Feng Shui dates from before the earliest dynasty in China, when its principles were first
used to locate family graves to ensure good luck for all future descendants. Loosely
translated as “wind and water,” the term Feng Shui refers to the practice of discerning the
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harmonic arrangements of natural elements so as to enhance the flow of the life force, or
Chi; for Western audiences, the term is most directly defined as “geomancy” or
“divination.” In the context of design, Feng Shui encourages a healthy and ecological
approach to the built environment, such that humans and nature live together in the best
possible relationship. In creating a sensitive environment, Feng Shui not only balances
the natural forces of the universe but also cares for the psychic well-being of humankind.
Feng Shui does not deny the cyclical forces of nature, which ultimately ensure that good
and bad luck ebb and flow at different times; rather, its primary goal is to achieve the
optimum balance between contrasting opposites to the benefit of human existence.
Feng Shui’s principles center on the idea that the Chi must flow freely in and around
the human environment. A positive flow of Chi will have a positive influence on
humankind, allowing one’s labors to reach their highest level of success. According to
Feng Shui masters, the Chi can radiate with lesser and greater force up from the earth.
The strength of the Chi can be read from the natural elements and the physical
appearance of a location. For example, mountains and volcanoes show where the Chi has
risen above the earth, whereas arid deserts demonstrate a lack of Chi. Feng Shui masters
can measure the quantity of Chi present in an area by observing the soil and vegetation
and noting the position of natural elements, such as mountains and waterways, relative to
a particular site. Humankind is also an element in determining the relationship between
the earth and the Chi, and the human body can, like the earth, demonstrate a good or bad
flow of Chi. Healthy bodies are seen as a reflection of a good and positive flow of Chi,
whereas sickness indicates an unhealthy element. Because there is no end and no
beginning to Chi, humans can be both the cause and the solution to the negative flow,
such that the person influences the flow of the Chi in the environment or the environment
affects the level of Chi in the person. In either case, the problem can usually be corrected
by following the guidance of a Feng Shui master.
In observing the flow of the Chi, Feng Shui requires that the contrasting forces of
nature be balanced in harmonic arrangements. This principle is explained through the
concepts of Yin and Yang, which are identified by a half-white, half-black circle. Yin and
Yang represent dualities, or opposites, within the Chi, such that together they balance into
a whole. For example, Yin is dark, passive, and female, whereas Yang is light, active, and
male. Generally, these primordial forces are seen as complementary, and they symbolize
the harmony of the universe, for without the one, there cannot be the other. Feng Shui
seeks to balance the two by matching the Yin elements with the Yang. In terms of
landscape, an area that is rich in Yin might lack Yang and thus will not bring good
fortune to the owner. In many cases, however, a deficiency of either Yin or Yang can be
corrected by the placement of certain objects—mirrors, fishbowls, or plants—to reflect
and enhance the flow of the missing element.
Feng Shui masters can further discern the flow of Chi through the use of trigrams.
Like coins, trigrams have two outcomes, whole or broken, which are represented by one
long straight line or two short ones, respectively. Trigrams usually come in sets of three,
thus making eight individual arrangements of long and short lines. Each of these patterns
represents a quality (nature, heaven, earth, thunder, mountain, fire, wind, lake, and
water), and they may also represent family relationships, directions, time, and change.
When properly aligned with a compass, trigrams can ensure that the proper placement of
furniture, doorways, windows, and rooms occurs under the most favorable conditions.
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Trigrams can been seen as types of omens, but they also ensure that the cycles of humans
and nature are respected and remind humanity that the universe is never static.
The principles of Feng Shui encourage buildings to be placed, designed, and arranged
with reference to particularly lucky attributes within the landscape. Feng Shui masters
recommend that houses and offices be sheltered on their north side by a mountain or hill
and that a source of water be placed to the south. Houses should always face south to
appreciate the sun and the fresh winds from that direction, and they should be set up on
the land rather than down in a hollow. In plan, houses should not have windows or doors
opposite each other and should not have sharp angles or tight proportions. Particular
rooms should be located farther from others; for example, the kitchen should not open
directly onto the living room, and the stove should be in the southeast corner. For interior
decor, beds should be elevated from the ground and should not face the west, unless the
resident’s astrology says otherwise. Beds should also not be positioned opposite open
doors or too near the windows, as this will affect sleeping patterns. Other furniture may
be placed according to a Feng Shui compass that directs which sections of the room will
be lucky, thus encouraging the prosperity of the family.
Feng Shui is still practiced today not only the East but in the West as well. In China,
Feng Shui masters are routinely consulted for readings on projects that range from houses
to skyscrapers. Most recently, I.M.Pei’s Hong Kong Bank was positioned according to
Feng Shui principles, with a hill behind it and a gentle slope leading to the harbor in
front. Once completed, the Hong Kong Bank was regarded as having favorably respected
the principles of Feng Shui, unlike its neighbor, the Bank of China, whose sharp corners,
domineering scale, and shiny facade negatively affected the surrounding neighborhood.
Residents complained that the Bank of China’s mirrorlike facade reflected bad elements
back to the neighborhood and that the sharp angles cut into the local businesses like
knives. Since its completion, the Bank of China has not been well regarded by the
population and has had some trouble finding tenants. In the West, Feng Shui has become
popular among designers who respect the principles of harmony and balance with nature,
and Feng Shui experts are routinely consulted for interior decorating and even for
architectural design. Despite their age, the principles of Feng Shui resonate with a
modern society that still strives for a healthy, balanced lifestyle.

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