Traditional styling creates two great outdoor living spaces, unified by design and scale on Haven Street in the South End - Boston

The yard was originally one large patio in poor repair that had always been cooperatively shared by two units. The condominium documents mandated that the space remain that way.  This is one urban space that needed a lot of work, including water remediation.

The courtyard is designed as two separate patio areas, connected by a shade garden beneath a pergola.  Yet, it feels like one cohesive space.  It is essentially a series of garden rooms moving from one end of the courtyard to the street.

Design challenge

This is an extremely narrow yard shared by two units.  The existing brick patio had settled considerably and the staircase leading down from the street was uneven and in disrepair. The client needed a creative landscape design to make the space cohesive, provide a sense of separation to both patios, and gain egress to the street beyond.

The 9'x 38' courtyard is also flanked by two-storey brick walls creating the feeling of being in a tunnel, especially for the end unit. This awkward scale needed to be addressed in the landscape design.

There is a 42" grade transition from the street to unit entries.

The landscape design needed to accommodate two separate patio areas without cutting up the space and making it feel smaller than it is.

Like many urban courtyards in Boston's South End, the water table was just 18 - 20" below grade.  The landscape design needed to address construction of a water remediation system.

The space felt very hard.  The patio, stairs and walls were all brick.  Additional materials and plantings were needed to soften the area and make if feel less prison-like.

The courtyard had no water supply.


Design solution and installation:

We installed a custom mahogany pergola to visually break up the verticality of the space and to establish a "ceiling height" for the area outside of the unit at the far end of the courtyard.  The bottom of the framing is at 10' which scales perfectly with the 9' width of the yard. The simple running-bond brick pattern and strong lines of the granite stair treads running across the yard, visually widen the space.  We also designed the pergola to visually block utility wires from the end unit.

Instead of the original, straight run of stairs, we handled the grade change over two levels.  The gate opens to a wide, 3'x3' landing which meets code.  The stair treads extend across the multi-level planters, creating strong horizontal lines that visually widen the narrow space. The last two steps are at the far end of the first patio area, completing the grade change required.

We installed the first patio on a different level from the second patio, separated by a shade garden under the pergola.  This is provides a sense of separate space for both patios.

To address the high water table, we designed a means for the existing cistern to connect with a newly installed system of dry wells and crushed stone.  This now handles the cistern over flow and doubles the water holding capacity of the courtyard.

In order to soften the all-brick environment, we introduced other materials.  We limited the number of materials to three, to keep the courtyard from becoming visually too busy. The design unifies the yard, yet defines the separate spaces, making it feel larger. We designed the mahogany and plant material to soften the hard feel of the brick and granite.

We ran water to the yard and the put the landscape plantings on a timed drip-system.