City Program Leads National Focus on Green Building
by Jeanine Sih
The Environmental and Conservation Services Department is located in a building at 9th and Brazos Streets, and in its reception area on the 17th floor there is a full size mock-up of various yard irrigation options. The coffee table nearby holds the real goodies, two books – Green Building Guide: A Sustainable Approach and Sustainable Building Sourcebook: Supplement to the Green Builder Program – put out by Program Coordinator Laurence Doxsey, Program Manager Doug Seiter, and interns of the Green Builder Program staff.
In 1992 this Austin program was the only one in the U.S. recognized at the United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro with an award from the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives. “This gave us instant credilibility,” Doxsey says. With six to ten inquiries per day coming from outside of Austin, he says that the Green Builder Program is now more known outside of this city than in it.
Doxsey started the City of Austin’s Green Builder Program (GBP) three years ago, after his hitch with Gail Vittori, Pliny Fisk, and the Center for Maximum Potential Building Systems. People building new construction seem to participate more in the GBP than those who are retrofitting and remodeling, though Doxsey points out that the Green Building Guide addresses the needs of both new and existing buildings.
The Green Building Guide [no longer in print -ED.] is a green education condensed into 55 pages. You get a (green) philosophy course in the first pages. The resource section focuses on four basic demands that each building puts on the environment: water, energy, building materials, and the handling of solid waste. You also learn how to rate your building’s efficiency in light of these demands. The final chunk has a glossary, references and a request for feedback. A larger database, the Sustainable Building Sourcebook ($25) supplements the guide. Both books can be purchased through the GBP office (no longer available – Ed.). Participation in a free orientation course offered by the GBP allows you to get these books for less.
Doxsey says the Green Building Guide “is really a starting point for becoming green. When we look at a building we’re talking about a building in isolation. We haven’t really addressed the issue of relating to infrastructure – where you put the building. For example, if you build a straw bale building with rainwater catchment and have to drive 30 miles one way each day to go to work, you miss some of the thinking that goes behind green building. You should be thinking of the total context of transportation, infrastructure impacts…”
The Green Builder Program is offered to those who live in the City of Austin’s power and light company service area. In the true spirit of sustainability, the program is funded by the power company’s surplus moneys, based on predicted savings from several energy conservation programs. Participation in the GBP is voluntary.
These days Doxsey oversees the GBP’s development of guidelines for commerical building needs. HEB, Apple Computer, developers, and the city’s public works department have all expressed their desire to participate in the program.
Though a big budget comes in handy when improving your building, it’s not always necessary. Austin Habitat for Humanity and the American Institute for Learning (AIL) are collaborating with the GBP to develop low-cost, green housing in East Austin; the partnership is called the Green Habitat Learning Project. The partnership displays a praiseworthy grasp of green thinking by improving the futures of everyone involved.
Doxsey explains that AIL “is taking at-risk youth and using them as the constructors for building. They’re getting an opportunity to develop marketable skills and complete GEDs… plus exposure to environmental approaches that should become more and more in demand as the practices become more accepted. We’re hoping to get a prototype established so that Habitat for Humanity can say `this is going to work for us, we’re going to use this in subsequent buildings.’ ” There are two homes currently scheduled for construction by this partnership.
The first house built from the ground up by the Green Habitat Learning Project is located at 809 Nile Street. Construction on 809 Nile was on its last day when a licensed plumber accidently set attic insulation on fire while installing a hot water heater with a propane torch. Though the 100% recycled cotton insulation (Insulcot, R11) was UL listed and billed by the manufacturer as “flame-proof,” something clearly went wrong on March 21.
“We were lucky to save all the exterior walls, all the kitchen appliances, the bathroom fixtures. We lost the heating system,” says Judith Clements, executive director for Austin Habitat for Humanity. “The family [waiting for this house] was just devastated.” She estimates the damage at $20,000. The house was insured, but repairs should take about five months.
“One of the reasons we were using Insulcot as opposed to fiberglass,” says Clements, “is that fiberglass is dangerous to handle. One of our goals in building a green home is that we’re building a house that’s environmentally safe.” The attic insulation to replace Insulcot has yet to be chosen, she said.
The 809 Nile house was designed and built by volunteers using sustainable building practices. It was, nay is, a green house. The damaged parts of the steel roof can be recycled into new steel (try that with composite shingles). Its floors are of recycled materials indistinguishable from the ordinary. Natural light pours in through ample, double-paned windows.
