DESIGNING HOLISTIC SPACES

A viewpoint article written and published by Love That Design magazine.



In this opinion piece, Valentina Cereda, Founder of Energy & Space, talks about the human connection with nature, sick building syndrome, and the need to completely rethink our design and construction methods.


Valentina Cereda strongly believes in questioning our traditional and conventional design and construction practices, emphasising the importance of understanding the root cause of all stress in buildings, and changing the way we design and build as architects and designers.

“The main issue that I come across is that we are focusing only on the beauty or ‘prettiness’ of an interior or structure. We need to consider the health of the space as well. Unfortunately, there is a lot more limelight on beauty because the image is what sells the space in the end. We design and build a space and shoot it, but the image is soon forgotten while the people in that space continue to feel the effect of it for many many years. I think it’s time for architects and designers to focus more on the health and well being of the spaces that we create, which is done by taking into consideration all the different aspects of design, and that includes holistic as well.

Architects often talk about ‘human centric design’ and ‘design for well being’. If a space has big windows that open into the forest, wallpapers that have shapes and forms of nature, these are classed as biophilic design, However, I feel that this should be standard design practice, not an exception to the rule, or a reference for well being in design. Architects have a responsibility to change the way we design and build to support health in a better way for people.

THE EFFECTS FROM TOXICITY OF BUILDING MATERIALS

The buildings in Dubai are around 10 to 20 years old, while buildings in the US and Europe are older, and these buildings are getting sick because everything is getting built with processed, toxic materials. If you have to make a label for a building and look at the ingredients, they are 90 to 95 percent artificial and processed, which is equal to the toxic processed food that we eat, and it is unhealthy!

The air that we breathe and the things that we absorb with our skin are actually worse than what we put in our stomachs. There are mycotoxins from sick buildings and toxic spores created by building and interior materials all around us, which go through our respiratory tract, reach the lungs and get into our bloodstream. This leads to a huge amount of inflammation in the body.

People often ignore buildings and focus more on eating organic, healthy, natural food that will help their immune system. This fails because we keep breathing what’s inside our houses.

ENERGIES, FREQUENCIES AND ELECTROMAGENTIC FIELDS

Each matter is always surrounded by energy, which is made of frequencies, and that’s the reason we feel good when we are in nature – because we are surrounded by the frequencies that our body recognises as our home.

The electromagnetic field around us has increased massively in the past five years because of all the technology we have in our homes. Everything is connected with home automation, and all these frequencies create disruptions with nature and the earth’s natural electromagnetic field.

Another aspect to consider is that buildings have to be aligned to the energy of the land. Each piece of earth comes with an energy, which is carried by a network of water systems under the surface that emits these energies into the space we live in. In more recent building history, we have been ignoring these frequencies, and simply placing building blocks over them. The houses that we are building now don’t have any alignment with what is called the ‘life force’ or ‘prana’.

Each culture across our planet refers to the life forces in a different way. If you look at Bali, Asia or Singapore, for example, they have Feng Shui and similar ancient cultural ways to connect to this life force. As architects, when we tap into these life forces, we can really build and design in a conscious way that will last, is healthy, and at the end of its lifecycle, can go back to the earth because it doesn’t take ages to decompose or become toxic.

When it comes to interior and furnishing materials and installation processes, we tend to use a lot of artificial and processed elements. These materials have a lot of toxic frequencies within them, more than the commonly known toxins of BOC, formaldehyde, etc. These artificial materials are known to deplete the quality of the air that we breathe.

Air is made up of both positive and negative ions, which should be balanced. When we have a lot of these synthetic materials, the negative ions are depleted leaving only positive ions, which can make the air feel very dry and electric. This consequently attracts dust, bacteria and toxins that get stuck indoors due to lack of balance or flow. This is just one example to understand why it is critical as architects to assess our practices and educate our clients on why we should be focusing on these elements.

We live on land, but are still surrounded by the atmosphere and ionosphere, which allows us to actually breathe. So we are inside an atmosphere and therefore connecting to the earth. There is a natural electromagnetic field that we as humans connect to when we come in contact with the earth. This natural electromagnetic field is healing for us because, like the polarity of earth, our bodies also have a North and South polarity. It also explains why Chinese medicines and treatments, such as acupuncture, are based on the balance of energies in our bodies.


UNDERSTANDING POWERPOINTS

Scientists Hartmann and Curry have comprehensively studied the energy grids of the earth and traced all these grids. The crossing points are considered as idiopathic stress points

All the energies that are moving underneath with the streams of water push natural energies into the earth. There are certain places where the energy is really high. These points are found by a process called dowsing and are considered to be the most beneficial for people to live in or meet and gather. This is the reason that powerful monuments, like the pyramids of Egypt, and the Mayan Pyramids of Mexico, are built on such specific points.

