How to Design the Best Apartment Outdoor Amenity Courtyards

How to Design the Best Apartment Outdoor Amenity Courtyards

The typical modern apartment building in North America puts residential units on either side of a corridor, with stair towers at the ends. Zoning laws limit the building of apartment buildings to a few irregular shaped lots. This creates a wide range of building configurations. In more urban areas, the residential building construction goes over a concrete parking structure, known as a podium. Whereas in more suburban locations surface parking surrounds the building. 

In either case, the footprints of the residential buildings tend to form courtyards of various shapes and sizes. These become the preferred location for outdoor amenities. They are easy to control access to. And they provide a much better view from apartment windows than parked cars.

Each courtyard is unique; coming with its own set of design constraints. Courtyards are not spaces that you can copy from project to project or across different locales. To make the most of your investment in these outdoor amenity courtyards, you need expert guidance.

The Complexities of Podium Level Outdoor Amenity Courtyards

Designing outdoor amenity courtyards over a parking structure increases the complexity. Podium level outdoor amenity courtyards are technically rooftops. This makes them subject to the many of the same constraints as rooftop amenities. Some of these constraints include:

  • Weight limits
  • Limited soil depth for plants
  • Pool depth limits
  • Occupancy load limits

These constraints, among others, are best understood by rooftop amenity design experts. They have experience creating immersive outdoor living experiences despite rooftop design limitations. 

But, do rooftop amenity designers know how to design outdoor amenity courtyards at ground level? Consider this analogy:

When lifting weights, a person must increase the weight over time to be able to lift heavier weights. Over time, lifting the same weight becomes much easier. 

Rooftop amenity designers design outdoor amenities on building structures. It requires much more coordination and creativity to get a successful result compared to ground level. It’s like lifting a heavier weight.

Design the Best Outdoor Amenity Courtyard Possible

At Loft Six Four we specialize in designing both rooftop amenities and outdoor amenity courtyards. Our experience has taught us how to make the most of your investment in these spaces.

Use the following strategies to bring your outdoor amenity courtyard up to par with the best in the country:

Mitigate the “Fishbowl Effect”

You’ll find most outdoor amenity courtyards surrounded on three or four sides by many floors of residential units. With so many windows looking down on you, it’s easy to feel like a fish in a fishbowl while in the space.

That’s why it’s so important to create a comfortable balance between prospect and refuge. Human instinct drives us to feel more comfortable in these types of spaces. We like to have the opportunity for shelter balanced by the freedom to explore wide open spaces. Design elements such as shade structures, vertical screens, and backed seating contribute to a feeling of refuge. Exciting and active uses (swimming pools, open greens, and outdoor games) bring a feeling of prospect to the environment. 

Design courtyard amenities this way, and the surrounding apartment units will fade into the background. Courtyards activated with many user groups also neutralize the discomfort of the fishbowl effect.

Separate Public and Private Uses

The apartment units that surround outdoor amenity courtyards often have private patios and decks. These can at times conflict with the communal nature of the amenity courtyards. 

Private patios should feel as if they are the territory of the resident to whom they belong. Meanwhile, common amenity spaces need to be comfortable for any resident to use at any time. When there is little to no separation between the two, it undermines both experiences. The best way to limit interference between the two is adequate distance and vertical screening. 

It’s also important to orient the communal spaces towards the center of the courtyard. This helps draw the attention away from private units. 

Gathering spaces should be the furthest from the private units for greatest comfort and least disturbance. More active uses can fill the spaces between because they tend to have lower occupancy and higher circulation through them.

Optimize for Usable Amenity Space

With limited space, use vertical elements and different surfacing materials. These delineate and divide the space into outdoor rooms. Certain features (like built-in booth seating) help to create an atmosphere where people of different user groups can be comfortable among each other while in close proximity. At the same time, be careful not to limit the programming too much. Keeping things flexible allows for users to use the same small spaces in a variety of ways.

While a lack of space is a common issue for amenity courtyards, many projects have the opposite challenge. Some courtyards are very large. Providing an immersive outdoor living experience within them can be cost prohibitive. The balance between cost and usability is key to a successful courtyard amenity space. As the scale of the space increases, the design direction should evolve. Think less small gathering lounge, more urban park setting.

Maximize Indoor/Outdoor Connections

The best amenity courtyards connect to interior amenities, such as the clubhouse or gym. When indoor amenities are next to those outdoors, the usability and desirability of both spaces increases. Seek to increase the permeability between indoor and outdoor amenity spaces. This way residents can experience both at the same time. Make movement between the two spaces seamless. 

In most North American climates, there are portions of the year when being outside can be less pleasant day to day. But the visual access to the outdoors carries a similar benefit to actually being outside. 

Use similar materials and coordinate the design theme to match inside and outside. That way they feel like one coordinated space instead of two disparate experiences. 

Design Lighting for Evening Use

Leaving out lighting design is a common mistake made with courtyard amenities. Often there is no lighting provided, making the space unusable after dark. Or there is harsh security lighting in the form of wall packs that fail to create a welcome ambience.

Instead of leaving lighting unaddressed in your courtyard, invest in quality landscape lighting. This will create a pleasant experience for residents and extend the use of the space into the evening hours. This is when many residents finally have time to get outside and enjoy the space.

Expert Courtyard Amenity Design

Outdoor amenities are a major component of a successful apartment community. But they aren’t something that is automatic as they come together. To ensure you get the most out of your investment, partner with a courtyard amenity design expert.

Have a project in mind that we can help you with? Let’s talk today.