Its exterior walls are made of Faswal, a composite of fly ash blocks and concrete. They did not burn, and ultimately saved the house from extensive fire damage.
Judith Clements: “The concept of green building is sound. The design of the house, the overhangs, the double-hung windows, the vaulted ceilings… all the design features are sound features. All the products that we substituted in this house are off-the-shelf, safe products. The cork linoleum does not have the offgassing of plastics.” Paint, glues, and caulk were also chosen for their safe, non-offgassing properties.
I ask her if green building is any more expensive than conventional practices.
“We don’t have the bottom line yet, but it’s real close to what we spend on a Habitat house,” Clements says. “A typical, stick-built house with no special environmental stuff is $39,750. I’m waiting for our accountants to do the printout, but the last time I checked we were at $36,000 [for 809 Nile]… I gave a workshop at a regional conference and they asked `What did you give up?’ and I said `We didn’t give anything up. We not only didn’t give anything up, but we have a better house.’ The city is going to monitor the utility bills and they are estimating 20-30% savings in utilities.”
Doug Seiter, the Green Builder Program Manager, says that the building community is not altogether enthusiastic about green building – unless it means greenbacks. Builders often feel that green building is not worth the financial risk. Green technology, sustainable building practices have a reputation for being wonky and exotic – houses made of dirt, geodesic domes – but Seiter stresses that the reality is not all so unconventional: “We encourage products off the shelf; we’re not interested in experimenting with anybody… they’ve been using Faswal in Europe for over 50 years now.”
A bonus resulting from the Green Habitat Learning Project is the immediate importance of mathematics to the six young work crew members from AIL. Clements says that teaching math was never made easier: Nile Street “was their first classroom, hands-on experience.” Chester Steinhauser, a longtime Habitat volunteer who now teaches at AIL, noted his students’ progress. “He said that math is always the hardest course in the GED program… but these kids just ate it up because the math concepts were practically applied to the construction of the house.”
Ah. Preparing for the future. Nice to have an economy of effort when you can get it.
Laurence Doxsey, Green Building Program Coordinator: “Any differences between this fire and other fires?”
Fire marshal: “Yes – no noxious burning plastic fumes…”
Does this mean that green-built houses have fires that are green too?
The Sustainable Building Coalition is a collection of about 200 people who share a vision of what buildings of the future should be. Their membership is diverse: contractors, architects, business owners, engineers, professors, and folks who are in the planning and construction stages of building a green home. The group is a talent pool, a database, and many in it are now spreading the green gospel. Many of the people whose names appear in these articles[the April 1994 “Green” issue of the Austin Chronicle] are members.
Lucia Athens is a founding member of the Sustainable Building Coalition. “The Coalition has a community building effect, which is part of what sustainablity is to me. I look at sustainability on a lot of different levels. I look at what it takes to sustain community, and what it takes to sustain us spiritually, what our connections are to other human beings as well as what our connections mean to us, how we are either supported or not supported by the buildings we live in
“One of the things we have to reform is our economic way of defining what has value and what does not, like a habitat area, or visual aesthetics, or clean air. it is very difficult to assign values to these things. So far [the building community] calls these things `externalities.’ If you don’t assign some kind of cost to these things, it’s the same as saying that their value is zero.”
Ms. Athens is a Texas Registered Landscape Architect and runs her own sustainable landscaping business. She explains that there are plenty of ways to live smarter – planting deciduous trees on your property to shade your house from summer sun, collecting rainwater to use for irrigation. – “There needs to be a consciousness of minimizing dependence on the grid. I think that people who live in West Austin, which typically is very shallow soils – a lot of rock and trenching has to be done to provide water – should be paying more for their service than people who are going east. There should be a way to have a utility fee structure that would encourage people to go east. That’s not where development is happening. That’s where the deeper, better soils and good flat building sites are. It’s where we don’t have a lot of problems with endangered wildlife habitat area.
“Everyone wants to go and be in the most beautiful area, thereby degrading it. You’ve got to get into this philosophy for development where you identify the most beautiful area on the site – that’s where you don’t build. The tendency is `that’s where I want to put my house – it’s gorgeous!’ There need to be incentives for [green building] in the city limits.” She also says that stringent city building codes sometimes marginalize the more radical green building projects (like straw bale constructions). She would like to see the coalition become more politically active in an effort to change these building codes.
