Exterior Worlds
Modern Garden Design
Request a consultation

Modern Courtyard Design

The intent of modern courtyard design is to emphasize the power of human consciousness over the forces of natural selection.
Its purpose is to elevate thought above feeling without destroying feeling, and to elevate the value of abstract ideas to the level of concrete forms typically regarded as the empirical basis for reality.

In modern courtyard design, we want to create visual tension and interest by creating areas of alternating contrast and symmetry. We begin by choosing a basic geometric form for the perimeter layout. In larger commercial landscapes, circular designs are very popular in the spaces between buildings.

In smaller office parks or residential settings, a square or rectangular design may work better in the limited space of the corner.

Within this perimeter, we can then add one or more counter punctual geometric shapes to create tension and capture the attention of the viewer. Normally, we do this in the hardscape and walls with sharp, clear lines and varied textures.


For example, a square modern courtyard can be designed with a patio that is punctuated by expanding concentric circles and radiating lines. A circular atrium can be augmented by a diamond pattern or square block pattern on the patio surface. A patio can also be broken up into alternating seating areas and plantings.

The above examples serve to illustrate how modern courtyard design depends heavily on minimalism to achieve its ends. Simplicity is the key to key to creativity in this genre. Taking only basic geometric shapes, curved and linear lines, and a variance in hardscape texture, we can then distort or extend these patterns into an infinite number of shapes and expanding lines of forward motion.

Radii are often used extensively in decorating hardscapes because they force the eye to first travel inward to their point of origin, then move outward to the perimeter of the patio. This back and forth movement along lines unconsciously suggests the infinite contained within finite space.

Another aspect of minimalism key to the success of any modern courtyard design is the appropriate amount of vegetation and the correct selection of species. Colorful flowers typically do not work well in these environments because they are too suggestive of traditional gardens and Nature itself.

The exception to this rule are flowering plants with medium to small white blooms or deep purple blooms that offset the white or gray walls and patios and compliment the green color of leaves. Hedges, shrubs, and even small trees work very well in modern courtyards, with preference being given to species whose leaves with a darker green color.

Keep in mind that regardless of the species ultimately selected here, the presence of greenery should never exceed more than 40 percent of the space, if that much. Natural elements are used only to support man-made patterns, not the other way around.

Aside from these few basic principles, there are little restrictions way a modern courtyard can be designed. Much like modern art, it is a highly subjective style that allows for tremendous client input and creative freedom on the part of the landscape professional.