Building for the future, today – combining the best of historical wisdom and modern technology.
“Our ancestors, when about to build a town or an army post, sacrificed some of the cattle that were want to feed on the site proposed and examined their livers…they never began to build … in a place until after they had made many such trials and satisfied themselves that good water and good food had made the liver sound and firm.”
Vitruvius, roman architect circa 20BC- The Ten Books on Architecture
Before deciding where to build our ancestors and their ancestors before them paid close attention to the site to determine how well it would support their health and well-being.
While the Romans slaughtered their cattle and examined the organs, the ancient Indians, being more kindly disposed towards cows, simply observed their behavior. If cows left to graze on the potential site grew amorous this was one good sign. The Vedic scriptures prescribed a whole roster of additional tests for evaluating a site including the taste, color and smell of the soil, the sound of the ground when tapped, and the health and species of the vegetation. Far from superstition and ritual, these tests evaluated important attributes of a site including fertility, compaction, water flows and presence of soil gasses.
Building biology also pays close attention to the health qualities of natural site conditions and advises us to avoid building over geopathic stress zones. These zones are caused by disturbance under the earth’s surface such as ore bodies, crevices and underground water and can result in anomalies in the geomagnetic field emanating from the earth. Measurable surface characteristics associated with these underground features include deviations in the earth’s magnetic field, increased electrical conductivity, increased radon, and increased positive ionization. Geopathic stress zones have been associated with weakened immunity in individuals who sleep over them. Observations of flora and fauna on a site can indicate the presence of geopathic disturbance. Cancerous growth on trees or a group of trees that lean away from a spot, evidence of lightning strikes and animal behavior (dogs avoid these zones cats will gravitate to them) are all said to be indicators. Aside from the human dowser there is no single instrument that can measure all of the physical parameters associated with naturally occurring geopathic stress zones. Although dowsing may be considered “unscientific”, Egyptian hieroglyphics attest to the fact that mankind has a long history of dowsing as a form of site investigation.
Unlike our ancestors we must also consider the impact of man-made pollution which can turn a naturally healthy site into an unhealthy one. Following is a partial checklist for avoiding various forms of man-made pollution:
• Choose a site with clean air. Determine prevailing winds and seasonal changes in prevailing winds and know what is up wind from you.
• Avoid industrial areas, traffic corridors, agricultural lands that have pesticide applications and proximity to power plants.
• Evaluate levels of light and noise pollution at different times of day/night.
• Avoid proximity to high voltage power lines, microwave relay stations, cell phone and broadcast towers and smart meter radiation.
• Consider not only current activities but future development potential and how it might affect your well-being.
If you don’t own a herd of cows, become a keen observer of your site. Learn about the man-made impacts. Study the interplay of natural forces over time, the flora, fauna, wind, sun and moisture patterns. Choosing the right location is the first important step in creating a healthy home for you and your family.
• a geotechnical engineer to determine the bearing capacity of your soils
• local zoning and planning departments or consultant to learn about building restrictions and current and future potential neighborhood developments.
• a permaculture expert to gain insight into the natural patterns and flows of your site
• a Building Biologist to measure levels of electro-magnetic radiation
• a dowser to find well location and potential geopathic stress zones
Note an early version article first appeared in print in Santa Fe Home magazine in 2009
Paula Baker-Laporte FAIA is an architect, healthy building consultant, instructor for the International Institute of Building Biology and Ecology and author. She is the principle architect/founder of EcoNest Architecture. She is primary author of “Prescriptions for a Healthy House” and co-author with husband Robert Laporte of “Econest-Creating Sustainable Sanctuaries of Clay, Straw and Timber”. www.paulabakerlaporte.com, www.econesthomes.com.