In June 1994 Sustainable Sources put its first web page up. Like most websites of the day, it was pretty darn basic. But it was a good start. The site you’re currently viewing, launched 15 years later in June 2009, is the most recent in a long series of revisions.
There are many new changes:
The Calendar has been incorporated into the site, and is now available as an RSS feed (feel free to add it to your blog!). And be sure to add your events!
The Resources section has been moved to the right sidebar so it’s easier for you to find.
Sitewide searching (it may be a few days before Google indexes the revised site. Stay tuned)
RSS feeds on posts to the home page and comments on Draft sections
And most importantly, we’ve set it up so that interested individuals or groups can take responsibility for a particular section.
It’ll now be much easier to add new sections, and we have a handful of Drafts already in progress. If you know a lot about ANY of the subjects covered here and would like to participate, please contact us! All the Draft sections allow user comments as well, so you can ask relevant questions, point out errors, and offer corrections.
All people are influenced by the buildings in which they reside, work and worship. According to the design of the structure, one will feel either comfort or discomfort. In correctly designed structures, one experiences a subtle sense of well-being and contentment. In improperly designed structures, one feels anxious, stressful and despondent. A well designed structure will produce a sense of bliss and calmness while poorly designed structure will produce sickness and depression.
The ancient science of Sthapatya Ved provides extensive knowledge about life supporting building and design principles. A Sthapatya Ved designed home will promote harmony between parents and children, better physical health, and more financial success. However a carelessly designed home or building which out of harmony with the laws of nature will have the opposite effect- promoting family disputes, health problems, and financial difficulties.
Unfortunately, the ancient science of Sthapatya Ved is not widely practiced.
Even in India were this knowledge originated, lately very few building structures are properly designed with the principles of the Sthapatya Ved.
Only in one area – the construction of sacred temples – can one find authentic Sthapatya Ved design principles consistently applied. Anyone who has visited the great temples of India, especially the Minaxi temple, Tirupathi temple in southern India and the Kayllas temple in northern India has experienced a sense of inner happiness and fulfillment simply by being in the structure. In addition to the spiritual activities at these temples, there are precise mathematical and astrological calculations, proportions of building plan, specific orientation and the applied knowledge of subtle physical properties which produces this feeling of well being.
What is Sthapatya Ved?
Sthapatya is a word from Sanskrit the language of ancient India, which means establishment. Veda means knowledge. So, Sthapatya Ved means the knowledge of establishing a relationship between the owner, house and/or building and cosmic order. The same Sthapatya Ved knowledge which was used to design and construct these great temples can be used to design and construct homes and offices. In addition, designing with Sthapatya Ved knowledge can be done at little or no increase in cost – especially if the fundamental principles are introduced early in the design process.
How can one achieve this?
We all know that the universe is in perfect order since its birth . If the Architect can establish the relationship between building design and order of universe, the life of an individual can be healthier, less stressful, more creative and blissful. This ancient knowledge of India was in full practice by the people of India five thousand years ago. Vedic knowledge is divided in to twenty-seven branches. Sthapatya Ved is created out of the marriage of two branches of Veda; Ayur-Ved and Jyotish sastra. Ayur-Ved contains the knowledge of the science of health and the human body. Jyotish sastra contains the knowledge of man’s relationship to the universe, and the ever changing effects of the universe on man. Sthapatya Ved encompasses both the needs of the human body and the environment in one holistic science.
As is the atom, so is the universe.
As is the human body, so is the cosmic body.
As is the human mind, so is the cosmic mind.
As is the microcosm, so is the macrocosm.
Running parallel to this, Sthapatya Ved says:
As is the human body, so is the cosmic body.
As is the human body, so is the body (structure) of the building.
As is the body of the building, so is the cosmic body
As is the building plan, so is the cosmic plan.
So we see that from the level of the atom to the level of the cosmos the same order and laws of nature are reflected. Likewise the human body, the building body we live in, and the cosmos are all connected by the same order and laws of nature. Sthapatya Ved knowledge provides us the ability of achieving this connectedness through all levels of existence. Earth has been in existence for billions of years and throughout its existence, time has maintained a perfect order in its environment. In its natural state every inch of the earth is in harmony with cosmic order. When we disturb a part of the earth, we disturb cosmic order at that point. From this perspective we have no right to disturb the earth by putting a building on it.
This raises a dilemma. Modern man needs shelter to live and work. How can we achieve that shelter without disturbing the harmony of the cosmos?
