The physical energies of this environment is a combination
of cosmic and earth energies which form the essential
energy serving as the vital force required for the existence
of all the life forms – human beings, animals
and plants on earth. The basic five elements of nature
– earth, air, fire, water and space along with
the various forces of nature, sustain life and maintain
an equilibrium in this planet.
Any imbalance in the interplay of these
forces can result in chaos. An invisible equation operates
between the elements outside, the elements within the
individual and his living place. Vastu is a practical
application of creating balance between the environment
and man in a space so as to absorb maximum benefits
of the five elements.
Air Quality : The effects of
various building elements
Air is the giver of life. Without air,
we cannot survive. The ancient Hindu sages practiced
meditation and managed to stay without food and water
for long periods, but air was still a must. It is, therefore,
but natural that we should pay some more attention to
its deteriorating quality before it is too late.
Air is the most voluminous of all our
surroundings and a component of the Pancha-mahabhut
or the Five Basic Elements of the Universe. It is composed
of a mixture of gases, water vapor, dust particles and
other lightweight suspended polluting agents. The gases
in their respective proportion (in dry air) are :
Others 0.927% (Helium, Argon
As a result of the high molecular movement
and the low densities of gases, air has the capacity
to absorb and distribute all dispersible entries that
come in its domain such as :
(1) Heat, (2) Water Vapor, (3)
Dust + Other lightweight particles, (4) Aromas/Chemical
Vapor, (5) Vibration, (6) Radiations – Electromagnetic
+ Thermal, (7) It also acts as a medium for propagation
of light waves.
In the above process, these entries
remain in air as a component of air and affect the air
The human being in order to survive
breaths this very air which is then, continuously in
exchange with the air inside us. And all the admixtures
are constantly being deposited on our skin pores, thereby
blocking them and also on our cilia and lung alveoli,
gradually choking us to death. This kind of a choking
system gradually deteriorates our breathing capacity
or lung efficiency leading to chronic respiratory ailments.
The air manages to carry and distribute
all the above mentioned with the help of molecular movement
and air currents. Molecular movements help in distribution
by conduction and radiation.
Air currents physically carry material
components from one place to another. Air currents are
basically generated due to temperature differences.
Strong prevailing currents are also modified by local
The question that now arises is how
do we control the air quality around us. We need to
avoid polluting agents as much as possible so that the
air remains free of dust, smoke from combustion of fuel,
chemical vapors from synthetic materials and chemical
reactions, and electromagnetic radiations from all electrical
gadgets that surround us. Ironically, 90 % of the electrical
pollution indoors is from appliances used for human
comfort such as fans, lights, air conditioners to modify
the internal temperature and humidity.
Let us now see how carefully were the
tenets of Vastushastra crafted, so that the elements
of the building would themselves take care of human
comfort and the air quality inside. We shall take up
some of the principles of building elements and design
parameters one by one in the following sequences :
(1) Orientation, (2) Topography,
(3) Vegetation, (4) Water Bodies, (5) Open space in
to periphery, (6) Massing, (7) Plan Form, (8) Court
Yards, (9) Roof Form, (10) Fenestration, (11) Materials,
(12) Colors, (13) Aromas, (14) Activity Layout, (15)
The orientation of a built form affects the indoor air
with respect to – Temperature and Ventilation
If a built form is aligned to the cardinal direction,
then the scorching afternoon and evening sun heats only
two walls i.e. south and the west wall. But, if the
built form is at an angle with the cardinal direction,
then the solar gain is admitted through three out of
a total of four walls.
Ventilation : The dominant wind direction in central
India is from SW to NE. From principle of ventilation,
we know that better cross-ventilation and disturbance
of stagnant air is achieved when winds are inclined
to the walls.
Vastushastra says : Plots and building aligned to the
cardinal directions are more auspicious than those at
The topography of a plot affects the indoor air with
respect to :
(a) Temperature, (b) Humidity, (c)
Ventilation, (d) Purification
(a) Temperature : A southern or a western slope shall receive more solar
radiation and will heat up faster. A site sloping towards
the north or east shall be relatively protected.
(b) Humidity : The
monsoon winds that come in from the SW shall pass through
the built form with full force and make the indoor conditions
uncomfortably humid. Structures on the N/E slope shall
welcome light and less humid breezes, being on the leeward
(c) Ventilation : Internal environs require gentle air change for ventilation.