When working with the land, we need to determine the history of that land, and the energy grids and stressors, if any. There is something called the ‘spirit of the land’, which is the energy that protects or looks after the land and serves whoever wants to build on it. We need to connect with this energy and use it as a guide on how to build, based also on the solar path and many other astronomical events around that specific land. Each land is on a specific latitude, so the path of the sun, the solar scales, the equinox, all cause major shifts in energies in the solar system, affecting each part of the earth in different ways. This is why it is very important that we connect to everything inside the earth to create something that is aligned and respectful of where we are.

CORRECTING THE ENERGIES OF EXISTING SPACES

When I work on an existing villa, I check the energy of the land/villa in specific to see if there is a point of stress that needs to be re-balanced. The symptoms of imbalance can be identified by human reactions to the space, such as disturbed sleeping patterns in certain rooms, or trees that don’t grow in a spot in the garden.

The process to check for these energies inside a space is by dowsing. We usually use a pendulum and our own bodies to absorb and resonate the energies of the land. The fascinating part is that I can do this remotely as well. Some common solutions for a geopathic stress point are to move the bed, to balance it with another element. I use copper and stones depending on the issue. Moreover, these evaluations have to happen on specific days because the energy is not the same each day for performing certain activities.

This approach and assessment allows you to be conscious of what’s happening to the land before you build something, or before you move into a house, and is a basis for everything allowing you to then create a space and optimise well being for the people and their health. It is the first thing I do before starting any project.

The next step is to design something that aligns to the life force, using the ancient teachings of classical Feng Shui. And then you develop and integrate contemporary science, like material toxicity and electromagnetic fields, which are currently the major toxins coming from our built environment. I use classical Feng Shui because that is what I studied, and that is what I resonate with, more than Vastu or any similar discipline.


IDENTIFYING AND EXPERIENCING GOOD ENERGIES

Peace of mind, a calming and grounded emotion – beyond the physical health of a body, this is when your mind and spirit is experiencing good energy. Imagine a trip into nature, to a forest or a lake far away from the urban environment. There is a feeling of being whole in such places. These emotions are sometimes very hard to express because we are unable to understand them.

When we build something that is in alignment with the natural frequencies, it is not only about the alignment with the land energy and all the life force, but also about the use of the materials. Natural materials come with natural frequencies that allow buildings to breathe. And when you don’t have any artificial electromagnetic fields, these frequencies connect to the natural electromagnetic fields of the earth. That is when we get this feeling of being centred and home. Our bodies recognise nature and natural frequencies as our home. This gives them a support system for health and well being.

When we feel good, we function well, think better and are more present. Often, we hear people in urban environments complain that it is harder to feel present and genuinely at peace with themselves. This is because we are detached from natural frequencies, and bombarded with artificial, processed toxins that are unsettling our balance.

THE EFFECTS OF ARTIFICIAL ENERGIES ON HOSPITALITY ENVIRONMENTS

Architects and hotel owners may be unaware of the effects of integrated lighting and electric systems. Our bodies are particularly vulnerable when we are sleeping as this is when all our cells are asleep and recovering. During this time, if we are bombarded by frequencies, toxicity and electric fields that are too high, it disrupts the whole system. wifi and home automation systems create huge amounts of frequencies that are artificial. These are new for us because as humans, we are still adapting to these, and it often leads to disrupted sleep. One solution is to have the option to turn off these systems at night, which is becoming increasingly difficult with greater levels of integration and interiors designed to keep all access hidden and concealed.

SMALL CHANGES IN YOUR INTERIOR CAN YELD TO GREAT RESULTS

There is always a way for designers to make changes to their current projects. The first, most cost effective way is to have an assessment. For an existing space, we should identify the main problems. The intention of a hotel is to make sure the visitors sleep and are well rested, because that’s why people go on holiday. Allow guests access to wifi control in their room to be able to turn it off. Another easy fix is to use insulated or shielded partitions to avoid wifi signals entering from adjacent rooms. Offer circuit breakers or master switches for guests to flick off all lights inside the room, because sometimes, even when a light is turned off, the socket still carries power, thus producing an active electric field constantly. I have done workshops to show people and architects the noise that these lamp frequencies create even when they are off but still connected to the sockets. Also, the design can make sure there are no wires, conduits or circuits running behind the headboard or under the bed.

Synthetic rugs are another major element. They are high in toxicity, creating static electricity and depleting the quality of air by removing or neutralising negative ions. Using natural rugs is a healthier alternative, but not exactly practical for a hotel room, which sees heavy usage. So the way to tackle this is by using natural materials that are sealed with low toxic sealers yet provide the acoustic comfort and feel good under your feet.

The plumbing system also needs to be designed carefully, because if the headboard is placed on the wall adjoining the toilet, the plumbing and pipes running in the wall tends to affect sleep. This is because our crown chakra gets aligned to these plumbing points, which carry dirty or grey water and their energetic patterns.