Sthapatya Ved provides the answer. It shows how to incorporate the naturally occurring cosmic order into the design of the building. Thereby, Sthapatya Ved re-establishes the natural order that was lost by disturbing the earth to raise the building.
Here are few generic principles of Sthapatya Ved knowledge:
The entrance to the house facing east direction will produce far more positive effects than a house with south entrance.
Proper placement of each function in the house, (e.g. kitchen can be located in the south east corner – increases appetite and digestion quality improves.)
Central place of the house called Brahma-sthana should be unobstructed with columns or walls. This space allows cosmic energy to flow evenly in the house.
Use of these simple principles has major effect. There are even deeper levels of Sthapatya Ved design which concern both the structure’s internal layout and external proportion and orientation. The interior design must respect energy lines called ” sutra”, and energy points called ” marma”. There are specific rules governing the vertical proportion of each room and building. Externally, the placement of house in relation to the land diagram, relationship of road to the site, the configuration of the lot, the contours of the site, the placement of vegetation, and orientation of utilities, and other homes and buildings in the development will all have a strong effect. To fully customize a home, the proportions of the house and room placements are calculated according to the birth charts of the individuals, called Jyotish orientations. Even incorporating a few of these principles will result in a more life supporting environment. In order to achieve the wholeness of this design, one need to incorporate all of the principles of Sthapatya Ved.
What is the difference between twentieth century Architecture and Sthapatya Ved?
Throughout Europe, Asia, America, and in fact the world, architectural design for the last 2000 years has been based on climate, available materials, building method of the period, geographical conditions, and prevailing style. Sthapatya Ved includes all these aspects, but goes beyond them, by including detailed knowledge of both the human body and the cosmos. As time passes other systems of Architecture become obsolete. This is not the case with Sthapatya Ved, because Sthapatya Ved is not a simple fixed system. It is a dynamic system of Architecture that changes to precisely match current cosmic conditions. It is a timeless Architecture.
What is the most singled-out component in the design method of Sthapatya Ved that differs most from the western design method of Architecture?
The most common tool that has been used to create a building design according to western Architecture is to prepare a functional program of the building and then find the best relationships between them. The consideration of the orientation of the building is based on climate and natural view of the site.
According to Sthapatya Ved , the knowledge of Jyotish sastra is used to understand the natural cosmic order inherent in the land. It provides necessary information to create a blue print of this order, which in Sthapatya Ved is called the Vastu-Purusa-Mandala. The Vastu-Purusa-Mandala reflects the cosmic order of the land and is specific to each piece of land. Vastu means “form” or “building”, which from a Sthapatya Ved perspective is an extension of the earth. This is because Vastu also means town, country, Earth and all of creation. When the building is in a perfectly ordered state it is conceived to be in the likeness of Purusa. Purusa means cosmic man. It also means unmanifested ultimate reality or pure consciousness. Mandala means diagram. So Vastu-Purusa-Mandala, or form-consciousness-diagram, means the manifest description of the unmanifest intelligence underlying the structure of the building and all of creation. The Vastu-Purusa-Mandala is also known as Cosmic plan. It provides the guide for all the principles underlying the architectural form. This cosmic plan is important in the designing a house, town, and or even a country.
According to Ayur-Ved, the human body has a direct relationship with the cosmos. Jyotish sastra provides the knowledge that relates the human body to the cosmos. Therefore it is the knowledge of Jyotish that links both the individual and the building to the larger natural cosmic order. These relationships are expressed in the cosmic plan (Vastu-Purusa-Mandala) and are used to create the site plan and the blue print for the building as well as the master plan of the town. This manifests the order and intelligence of Purusa (pure consciousness) in the building.
How does time and space enter the cosmic plan?
The order of both manifest and unmanifest creation of the cosmos is reflected in the cosmic plan. Within this we find the relationship between man and earth. Time enters this cosmic plan through the periodic rotation of the earth which gives rise to the seasonal pattern of sunrise and sunset. Space enters the plan when the building is oriented to the cardinal points, which are north, south, east and west. In its fixed position Sthapatya Ved considers the earth to be four cornered. Two of these points are where the sun rises and sets. If we take the sun to represent heaven then at these two points heaven and earth seem to meet. North and south completes the four points. Each building is constructed to be in harmony with both the cardinal points and the seasons as they relate to the dweller of the building and the type of activity to be performed in the building.
