A classic cloister consists of a square courtyard encircled by a covered path. The cloister garth was the name given to the center green space (garden). Today, "cloister" usually refers to a section of a monastery or convent wall that encloses a garden.
In monasteries and convents, the cloister was where monks and nuns spent most of their time. In secular buildings, such as castles, colleges, and churches, the cloister is where people go for peace and solitude.
The word "cloister" comes from Latin cloisters, plural of cloisterium which means a covered walk or corridor. This passage way connected one part of the building with another and was used by priests during services. As time passed by, the word became synonymous with any place of refuge or security. For example, prisoners in ancient Roman jails could look forward to being held in a cloistered cell.
Today, the word "cloister" is used to describe any enclosed area set aside for prayer or meditation. The term applies to church cloisters, college quadrangles, town squares, and even individual gardens or patio spaces.
A cloister is the space of a monastery where the main buildings are located, providing a way of contact between them. Cloisters in established medieval practice often followed either a Benedictine or a Cistercian structure. They were used for prayer and work.
Cloisters come in two main forms: an open one and a covered one. In an open cloister the walls are not built up but form an open corridor with rows of columns supporting a roof which may be flat or vaulted. This arrangement allows much more light into the nave and makes it possible to walk from one end to the other without going through a building. Covered cloisters are similar in concept but instead have a roof which covers all or part of the enclosure. This prevents direct sunlight entering the nave but does not expose any work inside to damage by rain or snow.
Open and covered cloisters are found in many different churches and monasteries around the world. However, not all cloisters are equal! Some are better preserved than others and some are more interesting to look at!
The cloister of St-Denis abbey in France is one of the most beautiful in Europe and has inspired artists for centuries. It is also very unusual in that it is split down the middle by a wide avenue called the Rue de l'Abbaye.
Because of its central location, the courtyard serves as a general place through which practically every movement between various sections of the house begins, terminates, or passes. As a result, the courtyard aids in the reduction of circulation space within the home. However, this can be compensated for by reducing traffic through other rooms. Also depending on the climate and location of the house, the courtyard may not need to be air-conditioned like other parts of the home.
Courtyards are useful for reducing energy consumption because they can act as natural cooling spaces in hot climates or solar heat gain buffers in cold ones. The quality of sunlight reaching the courtyard varies depending on the time of day and position of the sun relative to the horizon, but even under cloudy conditions it will receive some direct sunlight during at least one hour of the day. This means that the courtyard can function as an alternative source of daylight even when access to other areas of the house is limited. Additionally, rain or snow that collects in the courtyard will not cause flooding or water damage nearby if proper maintenance is performed. Finally, courtyards provide a green area where you can grow vegetables or flowers to add taste and color to your meals or furnishings.
These are just some of the many advantages that come with incorporating a courtyard into an environmentally friendly home design.