Models and inspiration from Finland and abroad

An apartment building courtyard may house a semi-public park, a hedge labyrinth planted for the children or a cultivation terrace reaching for sunlight. The following is a presentation of four interesting apartment building courtyards that used to be much more grim.

The giant Planquadrat block in Vienna  

A woman sitting in a courtyard with trees, benches and a wall covered with Virginia creeper
The Planquadrat block courtyard has many different types of areas and green spaces. Trees and vines create a pleasant microclimate. Photo: Gartenhofverein Planquadrat, Wien
A group of women doing tai chi movements under the trees
Passers-by and neighbours are also welcome to the courtyard during the day. The park-like courtyard is used as a venue for guided physical activity, music performances and flea market events. Photo: Gartenhofverein Planquadrat, Wien

A grim and unpleasant courtyard
31. The Planquadrat block was under threat of demolition until the residents started defending the area. In the end, demonstrations and political influencing produced results and plants could be planted as a community. Photo: Gartenhofverein Planquadrat, Wien
  • In the 1970s, the block with a total of 34 apartment buildings was in such poor condition that it had already been condemned for demolition. The tenants started defending their block. This sparked demonstrations and political campaigning.
  • In 1977, the City of Vienna gave in to the demands, cancelled the demolition plan and committed to taking care of the block courtyard. The fences were dismantled and soil and plant seedlings were brought to the courtyards. The residents worked together to plant them. The courtyard became a public recreational area and a local attraction.
  • Today, anyone can become a supporter of the courtyard. During the day, the courtyard is open to everyone, and it is used as a venue for flea market events during the summer, for example. Volunteers manage the plantings and meadows of the courtyard. 
  • You can learn more about Planquadrat by watching a 20-piece documentary series on YouTube. See a sample of the Planquadrat documentary series.
  • Visiting address: Margaretenstrasse 30, Vienna.

The trendy Gårdlaug skydebane øst karreen in Copenhagen

Flowers and trees in a courtyard
A breathtakingly glorious garden has grown in the Gårdlaug skydebane øst karreen block in Copenhagen in three decades, with pollinators, birds and people all enjoying the space. Balconies have been installed in apartments in recent years. Photo: Anne-Mari Ahonen
Trees and natural flowers on a courtyard hillock. Apartment buildings in the background.
The flat courtyard was turned into rolling terrain. The hills have been planted with meadow plants that bloom from early summer to early autumn. Photo: Anne-Mari Ahonen
Tables and chairs, hedges, trees and a stage decorated by Chinese wisteria. Apartment buildings in the background.
The Chinese wisteria decorating the stage is the pride and joy of gardener Judith Bell. The residents use this space for weddings and other parties. On the weekends, residents gather under the canopy to play bingo. Photo: Anne-Mari Ahonen
  • The large block consisting of a total of 26 apartment buildings in Nørrebro was one of the most disreputable residential areas in Copenhagen in the 1990s. The apartments did not have central heating, showers or thermal insulation. There were car repair shops and band rehearsal spaces in the centre of the block courtyard.
  • The Danish state started supporting the renovation of residential areas like this. Fences were removed and buildings in the centre were demolished. People who lived in the demolished buildings were offered apartments elsewhere in the same city. The demolished buildings and walls were replaced by a rolling courtyard area designed by landscape architects, with housing companies sharing waste management. A gardener was hired to take care of the courtyard.
  • A hedge labyrinth was planted in the courtyard at the request of the children. When you walk in the courtyard, you will encounter mysterious little nooks. Lush vegetation continues to attract new bird species to the area.
  • Only residents have access to the courtyard, but residents of neighbouring blocks are also welcome to the Halloween party. Then, pie made from the harvest of the courtyard’s own apple trees is served to party-goers.
  • Properties surrounding the block include rental companies, right-of-residence apartments and private housing companies. The housing companies share waste management and courtyard management costs.
  • Today, the block is a highly valued residence in the trendy Nørrebro district. There are 600 similar block courtyards in Copenhagen.
  • The Tarzan Mama Mia (1989) film was filmed in the courtyard. Watch a clip from the movie Tarzan Mama Mia showing Gårdlaug skydebane øst karreen yard before the renovation.
Dozens of horses stand in a courtyard between buildings
The block was built in the late 19th century and used to house stables for working horses. Old stables and other buildings in poor condition in the middle of the block were demolished in a major renovation in the 1990s. After that, the main area of the courtyard was empty for a while.
Temporary structures and cars in the empty courtyard of a block
During the renovation phase, the block was used as a set for a family film, Tarzan Mama-Mia, whose star had a temporary paddock in the courtyard.