How does a building design according to Sthapatya Ved relate to the design of a town?
There are similarities between design of a building and a town. As the proportion of the house is important as per the dweller’s Jyotish information so the proportion of a town plan is designed based on Sthapatya Ved knowledge.
The cosmic plan is required for a design of a building and in the same way it is required to create master plan of a town. As the orientation of functions in the house design is derived from Sthapatya Ved knowledge so is the orientation of different functional buildings decided by Sthapatya Ved knowledge. The orientation of a road location to the house and road system in the design of the master plan is provided by Sthapatya Ved knowledge.
What contribution does building material have in supporting Sthapatya Ved knowledge?
In order to understand relationship of materials and building spaces, we need to understand the relationship of spaces in the human body and materials from which the human body is made. According to Ayur-Ved the human body is made of five subtle elements: earth, wind, water, fire and space. If all these elements are in balance the human mind and body can experience very high states of consciousness, which results in being blissful, calm and increasing awareness. Human bones and flesh are considered similar to earth quality. Wind is present in all moment of liquid and food. The human body is made of 90% water and 99.9% space exists in the human body. The metabolism and digestion (digestive fire) represent the fire element. If building body (structure) incorporates all these five elements, the dweller can feel the inner atmosphere of the house filled with blissfulness, calmness and supporting higher awareness.
What are the benefits of using Sthapatya Ved knowledge for designing a residence?
The benefits of using Sthapatya Ved knowledge while designing a residence are as follows:
Improves the health of a dweller and his family.
Increases the power of creativity and intelligence.
Extension in the longitivity of life.
Quality of life will increase.
Growth in spiritual and material life will increase.
Family bonding will increase.
Respect for nature will increase.
What are the benefits of using Sthapatya Ved knowledge for designing a town or a city?
These are benefits of using Sthapatya Ved knowledge:
Improves the health in general for people who live in the Vedic town.
Increases the power of creativity and intelligence, which becomes obvious in the progress of town businesses, increase in growth of income per capital, innovative ideas in new businesses.
Due to improvement in health of people, life expectancy will increase.
The Vedic town will stand out among others in terms of quality of life.
Due to support of nature, family bonding within each family and at community level, will be more supportive, and spiritual and material life will grow faster.
Due to increase in awareness among people, respect for nature will increase.
This article springs from a conversation which began in the alt.architecture.alternative newsgroup between Robin Benson, at the time an Australian graduate student in Architecture, and Bill Christensen, webmaster of Sustainable Sources, in 1994
There is a field of study which arises from the ancient Vedic texts of India called Sthapatya Veda, which is generally seen as the study of architecture; sculpture; placement; and art. The word Sthapatya comes from the root “to establish.” The texts themselves tend to be rather on the obscure side.
There is a lot of attention given to the value of silence, however. In the Vedic view, the wholeness of life, the unbounded field of pure creative intelligence, is the basis of all structure in the universe. This unbounded, silent center is represented in all architecture.
Sthapatya establishes consciousness, or creative intelligence in the environment. Consciousness preceeds matter in both the design process and in the actual manifestation. Sthapatya establishes the connection of separate parts to each other and of each part to the whole. Simultaneously, it establishes the connection between the individual and the universal, the individual and the Absolute.
The three principle properties in Sthapatya Ved are:
right direction (both in space and in time) right proportion right placement
These three collectively form what is called a Vastupurusha Mandala (form-being-diagram), used as a guide for which activities are best suited for each area of a building.
A common feature of each Vastupurusha Mandala is that the center, known as the Brahmastan, is representative of the silent center of all life. It is the connecting point of all the other parts of the building, the unmanifest center of all of the manifest activities. Says the resident of one recent Sthapatya-Vedically designed building, “the house kind of breathes from there.”
One aspect of right direction involves attention to the sun’s relation to the progression of activity in the house through the day. For instance, generally the entrance is in the center of the east wall of the house, the kitchen is in the south east, the dining is in the south. So the sun’s life-giving energy enters the house first thing in the morning, proceeds to the kitchen and gives life to the food preparations, and follows to the dining room for the noon meal, which is generally the larger meal of the day for many cultures. (The body’s natural rhythms give us highest metabolism at this time as well, promoting best digestion.) And so on, through the house.
