Feng Shui

Feng Shui is an ancient Chinese system for the harmonious placement of buildings on a site and for the placement of rooms and objects within a building or office. The goal is to allow the free movement of a subtle energy called "chi" that permeates the world. (Most martial arts systems are based philosophically on the movement of this subtle energy.) In Feng Shui, cities and homes are seen as intimately linked with both the landscape and the cosmos. According to one expert, in China, "Every activity involved in making the city, living in it and participating in its life reminded a person of the forces that acted upon their world. They became aligned with those forces and gained nourishment from them"50

Currently, I doubt that many US architects know about Feng Shui, but it should become a major part of green building design in this country, particularly at the residential level, over the next decade. In China today, hardly any building is built or office designed without consulting with a Feng Shui expert.

The Chinese system employs the five elements of wind, water, fire, metal and wood to harmonize surroundings with the energies of the Earth. Grounded in traditional Chinese cosmology and religion, it's based in a country (with a geography like the United States) where the cold winter winds bear down from the north and the warm spring and summer breezes blow in from the south; therefore, it could certainly be used in this country. We find elements of Feng Shui here in the popularity of table fountains for home and office and in the use of fish tanks at the entrance to most Asian restaurants.

In some ways, we already use these concepts without knowing it. The need for daylight and fresh air, natural ventilation, views to the outdoors, places to see long distances (prospect) and places for retreat (refuge), the use of plants and water features in buildings, fountains and koi-filled ponds — all these speak of implicit knowledge and use of Feng Shui design precepts.

In my own home in Portland, I saw first-hand the benefits of using Feng Shui guidance. We had an older home with a large wooden support beam running across the living room and bedroom ceiling. This gave a very heavy feeling to the rooms, as if there were a weight on your head. So we hung a feather from the beam in both rooms, and almost immediately the oppressive feeling was relieved. At my home in Tucson, where a cul-de-sac sometimes results in vehicles facing directly at the house, I installed a mirror by the front door to deflect the harmful "chi" force emanating from them. Feng Shui also instructs us where to place water features in the house and how to avoid designs that let positive energy escape, such as a front door that has a direct line of sight to a back door. Feng Shui instructs the design of an entire house, including the placement of each room, and also informs site selection and lot layout.

Most architects in the US are rationalists and materialists and don't yet know how to incorporate a Feng Shui approach into their buildings. I contend, however, that we are just beginning to learn how buildings affect people on a deeper psychological and spiritual level. If we are serious about building healthy buildings (for healthy people), in which we can live, learn, play and work productively, architects and builders need to learn more about Feng Shui design principles.

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Feng Shui 101

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