The Feng Shui of Seaside
Published: New Urbanism In Practice – The Newsletter of the New Urbanism Division of the American Planning Association: Volume 5 – Issue 2 – Summer 2007
Life was breathed into the New Urbanism movement when Seaside was built. Seaside embodies a return to the right concepts of community development for the right reasons, manipulating the physical form of a neighborhood to counteract the ravages of sprawl. But is there more to it? Are there concepts lying beneath the surface that help to ensure the success of New Urbanism?
Feng Shui has been in existence for centuries, and in its essence, is the relationship of a person to their environment. For an individual this relationship is most apparent within the individual space—the home and the rooms within the home. Evidence suggests that adjustments to this environment can have dramatic and immediate effects on the persons who inhabit 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 its residents.
energies are accentuated. The Form School interpretations of Feng Shui concepts, relative to neighborhood development, can be expressed and consolidated into six categories, Balance and Harmony, Connectivity, Community, Street Design, Supportive Ch’i, and the Application of the Bagua.
So what happens when these Feng Shui categories are applied to a New Urbanist neighborhood such as Seaside, compared to conventional neighborhoods?
In a community, Balance and Harmony are expressed through maintaining a balance between the built and natural environment and creating buildings at low heights to complement and harmonize with the land. Balance is further achieved when residential uses are complemented with shopping, recreation and institutional support. While this clearly describes Seaside, other 1980’s neighborhoods had few if any provisions for mixed use to provide balance. Further, twenty-five years ago there was less interest in green space or in specifically providing a balance between the built and the natural environment.
Connectivity is expressed through architectural form that is sensitive to the natural landscape, sidewalks that connect the individual elements within the neighborhood, and street systems that connect the neighborhood to other neighborhoods. New Urbanism focuses on connectivity through sidewalks and adherence to the pedestrian shed—a well documented departure from neighborhoods that preceded it. In Seaside, walking paths connect all aspects of the community. Seaside is also well connected to WaterColor, its neighbor, and to other communities along the shore via County Road 30- A.
Community is expressed through signage that denotes and celebrates the uniqueness of the neighborhood, the physical closeness of structures, variety in housing types, and the existence of porches [outdoor rooms] and other gathering places that enable community to naturally occur. While many conventional neighborhoods have houses on larger lots which feature closed, uninviting garage doors as the primary architectural element, Seaside boasts houses with generous inviting porches and many intimate public spaces where people can gather to share meals, recreation and communication.
The Feng Shui of Street Design is generally expressed through a relative balance of curved and straight streets and the appropriate use of each to control the movement of ch’i through the neighborhood. Ch’i tends to move slowly on curved narrow streets, and conversely, too quickly on wide straight streets—often resulting in accidents. Many conventional neighborhoods have wide streets with no parked cars or strategic vegetation to slow things down. The clear open path invites speeding as the ch’i energy moves too quickly. In New Urbanism, a focus on reduced street widths helps to mitigate the rushing ch’i—slowing it down so that fewer accidents occur. In Seaside, on County Road 30-A, the ch’i is slowed by narrowing the street width and providing traffic calming measures.
Supportive Ch’i is expressed through healthy vegetation, the presence of life-giving water in some form within the neighborhood, buildings with inviting entrances, and the proper management of necessary clutter, such as trash collection, utility and HVAC equipment.
Perhaps the most interesting expression of Feng Shui can be found when the Bagua map is applied to the neighborhood. Feng Shui is very specific in its delineation of how ch’i energy is represented within a space. The
Bagua (pronounced bah-gwah) is the map that illustrates the location of the universal energies that affect every aspect of our lives. The Bagua can be applied to a room, a house, a building, or a neighborhood. It provides guidance as to how the functions within a community can be energetically enhanced through intentional siting of the built environment to align the use with the specific energy that supports that use. An example would be the placement of a Community Center in the gua that represents the energy of community, or a bank placed in the wealth gua.
When we refer to the Bagua, we generally mean the figure. If we wish to speak of one part of the Bagua, we use the term gua. There are nine guas in Feng Shui that correspond to the primary energies in our life. The normally 8-sided Bagua is often expanded into a square (Figure 1) so that the placement over a room, house, or tract of land is more easily achieved.
Where we enter the space is called the mouth of ch’i and helps determine the orientation of the Bagua, since the mouth of ch’i will always be along the lower edge. That is, depending on where the door or gateway to a space is located, the entrance would be into Wisdom/ Knowledge/Self-Cultivation, Self/Career or Helpful People/
The Self/Career gua is located in the center of the bottom of the chart and supports the energy of self, and the life purpose of the people who reside in the space. In this gua, the ch’i is generated that supports vocation.