Right proportion relates to the overall and relative sizes of building elements. Certain relations resonate with people better than others. Certainly you have been in a large room with a low ceiling that feels opressive, or a small but high ceilinged room that makes you feel closed in. Take a 3m x 4m room and put an 8m high ceiling, and it feels very different than a room of the same proportions with a 3.5m ceiling.
Then there is placement. This has to do with everything from the placement of the house on the lot, to placement of the rooms, to placement of the furniture, to placement of the trees outside, to placement of the lot in the town, etc…
Sthapatya Ved architects, or “sthapatis” as they are called, design the building based on the individual’s (or family’s, or corporation’s) relation to the cosmos (Jyotish, loosely interpreted as astrology), and upon the relation of that to the particular site.
Obviously all of these work together, and each element has to be designed with each other element in mind. The layering and relationships of all of the elements come together to create a building that is essentially an extension of the inhabitants, as it was built to complement their unique relations to the each other and to the world and cosmos around them. It is in essence a living organism, responding to the daily and seasonal cycles in the environment.
I have been asked by several people for sources of more information on Sthapatya Ved. The best place I know of to find a good collection of original source material is at Motilal Banarsidas, for instance, the Mayamata. I have also read a number of other texts; some that I would recommend are “The Temple in the House: Finding the Sacred in Everyday Architecture” by Anthony Lawlor, and “Mayamata” translated by Bruno Dagens, (can be hard to find).
from the book Building With The Breath of Life It can be fun learning about the esoteric practices of an obscure ancient art such as feng shui. Some of those practices can powerfully change how our surroundings affect us. Others are worthless accumulations of several thousand years of superstition. Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference. The real significance of feng shui, however, lies far outside the possible effectiveness of any of its specific practices. * * *
Our culture is on the brink of a quiet, yet fundamental change. Acknowledgment of the existence and importance of chi, or life force energy, that has been the foundation of the arts, sciences, healing, and spiritual practices of virtually every other culture in history is beginning to occur in our own.
In November, 1997, the National Institutes of Health released a strong endorsement of the use of acupuncture, noting “very clear-cut evidence” of its successful action and that it is less invasive, and with fewer side effects than conventional treatments. For a major governmental player in the US medical establishment to make such an endorsement of a practice based on chi is remarkable – particularly with the panel noting “there is no evidence that confirms this theory”. What is perhaps most remarkable is that in endorsing something denied by our conventional scientific concepts, they are challenging the adequacy of those very concepts! The chi underlying acupuncture is the same chi in the earth which is central to the Chinese art of feng-shui, used for aligning ourselves with the energetics of place.
Energy healing and related practices has been effective enough in promoting healing that it is now covered by many health insurance policies
Nature, the British equivalent of Scientific American, announced in their December, 1997 issue the successful experimental demonstration of “quantum teleportation” by researchers in Austria. Quantum teleportation shows that information even on the subatomic level can be transmitted instantly over stellar distances (without being limited by the speed of light). Related work is underway by IBM.
“Energy healing”, “laying on of hands”, and related practices of healing energy work with bodily chi has been effective enough in promoting healing in a variety of situations that it is now covered by many health insurance policies. Millions of people in our own culture have also now experienced this chi – in martial arts, tai-chi, meditation, hatha yoga, bodywork, acupuncture, dowsing, or other contexts. It is no longer a theoretical philosophical concept of foreign spiritual traditions. Bodywork techniques have been developed which make work with chi something that can be easily attained by most people. Chi is no longer an esoteric practice requiring years of monastic training! Even the US Marines are now using Akido training based on chi!
Our sciences have been so absorbed in the years since World War II in exploring the material consequences of breakthroughs achieved in a few branches of physics that they have neglected to focus their powerful tools on other areas which unwittingly remain “black box” concepts. Do we really understand something like magnetism? What is it? How does it transmit power through space and vacuum?
And what about gravity? Look up at the Moon tonight. Its mass is immense. Simple mechanics tells us what incredible forces gravity applies to the Moon to keep that mass in orbit and from shooting off on a tangent into space. But how does it work? How are the moon and sun able through enormous distances to pull the entire oceans of our planet six feet into the air twice a day, and pull the Earth itself around in a circle?
Chi is part of these areas still unexplored by our current sciences. Unlike the moon hanging over our heads, it has until recently been one we could brush aside and pretend didn’t exist. But experience and success in its use are today forcing its recognition.
