Thesis – Chapter 1 Introduction: 1.2 The Essence of Feng Shui
1.2 The Essence of Feng Shui
Examine the two home entrances shown below. Which one makes you feel welcome? Which one repels you?
Figure 1.1 Rosemary Beach, Florida Figure 1.2 Seacrest, Florida
In the Rosemary Beach house, it can be conjectured that the residents are connected to the neighborhood and consider visitors as enhancements, not intrusions to their lives. The gentle curvilinear upward motion of the wall is inviting as are the plantings. Even though the small wall is inviting it still denotes a requirement for a certain amount of privacy. On the Seacrest house, however, the residents clearly want to be left alone and regard visitors as intruders. The sharp point projected directly at anyone who would come to visit is at once discomforting and alarming. Perhaps it will be eased with paint and landscape as the house is completed but the impact of this physical form will affect the residents, as well as the visitors.
This is an extremely simple example and easy to read. But, if the differences were more subtle how could we evaluate one entrance over another or one neighborhood over another? How could we determine if the people in these houses and neighborhoods will be supported by the physical form, or diminished by it?
Design sometimes proposes extremes of form or color, often to make a statement against the status quo. But extremes are seldom comfortable. The novelty may provide interest for a period of time but eventually as human beings we will seek a more balanced environment. Terah Kathryn Collins, founder of the Western School of Feng Shui, refers to Americans as the Goldilocks species, meaning no extremes, nothing too hot or too cold, too large or too small, but always just right; always seeking balance.
Feng Shui provides a means of assessing and evaluating the physical form of a place in terms that can be universally applied. It helps us to address the more intuitive human aspects of planning by responding to the needs of the residents of a neighborhood through thoughtful, intentional assessment and manipulation of the physical environment.
Feng Shui has been in existence for centuries, and many of its concepts in support of environmental balance and harmony have been embraced by planning authors, but not referred to as Feng Shui. For example, according to Christopher Alexander, “a person is so far formed by his surroundings that his state of harmony depends entirely on his harmony with his surroundings” (Alexander, 1979, p. 106). Chapter 3 will reveal some of these connections.
In its essence, Feng Shui is the relationship of a person to their environment. For an individual this relationship is most evident within their individual space, the home and the rooms within the home. Intentional and unintentional adjustments to this environment can have dramatic and immediate effects on the person who inhabits the space. It follows that this relationship should be valid on a larger scale and that logically the physical form of a neighborhood will affect the residents.
Feng Shui provides tools to assist in evaluating space. These include the movement of ch’i or life-force energy, the representation of the five elements—water, fire, earth, wood and metal, and the application of the Bagua or roadmap of Feng Shui to understand where specific energies are accentuated.
This paper will examine how neighborhood development evolved over the last century and what it looks like today. It will provide a background into what Feng Shui is, its terms and attributes, and an illustration of how it can be applied to planning. Feng Shui is by no means a new concept but rather a discipline that embodies the best of what planning writers have written about for decades, even though they never called it Feng Shui.
The goal is to provide an understanding of the impact that adherence to Feng Shui principles can have in planning, not only in terms of intentionally balancing the environment but also in the resulting positive impact on the lives of the residents.
After identification of the pertinent Feng Shui principles, an evaluation tool will be presented in chapter 5 that will standardize the Feng Shui assessment of a neighborhood. Since Feng Shui is universal, this evaluation tool will enable assessment of existing, as well as planned but not-yet-implemented neighborhoods in terms of their ability to support the well-being of the people who [will] live there. This tool will be presented and applied to three case studies of existing neighborhoods to determine how they perform from a Feng Shui perspective.
To strengthen the cogency of this tool a single physical attribute of each neighborhood, the street layout, will be examined. A detailed analysis of this attribute relative to the existing neighborhood case studies will be provided in chapter 7.
Imagine having a tool that would enable the evaluation of an existing or potential neighborhood in order to 1) return emphasis to the harmony and well-being of the residents, 2) help regain the effects of the reliance on intuition that was lost, and 3) reclaim balance through an understanding and manipulation of the five elements. The conclusion will pose possible next steps in utilizing the Feng Shui Evaluation Tool, as well as questions regarding the potential for taking this study to the next level, the city.
“Aristotle . . . summarizes all rules of city planning in observing that a city must be so designed as to make its people at once secure and happy. In order to realize this, city planning should not be merely a technical matter, but should in the truest and most elevated sense be an artistic enterprise” (Sitte, 1965, pp. 3-4).