The slogan "Stay Home" has been guiding people throughout the past year, making us rediscover our home as a place of refuge, shelter, and protection. Within this new status quo, much has been discussed about the important role played by architecture and interior design in improving both the physical and mental wellbeing of its inhabitants.
From the most complex to the most simple, we have been revisiting various design strategies in search of a sense of comfort and seclusion in our homes. Although we are living in the most technological age of all, we find ourselves drawn to the most fundamental elements, as if returning to our origins.
While surrounded by concrete and asphalt, the idea of reconnecting with nature inspires us to incorporate elements that enhance sensorial polyphony, meaning a reconciliation between architecture and the world through the senses. In this journey back to our origins, we have selected projects that use the four classical elements - fire, water, earth, and air - as fundamental instruments to improve the users' well-being.
The concept of the four elements comes from ancient Greece when Aristotle stated that he believed all matter in the universe was made of these four elements. Besides the philosophical, mythological, or religious meanings, when applied to architecture, these elements can help us rediscover our roots from a sensitive and symbolic look into the relationship between people and nature through multisensory experiences in the built environment.
Check out, below, a selection of projects that apply the four classical elements of nature.
Feeling your face flush with the heat of the fire while listening to old stories over the sound of the crackling wood burning in the background is a familiar experience for many people. Gottfried Semper (1989) explores the four elements of architecture and describes fire as an attraction that encourages people to visit and stay in a place. After all, many celebrations of victories in battles and religious ceremonies used to take place around the fire. For almost 2 million years, we have been gathering in front of a fire, and this is why it represents, to this day, a place of meeting and communion.
In the Lieptgas Refuge, fire is one of the main elements that build the phenomenological experience of this cabin in the cold forest. It is a petrified recreation of an abandoned structure, preserving the original textures of the former cabin in the same place. This refuge features a unique place next to the fireplace spotlighted by a carefully placed skylight.
While the experience in Liptgas is intimate and individual, in the Midden Garden Pavilion, the interaction with fire takes place in a space designed for meetings and gatherings, just as in the B Garden. The Hotel Plesnik, in the cold Slovenian landscapes, features both an indoor space around the fire and an outdoor space framed by the snowy mountains. In both cases, one can feel the sense of warmth and togetherness that this element provides.
In addition to fireplaces and fire pits, it is worth mentioning that fire also appears in a piece of equipment that is very popular in many cultures, the barbecue grill. Besides the cooking purpose, it also represents an important gathering place, as in the Vineyard Pavillion.
Many mobile applications play the sound of rain and are often used at moments when you need to calm down after a tiring day, but nothing replaces the soft sound of real drops of rain falling on the roof of a balcony or over a reflecting pool. Much has been said about the climate control properties of water which creates a microclimate through the process of evaporative cooling, however, water plays an important role not only in physical well-being but also in mental well-being, mainly due to the effect of sound, which brings a sense of calm and comfort.
When speaking about water elements in projects, it is impossible not to mention the work of Mexican architect Luis Barragán, especially the Cuadra San Cristóbal, the Casa Barragán, and his last project, Casa Gilardi, with its indoor swimming pool that reflects the vibrant colors of the adjacent walls.
The Teatro Oficina, with its reflecting pool that transforms into a cascade, and the SESC Pompéia, both by Lina Bo Bardi - another internationally renowned architect - are two examples of non-residential buildings that incorporate water. About the latter, Lina once commented that all she did was add a little bit of water and a little bit of fire to the former existing building.
Experiencing the fresh texture of slightly damp earth while walking barefoot through a garden is a privilege these days. When one thinks of the earth element in architecture and interior design, the first images that come to mind are green gardens - indoors or outdoors - large terraces full of plants, or a natural and almost untouched landscape. But while gardens, patios, and terraces are a good example of this element in interior spaces, as in the House Among Trees in Ecuador or the Villa-Lobos House in Brazil, we should also consider the use of earth as a material.
Natural adobe, ceramic, and clay elements convey a sense of truth to materials expressing age, history, and bearing imprints and marks that provide building materials with the enriching effects of time. Moreover, they bring texture and warmth, contributing to the feeling of refuge as in the Shikor Country House, the VH House, and the Ngamwongwan House.
Taking a deep breath in a cool breeze at the end of a hot day, and feeling the air slowly entering your lungs, is a unique sensation. When it comes to buildings, this last element is the most vital among all the others, mainly because of its role in keeping internal spaces healthy, by controlling temperature, humidity, and filtering potential contaminants and diseases. However, from a sensory point of view, a good airflow can also evoke the idea of lightness and a sense of suspension, blurring the boundaries between inside and outside, also serving as a symbol of renewal.
There are many ways to improve airflow in the built environment through architectural design. For example, openings on opposite sides can induce cross ventilation, as in the FVB House or the Cavalcante House. Perforated elements such as wooden lattice panels, as in the Pier House and the Collector's Nook, or screen blocks made of ceramic, as in the Viewing Back House, or concrete, as in the 18 Screens House, can also induce fresh air into the building and, consequently, provide a pleasant sensation of a cool breeze.
This article is part of the ArchDaily Topic: Interior Wellbeing. Every month we explore a topic in-depth through articles, interviews, news, and projects. Learn more about our monthly topics. As always, at ArchDaily we welcome the contributions of our readers; if you want to submit an article or project, contact us.