Every culture has emphasized and developed certain aspects of place energy…
It may seem that chi is a simple and peripheral thing, but it has been central to the sophisticated philosophies of many cultures. The power inherent in its acknowledgment is likely to be as foreign and initially inconceivable as the atom bomb was as the outcome of theoretical scratchings of a renegade physicist. Fortunately, the power of chi is an integrative, rather than a destructive one; a power of giving life, rather than of taking it. Its acknowledgment will bring changes – in far different directions – as great as those achieved by our modern technology: * * *
What are the implications of a world where noone can lie – where our innermost thoughts and feelings are known to each other?
What is a world like where instant communication occurs – not only between people, but among all forms of life – stars, rocks, the cells in our bodies?
What does it mean to our society to acknowledge that we continue to exist on an energy level after “death”?
What are the implications of a world where we can call on the counsel of ancestors and other beings in the spiritual planes of life?
What is a world where astrology can show what kinds of surroundings are good or bad for us at different times?
What will our world be like when “magic” is practiced and has powerful effect for good or ill?
How does our world change when we are all indelibly aware that the health of all Creation is essential to our well-being?
How do we change when we recognize that our minds and hearts are an integral and powerful part of our interaction with the world on both sides of our skin, and that those parts of our existence are inseparable?
What happens when we realize that sacredness is the central basis of meaningful lives and an enduring society?
These are a few glimpses of the world that comes into being when we acknowledge the central role of chi in our universe. * * *
Chi is intimately connected with and inherent in place and our associations with it. Every culture has emphasized and developed certain aspects of place energy, while virtually ignoring others. The particular value of the feng-shui tradition of China is that it provides us with a broad and relatively comprehensive philosophical basis for energetics of place. It constitutes the most impressive written record of approaches dealing with chi in our surroundings, and a place to begin understanding its effects on our interaction with those surroundings. What’s more, it’s even fashionable!
Feng shui’s myriad traditions and practices also demonstrate various approaches to environmental modification for improving local chi patterns. It has made extensive use of astrological information in siting, and generated culturally-specific practices for aligning our places with chi of place. Yet there are major gaps in their approach and dimensions where other traditions have pushed the frontiers of understanding even further.
The mapping of energy flows and concentrations in the earth has been well developed in the European geomantic tradition, which also has located buildings relative to that energy in the earth. The Australian Aboriginal tradition has developed use of such energy lines in the earth even further, using them for long distance communication.
Relative to the built environment, the Japanese have developed the role of li or intention to great refinement and power. Chi (ki in Japanese) is if anything more central to Japanese culture and design than to Chinese. The Japanese language, for example, has over 600 terms employing the ideogram for ki, compared to about 80 in Chinese.
These are living traditions which can be learned from, shared, melded, and forged into a living tradition for our own culture.
Contemporary work in our own culture by architects and designers working with chi has not reached the refinement of the Japanese or Chinese, but is developing a tradition specific to our own conditions and time. The Khmer culture in Cambodia can show us immensely powerful roles that our built environment can play in connecting us with energy from the spirit world. The Yoruba in Africa can show the emotional power that can be developed afresh in our building drawing directly upon intimate connection with that world.
African cultures – from the !Kung to the Yoruba and the Dagara, along with the Wiccan tradition in Europe and many other cultures, have worked powerfully with community raising of energy, and the roles it holds in cultural survival and health. The recent work of dowsers and energy workers such as Joey Korn, Sig Lonegren and others has shown that earth energies are not immutable. They move and change. We can ask the balancing of negative energies, the focusing and relocation of positive ones. We can call upon them, and they respond – it would appear almost consciously – to our requests for aligning with our lives and activities.
Energetics of place also involves information and communication. African cultures have worked strongly with personal interaction with energy of place to access ancestors and other beings in the realms of energy. Native American, Aboriginal, Celtic, Greek, and many other traditions work with direct communication with, and through, the individual elements of nature. The Australian Aboriginal tradition has developed to a high level use of the unique and specific connections to the spiritual realm from different natural sites. The Khmers and Egyptians have demonstrated how buildings can enhance such connections.
These are only a few examples that stand out, for their special developments, from the almost universal use of chi in cultures worldwide. What is exciting is that these are living traditions which can be learned from, shared, melded, and forged into a living tradition for our own culture. * * *
Design, in a chi-based world, is a very different animal.
We’ve learned that the energy bodies of our communities are damaged by place rape and abuse from greed-based activities such as overlogging, overfishing, extractive agriculture, energy and material mining just as our human energy bodies are damaged by rape and abuse. And we’ve found that healing of those energy bodies is both possible and essential in both cases if true healing is to occur.
