Grains of Sand and Wildflowers

15 January, 2018

“To see a World in a Grain of Sand,

And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,

Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand,

And Eternity in an hour."

William Blake, Poet

Recent collaborations with the Workshop upon a rare and timeless gem of a project, have led me to speculate upon the nature of courtyard as a spatial device, and when ‘looking beyond the things themselves’ in the spirit of a phenomenological interrogation, has led me to the commentary that follows…

Blake speaks here of the microcosmic: the potential held by Man to conceptualise of the Universe through intense focus upon its smallest constituents. Here the oscillation between the minute and immeasurable signify Man’s capacity to embrace the whole spectrum of Heidegger’s ‘fourfold: The Earth, the Sky, The Deities and of course self: Man.

Such oscillating is the territory of the courtyard. A primordial typological spatial device that encourages oscillation between our inner and outer selves, promotes correspondence with the fourfold and urges meditation upon what it is ‘to be’ poetically.

The courtyard typology is simultaneously particular and universal. Particular in response to specific climate and place yet, universal in its ambition and potential. By capturing landscape we are able within the courtyard to amplify the density human experience, often through restraint rather than opulence.

The earliest captured landscapes of the Persians recognised this metaphysical dimension through etymology. These ‘Pairideaza’ provides the linguistic root of the word ‘paradise’ in describing a space with the capacity to support human existence within the otherwise boundless desserts.

The typology has been the subject of countless developments and translations, from the most primal and anonymous hill villages of the High Atlas Mountains and dense urban spaces of Morocco, to the Monastic cloisters of Europe that encouraged prayer and meditation effected through perambulation, or indeed great Renaissance courtyards such as the Palazzo Vecchio of Florence.

Yet perhaps the most important element of the courtyard typology lies in its ambiguity. Is it inside or outside? Is it room or garden? Is it architecture or landscape? It is this potent ambiguity, incapable of rational definition by we mere mortals, that propels us towards the metaphysical dimensions of our existence that in turn, perhaps allows you to Hold infinity in the palm of your hand’. At least, momentarily.

by Roger Tyrrell