I'm looking for a word to describe a configuration in which the back faces of several edifices belonging to the same building form an inner space where neighbours can hang out or put their clothes on the line to dry, and which is generally inaccesible to people not living in the building. At least some windows of each flat face this zone, and neighbours (stereotypically, busybody fish-wives) lean out of them to gossip, chatter or just while the time away.

A few examples of what I mean are this:

enter image description here

this, this or even this.

But definitely not this or this:

enter image description here

I found common courtyard, but from Google images I don't get the feeling this is the right word.

Is "common courtyard" accurate? How could I describe such idea otherwise?

  • I'm not very sure, but it sounds a bit like an atrium that has no skylight. Commented Jun 4, 2016 at 22:50

2 Answers 2


It depends what's at the floor of the space. If there's an accessible area with a place to walk or a garden at the bottom, it could be a courtyard, as explained in another answer.

If the floor is not accessible, then it could be a lightwell. At the bottom of a lightwell is usually just the roof of the first (ground) floor, or maybe some mechanical equipment like air conditioning.


The term I would use is courtyard, although there are some courtyards that are accessible from outside the building (only partially enclosed by the building walls) as well as those that are completely enclosed. The word tends to focus on a ground level garden/patio area often with a fountain or pool in US English, and not so much on the upper stories of an apartment building like your first image.

An example of a large courtyard would be something like the image below:

example of a courtyard

I've also come across the term well-courtyard that describes an image very similar to your example, although I've never used it.

example of a well-courtyard

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