We’re learning how the chi of place and people interact; how our love or anger remain in a place to affect the next users; how gifts of honor and pilgrimage are bestowed on both a place and its subsequent visitors. We’re learning how to generate and direct group energy to sustain the joy and health of our human communities and the natural communities within which they live. The potentialities for people working with earth energies are expanding in scope, depth, and concrete application.
A chi-centered world changes how we design and use places. It first of all requires that we give primary importance to designing the chi of a place. It means that the functions we design for will be different. It demands integrity of materials, design and uses. It stresses the importance of paying attention to our tummies – how we feel about a place, the psychology of place, the role of our minds and our fears and dreams. It requires we design relative to the needs and aspirations of all Creation, not just us. Our attitudes and values, what we want in a place, change dramatically.
With chi, our intention in approaching design is critical. An approach that just considers “job functions” delegates people to “back-room” jobs and “back-room” consideration by others, while an intention to provide rewarding jobs changes building configuration and the respect given to each person in their work.
The role of the sacred becomes central. Buildings with soul, gardens for our spirits, cities of passion become the goal rather than rentable square feet. Accommodating and enhancing ritual and its role in both the making and use of places becomes important, as does being a part of the local ecological community. Low-impact ecological design is taken for granted. Growth, greed, and consumption give way to the goals of sustainability and nurture.
Now is a time of gathering in, of opening ourselves to the varieties of wisdom of all traditions and gleaning from each what can be melded together to bear on our unique situations. Feng shui is a cluster of concepts and tools that can help us begin to find ways to walk in this new world.
Oregon architect Tom Bender has been applying feng shui to design work in this country since the early 1970’s. The text of his most recent book – BUILDING WITH THE BREATH OF LIFE – covers use of energetics or chi in design.
It is very important that all the documents described in this article are collected from the client well in advance of starting a Sthapatya ved design.
Jyotish chart of owner
Because Sthapatya Ved design is based on and intends to re-establish the connection between the individual (microcosm) and the universe (macrocosm), it is very important that a Jyotish (vedic astrology) chart is prepared by an experienced Jyotish practitioner. Errors in the Jyotish chart will feed false information back in to the calculations of the Sthapatya Ved design and the resulting design which will not produce the desired benefits for the occupants.
The Jyotish chart must contain the following information:
Gane. Prior to consulting Jyotish, it is very important that the birth time is checked for accuracy. An experienced Jyotishi will be able to determine the correct time of birth from significant events in your life. It will help if vedic Architect is well literate in Jyotish knowledge, however as long as an experienced Jyotishi is accessible, one can design a building with Sthapatya veda knowledge.
Prior to visiting the site, the vedic architect or designer needs to obtain site plan of the land. This site plan should include land location, road layout, contour layout, vegetation, location of pond, river, creek and well. Also location of mountains, mounds, or slopes, or other natural features that are offsite, yet have an influence on the site. Of course, a north arrow is required, as Sthapatya Ved designs buildings according to such natural influences as the sun’s path.
Information of town
Prior to buying land or deciding to build a house in a city or town, one needs to consult an experience Jyotishi. The Jyotishi should be given the name and location of the town, and the relative location of the land you are considering. He should also be provided with the approximate “date of birth” of the town (such information is easily available from the local library or town hall). The Jyotishi will compare your personal Jyotish chart with that of the town, to see if it will be an appropriate move for you. If your moving there creates a good influence for you, you may then actually begin the process of purchasing, designing, and building.
Physical relationship of land with immediate surroundings
Selection of land is a very important aspect according to Sthapatya Ved. Once you find land in an area that you would like to live in, you should check the surrounding area for negative and postive influences
Some influences which should be avoided:
cemetery in a one mile radius
electrical power station within approximately 1000ft, or high voltage
Some positive influences:
school, church, temple, or religious building within one mile radius natural beauty such as parks or preserves
I have been asked by several people for sources of more information on Sthapatya Ved. The best place I know of to find a good collection of original source material is at Motilal Banarsidas, for instance, the Mayamata. I have also read a number of other texts; some that I would recommend are “The Temple in the House: Finding the Sacred in Everyday Architecture” by Anthony Lawlor, and “Mayamata” translated by Bruno Dagens, (can be hard to find). — Bill Christensen