Strong wind thrusts relieve one from hot and humid conditions
due to breezes from the leeward side.
(d) Purification : The morning rays are rich in ultraviolet radiations,
which help to cleanse the environs of bacteria. A site
tilted towards the east would receive complete coverage
from ultraviolet radiations whereas a site with even
a gentle slope towards the west would receive sunrays
only when the sun is higher and the infrared rays have
started gaining importance. Also, the western slope
exposes the land to infrared radiations from the setting.
Vastushastra says : Plots that slope
towards the east are auspicious and let in good energies.
3) Vegetation :
The vegetation in and around a site
directly affects the indoor air with respect to :
(a) Temperature, (b) Humidity, (c)
Ventilation, (d) Air Pollution
(a) Temperature : Large
and dense foliage in the south and west directions help
to screen the structure from the hot afternoon sun (Small,
little or no foliage in the east shall allow the more
welcome morning rays to come in).
Trees absorb solar radiation for photosyntheses
and thereby cool the environment through the process
of transpiration for which the latent heat of evaporation
is supplied by the air. The air temperature is thus
(b) Humidity : Foliage
in the surrounding increases the humidity level of air
as a result of transpiration. The hot summer winds therefore
collect moisture while passing through the foliage on
the southwest and become more tolerable before they
enter the house.
The foliage barrier breaks the strong
humid southwest monsoon winds at the same time and the
thrust on the structure is greatly reduced.
Air current can be modified or deflected
with the help of barriers or by creating differential
Thick vegetation on the south and west
help to cut off or deflect strong winds upwards, whereas
small hedges may be used to increase wind speeds of
the vertexes in the north and east.
(c) Air Pollution : Foliage in the path of winds helps to cleanse the air
of dust and other suspended impurities. Also, trees
give off oxygen as a result of photosynthesis and improve
air quality. Low vegetation in the east shall permit
oxygenated air with ultraviolet rays to enter the house
and wish a very good morning to everyone.
Vastushastra says the vegetation in
the east should be small and at a distance so that no
shadow is cast upon the structure before noon. Tall
and shady trees in the south and west are auspicious.
A Tulsi plant in the north or east is auspicious.
(4) Water Bodies : Presence
of water bodies in the vicinity has an effect on air
with respect to :
(a) Temperature : Evaporation takes place at the surface of all water
bodies at all the temperatures. This requires latent
heat of evaporation, which is supplied by air, which
cools in return. Cooling of air increases with increased
rate of evaporation with the help of overflowing winds.
Also since water has a high thermal coefficient value,
the temperature of moist air shall rise slowly.
(b) Humidity : Water
bodies in the vicinity increase the humidity level of
air through constant evaporation and prove to be source
of discomfort in the monsoon season. Water bodies therefore
should be avoided in the path of monsoon winds i.e.
in the southwest. Vortexes may be humidified with the
help of water bodies.
(5). Open spaces in the periphery
The marginal open spaces to be left
on the periphery of the building also affect the following
Temperature : This is again due to
the fact that more open space on the south or west will
lead to more heated land surface. Whereas, more open
spaces on the north or east will provide a greater shaded
area for use.
Ventilation : In case we want to rely
on vortexes only for ventilation in times of monsoon,
winds or hot dust summer winds, open area on the north
and east will be a must.
Air pollution : Open
area on the east ensures the entry of clean ultraviolet
rays in the morning.
Vastushastra says : Plots with more
open space towards the north and east are auspicious.
6. Massing :
The massing of a structure affects
the following :
Temperature : Thick and heavy massing
on the south and west will increase the thermal insulation
capacity of the structure. The afternoon heat captured
by the thick walls slowly penetrates inside and reaches
the indoor air long after the actual heat spell. If
this time lag can be increased upto the cool hours of
night, the heat radiating indoors is most welcome.
Ventilation : The greater and the more
side built mass is on the windward side (i.e. south-west),
the stronger will be the vortexes generated on the leeward
side (i.e. north-east).
The lighter the structure on the east,
the deeper the ultraviolet rays can travel and similarly
for the vortexes coming from the north and east.
Vastushastra says : Thicker, higher
and stronger walls on the south and west are auspicious.
