In a traditional Indian household, the courtyard was and still is the centre of all activities. Except the Men’s room (Baithak) outside all other rooms opened on to the courtyard. Cooking =, washing, spinning, churning, eating, sleeping, and performing of religious rites took place in the courtyard. A woman after marriage moved into the courtyard (Angan) of her husband and considered it her domain.

But there are no real courtyards in Chandigarh houses. There is a front lawn or a backyard. Both these are no substitute for the central or inner courtyard of the traditional Indian house. Front and rear spaces of the built portion of a house are at their best a retreat in fair weather. The Larger houses may grow some vegetables in their backyards. But they cannot be private, open-to-sky intimate space which the Indian courtyard was.

The Chandigarh building rules define a Courtyard as “an area open to the sky but within the boundary of a plot, which is enclosed or partially enclosed by buildings, boundary walls or railings. It may be at ground floor level or any other level within or adjacent to a building.” One could simply say, “Any open are within the boundary of a plot shall mean a courtyard.” That, however, does not seem to have been the intention of the framers of the building rules, because Rule 20., which is often quoted by the interpreters of the rules reads as follows: “The minimal surface area of every ‘closed’ courtyard of a residential------etc.” The interpreters ignore the qualifying word ‘closed’ while looking at any ‘courtyard’ in the plan for there is no separate definition for such a courtyard. To them, every open space is a ‘courtyard’. This leads to many ridiculous situations. In the first place, some of the Zoning plans themselves contravene the minimum width required for a courtyard namely eight feet. Secondly, if a plan consists of two blocks, namely the main house and the outhouse and if the distance between them is less than eight feet then t is regarded as contravention of rule 20. Thirdly any overhang by a cantilever in a courtyard further reduces the effective width for the purposes of the building rules.

The courtyard in a traditional house, besides being an open-air living room was an effective lighting and ventilation well. That was because the houses could have light and air only from the front narrow street, the other three sides being blocked by the walls of adjoining houses. Thus a good sized courtyard was a great asset and for most of the rooms the only source of light and ventilation. But the houses in Chandigarh have light available from at least two sides, front and rear, and often from the side also. Thus a Courtyard ceases to be important from light and ventilation point of view. But as an effective open-air living space, and as a generator of cross ventilation it still has great value in Chandigarh climate. No one can deny the value of good size courtyard for living. but large size is not required for ventilation. Indeed small sided and high courtyards cause better cross ventilation. The zoning for providing an enclosed courtyard. This is unfortunate. But the insistence on proving the minimum dimension of eight feet makes the provision of a courtyard impossible.

I would suggest that the building rules and zoning plans prepared under those rules should be looked at a fresh to provide the following:

[1] Private multipurpose open space.

[2] Effective ventilation wells irrespective of whether they serve the purpose of open-air living space or not.                                                                                                              

Aditya Prakash