Lars Sonck’s unique block courtyard in Helsinki

Lush view of a courtyard
In the renovation, subsurface drainage was built in the courtyard and the parking space was transformed into a garden area for the residents. In the summer of 2022, the seedlings began to grow gradually. Photo: Lasse Lecklin
Garden plants, people in the background
Plants that will eventually create a high level of visual protection around the sitting areas have been selected in the yard. Photo: Lasse Lecklin
  • The block located in Töölö consists of a courtyard shared by 12 apartment buildings, formed by three spacious courtyards connected to each other by a corridor.
  • According to the plan of architect Lars Sonck, the courtyard has been semi-public since the beginning. Passers-by can peer into the courtyard through the archway even today.
  • The housing companies of the courtyard form a joint courtyard committee, the HeRuMuMe. The name comes from the initial letters of the surrounding streets (Hesperiankatu, Runeberginkatu, Museokatu and Mechelininkatu). The committee encourages housing companies to develop their green courtyards and serves as a transmitter of information. Once a year, residents are invited to an end-of-summer festival in the courtyard. The housing companies in the block have, among other things, combined waste management at the initiative of the committee, which reduced costs.
  • The courtyard was always pleasant, but in recent years it has been made even greener. After two decades of struggle, the residents of Mechelinininkatu 35 have had their way, and plants, seating and a children’s play area have now replaced parking spaces. 
  • The second block courtyard in Töölö is the Gripenberg block bordered by Urheilukatu, Mannerheimintie, Savelankatu and Sallinkatu. Vallila has a famous block courtyard called Apinalinna. 
  • The entrance to the Sonck block, including Runeberginkatu 32
Cars and bicycles parked in the courtyard of the apartment building.
The courtyard of Museokatu 35 was a parking lot until 2020. Photo: Tino Vaittinen
An apartment building wall and asphalt yard
The water used to run into the basement during heavy rain, and the residents were concerned for the foundations of the building. Photo: Tino Vaittinen

The small green courtyard of Kaarlenkatu 17 in Kallio

A terrace built on top of a bicycle shelter and new plants in a courtyard
From a bird’s eye view, the small courtyard has turned green. A green roof was created for the bicycle shelter and a sun deck was built on top of the waste facility. Shade plants thrive in low green ponds. The structures were designed by architecture firm R Schnitzler. Photo: Lasse Lecklin
A woman and two children in the courtyard
The fairly modest-looking bench is beloved by parents in particular. There, parents lull their babies to sleep and watch children taste strawberries. Photo: Lasse Lecklin
View of a courtyard with a new patio and plantings
Since the renovation, residents have really taken to the courtyard. The yard is praised by residents of all ages, because now they have a good reason to go out and interact. Gardener Hans van der Einde planted hundreds of tulip bulbs for the spring. Photo: Arttu Hyttinen
Asphalt courtyard with a bicycle shelter and dumpsters
The shadowy courtyard is one floor below the yard of the neighbouring building and was not previously very attractive. In the past, residents would meet each other mainly when taking out the rubbish. Photo: Arttu Hyttinen
  • The small 200 square metre courtyard of the Helsinginkatu 23 housing company is located in a shadowy corner one level below the courtyard of the neighbouring building.
  • When the housing company board suggested that the neighbouring buildings could merge their small courtyards into a block courtyard some years ago, the other companies were not enthused. The building decided to implement the courtyard renovation on its own. 
  • There’s hardly any daylight in the courtyard surrounded by tall buildings. Architecture firm R Schnitzler designed a waste facility, a bicycle shelter and a terrace on top of it to have some sunlight in the middle of the summer. 
  • Gardener Hans van der Ende is known for his wild and abundant creations. The housing company board gave him free rein. The gardener brought large stones, columnar apple trees, a redcurrant shrub, strawberry seedlings and nearly 40 different shade plants to the courtyard. Hydrangeas, rhododendrons and coniferous bushes do not need direct sunlight.
  • The renovation was completed in summer 2022. The total cost of the above-ground work, planning and supervision of the project was approximately EUR 200,000. The cost of the gardener’s work was EUR 3,000. The cost of the plants, grass, stones and roots was EUR 3,000.
  • Thanks to the new yard, a quarter of the residents of the building began growing herbs and vegetables on the terrace. Starting with the first week, the courtyard became a beloved hang-out area for the residents, where they barbecue, organise parties and enjoy the summer in the city.
  • Address: Kaarlenkatu 17.