7. Plan Form :
The plan form of a structure has a
direct impact upon the following :
Temperature : Different perimeter :
area (P/A) ratios. The greater the P/A value the smaller
will be the thermal insulation achievable, since heat
transfer will then take place through a larger surface
area per unit covered floor area.
Ventilation : Large P/A ratios give
larger areas for windows and hence greater ventilation.
But an optimum solution has to be derived between low
solar gain and adequate ventilation.
Vastushastra says : Rectilinear plan
forms are the most auspicious with length : breadth
ratio between 1:1 and 1:3
8. Courtyards :
Courtyards have been a very significant
part of our traditional house plans. Apart from the
cultural importance, they also affect the following:
Temperature : Courtyards if placed
towards the north or east or centrally shall provide
comfortable open air shady work places.
Humidity : The humidity
of the indoor air may be affected if water body is installed
in the courtyard.
Ventilation : Courtyards
aid in ventilation by creating stack effect. Also the
overflowing winds drag along the air in the courtyard
due to the cohesive force of molecules.
Air pollution : Ventilation through
courtyards reduces the number of openings on the street
and consequently the amount of dust that carries in.
Vastushastra says : The central one-fourth
area called Bramhasthana should be left open and not
enclosed in any room. A Tulsi in the courtyard provides
germ free air to all the rooms.
9. Roof Forms :
They too have a direct impact on air
via the following :
Temperature: Roof absorbs the maximum
solar radiation when the sun is at its peak. Roofs if
flat are welcome, roofs if sloping should be in the
north or east direction, roofs sloping towards the west
will absorb some sun.
Ventilation: If a clerestory is provided
above the pitched roofs, then air currents are generated
due to stack effect. If ventilation is provided by vortexes,
then the slopes rising towards the south and west carry
the hot air along and increase stack effect.
Vastushastra says : Roofs lowered toward
the north and east is auspicious.
10. Fenestration Pattern :
This is the most important of all,
in governing the indoor air quality. Openings towards
the south and west shall let in hot sun and should therefore
be avoided or else made smaller. If windows are provided
near water bodies, humidity shall increase and therefore
should be placed accordingly. The placement and number
of openings provided should be such that maximum amount
of the air in every room is disturbed. Preferably there
should be at least three openings in each room. Openings
toward the north and east shall let in cool and pure
Vastushastra says : More
openings should be on north and east. Apart from these
materials, colors, aromas, chemical vapors and electrical
gadgets contribute toward air pollution and need due
consideration before their placement.
We have therefore to note, "if
we do not address issue of global ecology, we won’t
have to worry other issues."
The quality of air is also affected
by the increased conservation efforts and new construction
technologies, as a result of which we seal outside air
out and inside air in, with deadly precision. We spend
about 90 % of our life indoors. The air inside most
homes is 4 to 5 times more polluted than the air outside.
By using natural materials in building
construction, such as clay, brick, sand stone, natural
timber, lime plaster etc, breathing effect of the whole
outer shell of the structure adds significantly to the
air exchange with the outside. The fresh outdoors air
diffuses through porous materials, which also absorbs
or releases excess moisture, filter and expel pollutants
and regulate indoor humidity and indoor temperature.
Modern buildings with synthetic sealing surface obviously
prevent this and become plastic bags. The question is
not whether to live with or without modern technology,
but how to live with modern technology in a safer, healthier
and more environmentally friendly way.
Water is another of our basic element,
requiring careful study and observation. Nature has
its own way of creating the fresh water that we need
and depend on i.e. the rain water cycle. Today our drinking
water supply is treated chemically with chlorine and
fluorine. This water travels through metal or plastic
pipes to reach our homes, losing energy and getting
polluted on way off gassing from plastic, lead etc from
pipelines. It enters the houses already polluted and
is non-biodegradable when it leaves the house. This
quality of water is finally absorbed in earth and ultimately
the quality of underground water gets contaminated which
gets recirculated. Thus degrading the quality of water
and disturbing the ecobalance.
There was always a price to pay and
often not only in terms of money, but in loss of personal
health and personal energy as well as social and environmental
damage. Unfortunately we become hooked into pollution
ever more. People require understanding and develop
the ability to respond to ecology in a logical way.
The most successful way to fight pollution is to look
at the unpleasant truth, right in front of us and raise
awareness and the ability to respond and to create living
spaces full of vital forces of five elements of life
i.e. Fire, Air, Water, Earth and Space.