If I were to pick one type of garden that I would want above all others, I would without hesitation and unreservedly choose an interior courtyard garden, just like one of these pictured above that I saw in Malacca last week. The first two images were taken at the rustic guesthouse I stayed in, with a plumeria/frangipani tree, hanging ferns, bamboo and a mossy pool. It was a lush space with cool shadows, birds and flowers. I brushed my teeth 'outside' staring at a giant tropical blue flower that I did not recognize.
These aren't glassed in spaces with skylights, they are open interior gardens architected to break up long narrow terrace houses, bringing light and the outdoors into a private space indoors. The ground floor is usually a courtyard with chairs and tables or an extension of the kitchen. Upstairs, walkways wrap around and shuttered bedroom windows open out into these verdant air wells, the grander houses with not one but two. High ceilings and carved porous vents between rooms allow the air cooled by pockets of deep shadow to circulate with a little help from some strategically placed fans. Genius.
Sadly these exquisite ideas of space and light have been replaced with tighter, closed in, easy to air condition modern alternatives and these interior courtyards can only be found in places like Malacca and Penang, relics of another era. They are also an eclectic fusion of design and materials, a hybrid of east and west, drawing from Chinese and European Colonial architectural traditions.