtyard as the theme for the event establishes the idea that the Biennial is the place where eastern and western ideas of art, culture, architecture and society can come together to initiate a dialogue on learning.

The view reflects how the courtyard has spanned all cultures for as long as people have lived in constructed buildings. In ancient Rome, they were called ‘atriums’, although the term is now used exclusively to refer to courtyards with glass ceilings; in the Subcontinent, most houses were (and many still are) built with a sehan in the centre where family members, especially women, could gather in peace and privacy away from the outside world; in China, the siheyuan refers to a similar space, surrounded by a conglomerate of houses, often featuring gardens or fountains to inspire thoughts of peace and tranquillity. And across the Islamic world, the courtyard is an essential component of almost every mosque – the Badshahi Mosque in Lahore features the largest courtyard of any mosque in the world.

These days, courtyards are used in many other ways as well: in ‘Marina’ style houses across California where a community of households share a private outdoor space; in college dorms as recreational areas where temporary residents can meet; or as a place where experience and experimentation can converge, like at the Sharjah Biennial.

– Shayan Shakeel

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