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Seham Elmansuri

Seham Elmansuri

Courtyard Housing in Tripoli, Libya: tradition, change and modernity


Research Centre
Natural and Built Environment

Discipline/professional area
Urban planning and design

Outline of research project

This research investigates potential of reinterpreting courtyard housing, its past and how it was evolved from tradition to modernity, creating an urban dwelling form that can adapt to the changing needs of its users over time in Tripoli to see, therefore, how it can be fit in the future. The study examines the continuity and change in traditional and modern Libyan homes in terms of users and use patterns. The main research focus was drawn from a combination of socio-cultural, design and planning aspects that have led to extinction of courtyard housing. Professionals, including government have also seemed to contribute to the demise of courtyard housing.

The terms ‘Tradition’ and ‘Modernity’ symbolize the houses of different design concepts and characteristics over space and time aside from the age of the house pattern. The concept of continuity, however, lies in a response of living experience within the courtyard house. A comprehensive case study design was employed in this research to ensure that a greater insight can be developed to understand the courtyard housing concept in terms socio-spatial and functional aspects. A combination of research techniques such as content analysis and filed observation to collect information about courtyard housing schemes in Tripoli. A questionnaire survey was then carried out on three selected courtyard housing schemes to examine users’ perceptions and case studies characteristics.

There are three key contributions in this study. Firstly, findings from questionnaire survey of three courtyard housing schemes in Tripoli, show that the home layout, domestic open space, and privacy concept achieved the highest level of satisfaction. The evidence collected, suggest that the traditional courtyard house is well perceived by users, creating a contemporary family home. Secondly, results from qualitative studies of professionals’ theories, ideologies and housing assumptions seem to suggest that a tendency towards employing the layout of the traditional models in Libyan homes design is manifested. Solutions and rehabilitating components used in the spatial structure of the past models are also highlighted. Thirdly, the empirical evidence from the socio-spatial analysis shows that the segregated and hierarchical spatial arrangement of courtyard house achieves better privacy and control over accessing spaces, whereas the spatial arrangement of the modern house tends to have integrated spatial system with less privacy and control accessing within. In addition, the visual method used over the use and perception of courtyard housing suggest that the courtyard house layout achieves better level of use flexibility, cultural adaptability and sense of community in terms of form and function, providing a responsive layout to meet Libyan family needs and aspirations.

Key references

Lefebvre, H. (1972), ‘Preface’, in ‘Lived in Architecture: Le Corbusier’s Pessac revisited’, Boudon, PH. Lund Humphries, London. PP. i-ii, preface [Original text 1969]

Lefebvre, H. (1991). The Production of Space, Blackwell Publishers Ltd, Oxford

Goodchild, B. (1997), ‘Housing and The Urban Environment: A guide to housing design, renewal and urban planning’, Blackwell Science Ltd, Oxford, UK

Fathy, H. (1972), ‘The Arab House in the Urban Setting: Past, Present, and Future’, University of Essex, Longman, Essex

Fathy, H. (1973) Constancy, Transposition and Change in The Arab City, Social science, In Brown, Aga Khan Trust for culture, PP. 319-334

Fathy, H. (1973), ‘Architecture for Poor’, The university of Chicago Press, Chicago and London

Edwards, B., et al. (2006) Courtyard Housing: Past, Present and Future, Taylor& Francis, New York

Hillier, B & Hanson, J. (1984), ‘The Social Logic of Space’, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge

Director of studies
Professor Barry Goodchild

Jenny Fortune
Alan Patterson

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