The Five Elements In Your Outdoor Living Space This Spring

When planning any home improvement project, and then being happy once a project is done, achieving a certain amount of balance in our homes is often the deciding factor in how we feel about our spaces for years afterward. This is because as we balance the elements in our spaces outwardly and that very often leads to greater balance inwardly, too.

Outdoor space
Image Credit: O R Landscaping, Inc.

This isn’t just some lofty spiritual idea. There is practical real world value to be found in how you feel in your space once you’ve completed a project. So, with that in mind, what’s a good way to achieve this balance when you’re planning to re-invent an outdoor space?

Let’s take a look at the Five Elements as they are represented in Japanese philosophy, and how using those elements in your outdoor space can help you create a sense of well-being while you’re in it.

1. Earth

Let’s start from the ground up. And pardon the pun. The earth element (aka “do”) relates to things that are fixed, physical, and reliable. On a literal level, this can include earthenware and /or stone pots for container gardens, with the objects themselves representing that which is taken from the earth. This also takes in pavers and other hardscaping materials, which represent solidity and a certain focus and clarity, too.

Symbolically speaking, the Earth element is about that which we can count on, and about our sense of connection to what is solid and dependable in our lives.  It also connects us to nature, to something larger than ourselves. In an outdoor space, this goes beyond practicality and decorative value – which are just as viable goals of course. It’s about our sense of well-being and feeling of security in our spaces, too.

2. Fire

The Fire element (aka “ka”) is about energy and movement. Of course you can take this very literally as well by investing in a fire pit or gas heaters for patios. But, you can also apply the idea of fire by thinking about the kinds of things that you will be engaging in while you’re in an outdoor space to make it an active space in your home and in your life.

Outdoor space
Image Credit: DesignMine

The first thing that leaps to my mind is outdoor dining, perhaps with an outdoor kitchen as well, where the act of cooking, eating, and animated conversation is extended into a backyard among friends and family. The idea is to contrast the fixed nature of earth elements, and adding something that is less static, and more variable. This is about making an outdoor space a hub of activity as well as adding literal heat; places to play, to connect, to be welcoming to all.

3. Water

When we talk about the Water element (aka “Sui” or “Mizu”), what we’re talking about is that which has a changing form, and is slightly unpredictable too. Once again, you can go the literal route with adding an actual water element. Water features of all kinds and designed for spaces big and small help to add the flowing and formless nature of water in a space. And as we know, water has a soothing quality to it, even if it’s kind of chaotic by nature.

We can also apply plants to this equation as well, constantly growing, changing shape, changing color, and always engaging our eye as being constantly in flux, like water itself. Maybe that’s why we love to be surrounded by plants so much. They represent adaptability, growth, and vitality. Gardens, large and small, help us to connect with this important element, and are useful in bringing things into balance, even in our thinking.

4. Wind

From the ground upward, we reach the Wind element (aka “Fu” or “Kaze”), which represents another type of growth that we saw in the Water element. This is about room to breathe, and a sense of space, making allowances for other possibilities. Once again, you can turn to weathervanes and wind chimes to get a sense of literal wind movement in your spaces.

But on a more conceptual level, capturing the Wind element means creating gardens, decks, paths, structures, and centers of activity that don’t get in each other’s way. It’s also about being open-minded, and leaving room for things we haven’t yet thought about, but may become important later. The bottom line is that over-planning a space down to the square foot all in one go may be something to avoid. Instead, let the space itself play a part in what form it takes. This element is about a very important element that we encounter in our lives in general; mystery.

5. Void

And speaking of mystery, the Void element (aka “ku” or “sora”) represents the things that we can’t always readily identify in a physical way, but hold to be important. On a decorative and planning level, this can include physical symbols of what’s important to the way we look at the world; statues of cultural significance to us, decorative signs with meaningful proverbs or lyrics that reflect our values, or any object that connects with an idea that’s important to us.

This element is about the imagination, and our own founts of creativity and sense of purpose. It’s about things that can’t be physically measured, but help to define our identities. It’s often about the principle that we held to more so when we were children; a sense of wonder. And as such, this is the element that is most attached to spontaneity and intuition.

The sixth element

The five elements in Japanese philosophy as applied to planning an outdoor living space is highly subjective, of course. There are really no hard and fast rules, as you may have noticed above. But, this is a good thing! Because there is a sixth element to be considered here and that is your own experience, and perception of what your home means to you, and how those first five elements help to communicate it. No one knows this better than you do.

And so, when bringing out the meaning in all of this, maybe that’s the most important element of all; your personal vision. However you eventually work out that important balance, here’s hoping that this will be the season that you get closer and closer to the outdoor space you’ve always imagined for yourself and for those in your life.


Rob Jones is the Editor-In-Chief of the Buildirect blog. He has been a writer since he was able to pick up a pencil, with passions ranging from music, film, history, literature, architecture, public transit, city planning, and interior design. His eight-year old daughter is currently teaching him to love Rhianna as he teaches her about Gladys Knight. Rob on Google Plus