India is a remarkable, diverse, vibrant country that I come across frequently in my exploration of the elements. It is a country that has developed philosophies, arts, medicine and sciences that use the elements as fundamental building blocks. Earth, air, fire, water, ether/sky – and consciousness – are abundantly expressed. So far I have touched on Praktri, mudras, Vastu Shastra (embedded in various posts), Ayurveda (ditto), Vikram Seth and other references to the elements in India. These posts draw on a range of books written by Indian and other authors. On a more immediate and intimate level the blog ‘Enchanted Forests‘ written by Mukul Chand has opened up a whole other world of India, and the elements.
Feng Shui (which translates as ‘Wind-Water’) is referred to as both an art and a science of ‘placement’. It has a long and complex history in China where it has been used to harness the living energy (ch’i) of the universe to benefit people’s lives. Yin Yang and the Five Elements/Phases (Earth, Water, Fire, Metal and Wood) are essential components of feng shui. By applying the principles of feng shui modern practitioners say it is possible to develop a healthy, happy, harmonious and prosperous lifestyle, achieve balance, and energise and enhance your life. Even your cat can benefit from the recently ‘discovered’ art of ‘Fang Shui’. Feng shui can be used to help clear the clutter in your house and learn about the future through the interpretation of heavenly bodies. It is no wonder that feng shui is a global phenomenon.
Albert Einstein is the most famous Alumni of ETH Zurich, which is consistently ranked amongst the top Universities in the world. It is encouraging therefore that this illustrious institution ran a four semester course between Autumn 2012 and Spring 2014 on architecture and the elements – Earth, Water, Air and Fire. The Chair of the Department of Architecture, Professor Dr Josep Lluis Mateo, used this framework to examine how the elements connect the conceptual and physical in architecture. In doing so he wanted his students to think from the start about the structure and materials of the buildings they were designing.
Architecture and the elements are intimately interconnected. It is estimated that around 50% of the world’s population lives or works in earth buildings, constructed mainly of dirt (clay, gravel, sand, silt, soil, loam and mud). Stone, also of the earth, has been used to great effect by civilisations like the Tiahuanacu and Inka, as well as in buildings in Europe and their colonies. Iconic buildings like the Flame Towers in Baku, Azerbaijan pay homage to the elements. And ancient practices such as Feng Shui from China and Vastu Shastra from India use the elements to assist with the placement of buildings in a landscape, on a site and their internal design.