Listen – Talk – Learn
As a young girl, I had unique access to my godmother’s open-air courtyard. It was one of my most cherished hiding places. Surrounded by marble balustrades, pebbles placed in between round concrete slabs acted as miniature bridges that led through a small selection of the plants and a tiny pond. The walkway that half circled the courtyard became the backdrop for my peripatetic games of hopscotch. By dusk, there would be just enough sunlight for me to finish my studies within the arcade of balustrades. As the light slowly receded, I would pause to listen to the calming sound of water cascading through a small waterfall feature. My interest in contemplative spaces was beginning to emerge.
This past summer, I shared my passion for such a space with my lovely cousin, Denise. We explored the Frick museum in New York City and reaped the benefits of finding respite in its interior courtyard. A fountain delivered cleansing waters to the sunken pool situated at the center of this neoclassical space. Embraced by the majestic ionic columns, only our whispered observations about the art interrupted the silence that dominated the space. In one occasion, Denise commented on the portrait paintings by Gainsborough and a discussion of character ensued, the evolution of taste, womanhood and the “dance” that occurs as women navigate the stages of their lives.
How fortuitous that I would find myself currently navigating through a significant stage in my own life that is replete with immense change. My family has moved from Brooklyn to Chicago, and although I have lived in the neighborhood of Hyde Park before as an undergraduate at the University of Chicago, that phase of my life has long passed. Still, that sense of familiarity has softened a transition that otherwise would have been more challenging. Translated into a physical space, the idea of having something familiar with which to surround myself has eased the impact of this change.
I have been fortunate to experience that sense of ease directly from our new home. Tucked within our 1920’s building lobby is a wonderful courtyard. A rectangular pool bordered by flowers and other plantings charts its water from a narrow channel that extends from the eastern wall emptying into a small fountain. Three massive arches greet visitors from the west while a series of diminutive arches decorate the arcade to the south. Just as I played hopscotch in my godmother’s courtyard, now my son saunters through the open arcade with great freedom moving in and out of the interior and exterior spaces with ease. He has also paused to read, and together we have stopped many times to observe the pool and listen to the sounds of the water flowing. At times, simply pausing to share in the silence and stillness is enough to propel oneself into a state of ease. I often wonder what memories Samuel will associate with this place.
Courtyards are multi-purpose spaces that invite movement and repose. Whichever action such a space inspires in an individual, one thing is for sure, courtyards have a gentle way of attracting our attention. From the pathways created by the arcade, the decorated columns, the presence of a flowing water source or the luscious plantings. The careful integration of architectural elements and landscape design maximize the aesthetic experience of these contemplative spaces. As I continue to settle into our new abode, I am grateful knowing that just twelve stories below lies my new cherished space, a courtyard of my own.