The Wisdom/Knowledge/Self Cultivation gua is located in the bottom left corner. Following Self, the energy here supports the ways in which we are able to improve and better understand ourselves through the acquiring of knowledge, and hopefully the resulting wisdom.
The Family/Community gua is located in the middle left side of the chart and supports the energy that represents family
heritage, as well as friends and community affiliations. Since this gua deals with ancestry, it also represents the past.
The Wealth/Prosperity/Power gua is located in the upper left corner of the chart and supports the ch’i that influences finances, as well as the myriad of things that represent prosperity to us.
The Fame/Reputation gua is located in the upper center of the chart and supports the energy that represents how one wants to be known or remembered, how we feel about ourselves, and what we would like to accomplish in this life.
The Relationship gua is located in the upper right corner of the chart and represents the energy that supports relationship, not only romantic liaisons, but also relationships with friends and business associates.
The Creativity/Children/Legacy gua is located in the middle right side of the chart and supports the energy that represents the future and those things to which we give birth, meaning not only our children but also those things that we create with our minds and our hands.
The Helpful People/Travel gua is located in the lower right corner of the chart and supports the energy that represents helpful people, referring to all those who assist us in our lives. All aspects of travel are also included in this gua.
The center of the Bagua connects all of the other eight guas and is represented by the yin-yang symbol . Health related issues are addressed and reinforced in this area. Good health is a result of good ch’i flowing through all the areas in our lives, and all of these areas being in balance.
The center is also the intersection of all of the individual guas, and speaks to the balance achieved when all of the individual areas are in harmony. For example, Career is directly related to Fame/Reputation, and balance between the two is essential for success. A similar relationship exists between Family/Community (past) and Creativity/Children/ Legacy (future). Wealth/Prosperity is seldom achievable without the assistance of Helpful People, as our ability to be helpful is frequently tied to the willingness to share our prosperity. The ability to make a Relationship successful is based on the Wisdom gained through experience, and a large part of Knowledge is frequently a result of our experiences in Relationships. Thus the center of the Bagua is pivotal as a representation of the balance of all of the guas, and health and harmony are the results.
Applying the Bagua
Before the Bagua can be applied, the mouth of ch’i must be determined. Typically, the entrance to a site will be fairly clearly demarcated by the ingress from the highway. Once identified, the Bagua is overlaid on the site and forms within each of the guas are examined to determine their effect on the people in the development. Generally, sites are anything but square, so applying the Bagua will allow the planner to see if guas and the associated energies are missing, and to determine how big an issue this could be for the people there.
In the case of Seaside, where County Road 30-A passes through the space creating two entrances, the mouth of ch’i is a bit more difficult to ascertain. The mouth of ch’i is where the energy naturally enters a space. Generally, with a house, it is the front door, but there can be confusion if more than one entrance appears on the front of the house. It requires the planner/reader to look for other clues to determine or intuit where the ch’i energy comes in. An examination of a map will generally help. The source of the greatest amount of ch’i entering this development is water energy from the ocean, and for that reason the mouth of ch’i appears to be on the ocean side. This means that the Central Square and beach shopping area are in the Self/Career gua, making this the natural entrance to the neighborhood. Beyond the intense energy from the ocean, this conclusion is further supported by the physical street entrance to the Central Square area, which seems to define the Self of the neighborhood.
The application of the Bagua to Seaside reveals many subtle connections. The Feng Shui is read by overlaying the Bagua on the plot. Then each gua is examined to understand what it contains and how the activity of the people in the development might be affected.
Seaside is especially curious because of its shape. One notices immediately that the Wealth/Prosperity area is almost completely missing. Since Seaside is potentially a retirement community, wealth is less of an issue, since that has already been achieved by the owners of the residences. The wealth ch’i is more of an issue for them where they currently live. As far as the visitors who lease these houses are concerned, they are not in Seaside long enough to be dramatically affected by this missing energy. But more important is the ocean to the south of Seaside, constantly projecting water ch’i (water symbolizes financial resources) across the community and easily making up for the missing gua.
