Vaastu: The Ancient Practice of Space Planning

Today’s interior designer has a wealth of knowledge at their fingertips that can inform and inspire them. Within the context of contemporary design and culture, many of us look to approach our clients’ problems with unique solutions custom fit to their specific needs. Many of the solutions we find may appear to be new at first glance, but as the famous quote by poet George Santayana goes, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Last week at the Milliken Carpet showroom in New York, Sharad Mathur, VP of Marketing for Inscape and author of the book Space, Life and Planning, presented a fascinating seminar on Vaastu, the ancient Indian practice of space planning. For many attending, it was a history lesson from a far away culture and an enticing glimpse at a different way to infuse design value into future projects. Unlike Feng Shui, which is an Eastern system of aesthetics for architecture, Vaastu is a physical science based on the Earth’s magnetism, the sun’s radiation and cosmic energy throughout the universe. “The key thing about Vaastu,” said Mr. Mathur, “is that it is not about spirituality. It’s the oldest living science of architecture in the world.” The Vaastu Shastra, which translates into “Book of Architecture” in English, first emerged in the Indian subcontinent over 5,000 years ago. This book, according to Mr. Mathur, “has details that illustrate what should be a door frame size, what should be the thickness of a wall, where items within buildings should be placed and what direction they should face. It is the design of everything; from a town to a palace to a residence or a temple.”

Using five essential elements—ether, air, fire, water and earth—the Vaastu system also integrates with indigenous religions like Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. Giving an example of an Indian funeral rite, Mr. Mathur explained, “There is a belief that all five elements are used when a Hindu dies and cremation is used. When we burn the dead, we get a connection with fire and air; the ashes go into the earth or are put into a river. The soul then transitions from one world to the other through ether.” Each of these elements corresponds to a direction or orientation within a Vaastu space plan. Northeast corresponds to water, southeast to fire, southwest to earth and northwest to air. The center of a Vaastu plan corresponds to ether. “When I put something that emits heat in my space, I put it in the southeast. If I put water in my site, it goes in the northeast only,” he explained.

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