There was a time when apartment buildings were built with large, spacious courtyards.
The idea is so obvious: it’s not comfortable or natural to live in a packed block of living units. Breathing space and thinking space are important for livability. They make your building more desirable. They make your life more pleasant.
Regrettably, those days are long gone. You know this. To the maximally cash-focused greed-fueled remote-money developer of today, courtyards mean wasted, non-revenue-generating square footage. New apartment buildings offer a sort of “essence of courtyard”, a gentle mist or light sprinkling of an impression of what they once were. Courtyards today pretty much mean “the main entrance is here”. They offer nothing else of value.
Maybe you think, well, it’s not that big of a loss. And yeah, you’re probably right in the grand scheme of things.
This apartment building is near my house. Built in the ’50s and remodeled in the 2010s, to the credit of whoever rehabilitated the building, they kept the courtyard. And they landscaped it nicely.
As part of the landscaping, there’s a large area of rocks in the center of the courtyard.
And to someone living in this building, this courtyard rock garden became a canvas.
Every time I walk by this building, I pop up the steps to take a peek. And literally every time, there’s something new and wonderful to see, carefully arranged by hand, with the rocks.
Sometimes it’s abstract.
At Halloween, maybe something a little creepy.
At New Years’, a little celebration.
Maybe something beautiful.
Or maybe something super clever.
I think about the time it takes. I think about how you can’t see them from the street and it’s really only a treat for the people in this complex. I think about how much better they make my life.
Sometimes I’ll sit on these rocks for a few minutes and try to relax. With me, that doesn’t last very long, but it still feels great.
I mean, you’re right, it’s just a bunch of rocks.
But a cascading series of wins over decades, from the original architect of this nice space to the landscape company hired by the remodeler all the way to the artist who moved into this building, all led to make this one brief beautiful thing, and that’s the best.
Whatever you’re working on right now, whatever it might be, I ask: try to leave a little space for a courtyard.
And thank you, courtyard artist, whoever you are.
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