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Back to Our Roots: Interiors Embracing Fire, Water, Earth, and Air

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.

Image courtesy by - Weiqi Jin

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.

 
1. Fire:

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.

Image courtesy by - Miran Kambič

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.

 
2. Water:

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.

Image courtesy by - Sebastián Crespo

The patio is defined by a water mirror which contains river rock and from where an Arupo tree outstands. Since this is an area where the house visually opens up, this is considered as an element that evokes nature and inserts it in the home.

 
3. Earth:

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.

Villa-Lobos House in Brazil, we should also consider the use of earth as a material.

Image courtesy by - Nelson Kon

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

 
4. Air:

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.

Image courtesy by - Joana França

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 Cavalcante House, this can also induce fresh air into the building and, consequently, provide a pleasant sensation of a cool breeze.

 


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