Small changes in the alignment of the entrance door to the room or altering the door of the toilet to be away from the bed can cause a change in the flow of energy to reduce disturbances in sleep. It is, after all, about the flow of life forces and how it affects us within the space


LIVING WITH TECHNOLOGY

Technology has become an inevitable part of our lives, and we have to start learning to live with it. However, it is possible to have all the technology you want yet use it in a safer way. A few smart options would be to resort to wired connections like ethernet for internet systems instead of completely migrating to a wireless network. This is much faster, and more stable and reliable as compared to wireless frequencies that are blocked by walls, furniture or any entity in their way. This way, we can still have everything we have today with less intrusion of these frequencies into our lives and health. Covers for your phones can restrict radiation when you keep them in pocket.

DON'T WORRY ABOUT WHAT YOU CANNOT CONTROL

I always tell my clients this, because what’s outside our homes is something out of our hands, whereas inside our home or office, where we spend most of our day, we can modify and make changes. This way, we at least allow ourselves to recover. We are not going to be able to stop all negative frequencies. The only way forward would be to protect your home, office and private spaces specifically, and this makes a huge difference. Once you have removed toxins and ‘heaviness’ from these spaces, your body can sleep well, allowing it to recover, rejuvenate and feel more rested.

WELLNESS STUDIES AND CERTIFICATIONS

I have studied various disciplines from multiple places in the last decade, simply to understand disciplines across the world that can be integrated in a space to make it healthier. I studied Feng Shui from Hong Kong (Suzhong Consulting) years ago, Energy Science from Dowser at the Esoteric College, UK, and Building Biology in the US. Currently, there is no one place where you can learn everything. Certifications like LEED and WELL are a good place to start. I, myself am a WELL certified Architect but I somehow feel that these systems are more for companies that could afford them, because the cost of the course and exams are too high, therefore inaccessible and complicated for people without a native English language background. You will need to hire a consultant to understand how to submit and get certified. The course curriculum is structured only with the goal of studying to pass an exam. LEED focuses on sustainability while WELL can be considered as the next generation of the Green Building sStandards, that incorporate the environmentally responsible building methodology, while introducing human wellbeing and performance.

In my opinion, both are great in delivering healthy and sustainable buildings. However, they do not include the psychological aspect of the building and how these can produce an emotional response that creates that feeling of being nurtured. They also do not include the relationship we must create with the earth and the Life Force, which generates that natural connection and emotion given by the intimate connections of the earth, the building and the humans that reside in it.

Whereas, places like the Building Biology Institute, include everything related to material toxicity, ingredients of a building, and how to build in a natural and non-toxic way. It teaches the methods to build with electromagnetic fields that are accounted for, so that you can create an environment that is clean and healthy. The Institute is currently well known in Canada and the United States, but soon we will be able to see integrated courses that incorporate multiple disciplines to reach UAE and the rest of the world as well.


MISCONCEPTION AND COMMON DISBELIEFS

A lot of people do not believe in the holistic concepts mentioned in this article, and this is very common. There is a lot of misinformation about these disciplines. It is important, however, to at least remain open minded and curious, and try to learn things that are beyond our knowledge and understanding without passing judgements. We are not forced to do things we don’t have interest in. But we should always avoid judgements towards the idea or towards people who practise it. I myself have seen a lot of good and bad practitioners in architecture, just as you would have in disciplines like law and medicine, and I understand that there is a lot of scepticism. My only suggestion would be that if you do not know something, don’t be quick to judge. Instead find out more about it and then decide if it is for you or not.

THOUGHTS FOR OUR BUILT FUTURE

I think we need to completely transform design and the conventional construction methods that we have been practising for years, and start designing for health and well being for the long term. We have to take a step back, look at what we have been doing, question everything, and start taking actions to change. There are a lot of companies that follow Carbon Net zero, which is great, but sustainability doesn’t necessarily mean healthy.

Sustainability is a must and is definitely needed. However, all the recycled stuff that we use as materials is very toxic when we put them into our spaces, so we need to find a balance here. Alternative materials, such as ashes from other construction sites are used in concrete to avoid throwing away materials. But, we fail to see how much toxicity is emanating from the recycled ash, which in turn brings up the need to install a mechanical system of air purification inside the building. This is then just a patch, and not a root cause analysis for change.

We should completely question our practices and methods instead of just patching the scenario in hand.

SPACES THAT SERVE AS A GOOD EXAPLE FROM A HOLISTIC PERSPECTIVE

It is very difficult to point to any one place in Dubai or in the UAE that has all the considerations in place, but I have certain spaces in Al Ain, Fujairah and Ajman, that are more connected to the land than the ones in Dubai. An example of a good place with the right frequencies where you can experience the effect of these good energies is the Mzllah Cafe in Fujeirah. The Six Senses Resort in Zighy Bay, Oman and Six Senses in the Maldives, have very well thought out design that gives importance to electromagnetic frequencies and wellness based design.

In Dubai, if I have to go somewhere to relax or to stay, I prefer to look for places in Nature with a high energy in the land. For example, camping in Musandam, there is a beach that is reachable by driving up and down a mountain. I find this spot very calming and always come back enlightened and rejuvenated. That land there is very powerful.