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Home / Vastushastra / Five Elements
 
Five Elements
 

Air
Water
Earth
Fire
Space


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

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 :

O2 20.98%

CO2 0.04%

N2 78.067%

Others 0.927% (Helium, Argon etc.)

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 quality.

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 temperature stresses.

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) Cluster Planning.

1.Orientation :

The orientation of a built form affects the indoor air with respect to – Temperature and Ventilation Temperature :

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 angle.

2.Topography :

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 side.

(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 further reduced.

(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 pressure zones.

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 air.

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

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.

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