Have you ever visited an architect for the design of your home? If so, there’s a good chance you’ve heard some fancy architectural jargon that you don’t really understand. Despite that, these often strange-sounding words seem to have a lot of weight in the designer’s philosophy. One such term is Feng Shui, and a lot of architects absolutely love using it.
But what is it exactly? And why should you care?
Feng Shui is a Chinese term that roughly translates to Wind and Water. It’s not a new concept by any means, having originated some 6,000 years ago in China. It used to be a very closely-guarded secret that wasn’t allowed to be spread. Today, however, this philosophy is followed by architects and town planners around the world who wish to promote happiness and positivity through their designs. At the core of it, Feng Shui wants Qi (pronounced as ‘Chi’) to flow freely through spaces. Who would’ve thought that the Qi we’ve all heard of in anime and kung-fu movies isn’t all fiction!
Well, Feng Shui masters believe that Qi, which is a natural form of energy, flows through everything around us. Through Feng Shui, architects aim to ensure that a building attracts positive energy while repelling the negative. And this is primarily done via the placement of the building, its spaces, and the objects inside these spaces.
Since it is such an old concept, there are multiple iterations and schools of thought that have come up. This stays true to the Chinese saying, “For every ten years, Feng Shui takes a turn”. Each school may promote a different way of organizing spaces to achieve good Qi and prosperity. The two most prominent Feng Shui schools are the Compas, and the Form Schools. The former helps designers create layouts with the help of the eight cardinal directions marked on a Feng Shui compass, while the latter focuses more on finding a location that has good Qi. It does so with the use of the Five Elements Theory, according to which Fire, Earth, Wood, Water, and Metal can work together in a constructive or destructive cycle. Making them work constructively is ideal for any building design for the promotion of happiness and well-being.
To analyze the flow of Qi in a space, designers make use of the Bagua, or the Eight Trigrams. Each side depicts a distinct part of everyday life and arranging a building’s layout based on the Bagua is essential to achieve positive Qi. Now, there’s a good chance that all of this sounds too complicated and borderline fantastical, so let’s go over some actionable principles derived from Feng Shui.
Most Feng Shui structures aim to orient themselves with a waterbody in front and mountains at the back. This is because natural elements are a vital source of Qi. The use of sunlight and good ventilation also promotes the flow of Qi, so placing doors and windows in specific ways also comes into play. It is discouraged to place these openings in a direct row, and doors that touch when fully opened are not ideal as they block Qi, leading to disagreements and arguments in the household.
Curves are also a big part of any Feng Shui design. Curved walls and other architectural elements are said to let Qi flow continuously through spaces. At the same time, too many curves may lead to very high Qi, making places a little uncomfortable to live in. For architects, finding the right balance of linear and curved features is, therefore, essential.
If all of this sounds a little too far-fetched, no one can blame you. It does feel like something born solely out of fiction. However, many argue that it’s not. An example of this is the Apple Store at Regent Street in London. The building is oriented so that it’s close to Regent’s Park and sits on a slight bend that’s supposed to be an excellent Qi spot. As the Qi enters the space, it’s allowed to flow in a clockwise direction through the store. There are no obstructions in its way, thanks to an open plan and low benches.
Understanding how Feng Shui can alter human behavior and experience, the designers have also done something quite sneaky here. It is believed that when Qi mirrors the flow of water in an area, it leads to a comfortable environment. In the Northern Hemisphere, water moves anti-clockwise, so the Qi inside the Apple Store should also move anti-clockwise. However, it is made to flow in the opposite direction instead, leading to confusion as opposed to comfort. This was done to encourage users to make impulse purchases and get reeled in by sales pitches more easily. When buyers can’t think logically, they’re likely to spend more money. And before you think this is all pointless, Apple’s Regent Street location actually makes more money than most of the company’s other stores in London.
So, does Qi actually exist? Can designers actually affect the users’ perception of a space, or more crucially, their happiness and well-being by altering it? I leave that for you to decide. What I can say is that when you think about it, a lot of what Feng Shui teaches is just good design practice in general. The use of natural elements, bringing in sunlight, ensuring ventilation, using variable colors, avoiding sharp corners, and utilizing curves are all aspects of architecture that can lead to a comfortable space. Now, whether Qi plays a part in conjunction with such decisions, I can’t say. But there’s no denying that the world of Feng Shui is a truly fascinating one that’s inspiring architects and interior designers to this day.