Of particular interest is the mouth of ch’i, in the Self/Career area which includes, most notably, the market, the post office and the amphitheater. This is balanced by the gua directly opposite, Fame/Reputation, which contains in its center the chapel. When we think about what Seaside represents as the “poster child” for New Urbanism, the market area in Self/Career speaks to the marketing of this newly revived concept in planning. The post office, dead center in the gua, indicates communication about Seaside, and the post office is surrounded by the amphitheater, suggesting amplification of that communication. What planner has not heard of Seaside? Furthermore, the form created by the shape of the buildings surrounding the Central Square seems to embrace the amphitheater as it embraces and supports the ideas being communicated. The Feng Shui of these guas could not have been more perfectly designed to communicate to the world the story represented by Seaside.
The Self/Career gua typically represents how we come into the world. The birthing of New Urbanism through Seaside, and the subsequent communication of the concept to the world is further enhanced by Fame/ Reputation as the model has gained understanding. Many devout New Urbanists wave their banner with an almost religious fervor and reverence, signified here by the chapel. On the map, we also observe the shape of Forest Street as it transects this gua. It curves outward, its form suggesting an expansion of the ideas of Seaside, being pushed out into Fame/Reputation with the chapel. This energy of this expanding form also helps to offset the missing part of the gua.
One disturbing feature is the cemetery in Fame/Reputation. Feng Shui teaches that people should never live near death energy. Early Feng Shui teachings warned about living near churches, which seems odd, but the issue had to do with the cemetery attached to old churches, not with the church itself. Currently there is no person buried in the Seaside cemetery, only Bud, the Seaside dog. But the plan is to actually use the cemetery at some point, which could have negative consequences, not only for the health of residents in the contiguous houses, but for the development as a whole. Consider the impact of death and decay energy on the Fame and Reputation of Seaside!
The Street, Robert’s Way, in Helpful People/Travel and Creativity/Legacy, speaks to the way that Seaside’s founder, Robert Davis, created the community (his way) with knowledge gleaned from his travels, all of the helpful people who assisted with the intense creativity of this endeavor, and the legacy of Seaside which will certainly live on.
The naming of streets is significant as well, especially where cities that were models for Seaside were used as street names. Savannah, Georgia as a resource runs through Helpful People/Travel and Creativity/Legacy. In Wisdom/Knowledge, the resource of Natchez, Mississippi is indicated as a source of knowledge for Seaside. Ruskin, a reference to the 19th century father of Arts & Crafts, is used for two streets, and Ruskin Place is Seaside’s Artist Colony. Its location in Health/Balance denotes the importance of balancing Art with all the other disciplines.
About half of the relationship gua is missing. Relationships are less of an issue in a transient beach community, and the missing area implies that strong community relationships are probably not formed here. A relationship with good health is indicated by the tennis courts and sports areas within the gua. Interestingly, the relationship to the past is indicated not only in the use of the vernacular Florida cottage as the basic house form, but specifically in this gua, through the naming of Venice Circle. In the book Seaside, reference is made to a Venetian neighborhood as an historic guide in the use of harmonious proportions to create a pleasurable and humane environment (Brooke, 2005).
One important point that should be noted is the presence of fences. In the original charter, picket fences are required, with the caveat that there can be no duplication of fence design on any single street. In Feng Shui, fences tend to gather ch’i and keep it from dissipating. So the positive, supportive ch’i from the ocean is held and maintained surrounding each residence.
This evaluation of Seaside can be a bit more complete because Seaside itself is so famous, providing the ability to research and confirm the results of applying the Bagua to the physical form of the community. But we are applying Feng Shui to a community that already exists, and serving merely to confirm that the application of Feng Shui has a degree of validity. What would happen if we were to apply Feng Shui principles to a community in the planning stages? Feng Shui is wonderfully adaptive. The plan that would support the management of ch’i energy for a community of young professionals would be very different from that of a retirement community. In the former, focus could be placed on the physical form of the Wealth/Prosperity gua, and in the latter Health/Balance would be more important. The point is that the lives of the people living in a community are affected by the physical form of the community itself.
New Urbanism is making people and planners look at neighborhoods from a different perspective by challenging the status quo of everything from alleys to zoning. By examining how people want to live, rekindling their need for community and connectivity, and questioning why things have to be the way they are, more livable and sought after communities are being developed. New Urbanism is a major step in regaining a human focus in planning.
Planning with Feng Shui principles is the next step. It will allow a planner to take what is already known, and elevate it to a higher level of sensitivity and understanding. Deliberate encouragement and manipulation of the natural life force energy can affect the well-being of the inhabitants of those settlements, and can lead to greater harmony, a stronger sense of community and a higher quality of life.
Published: New Urbanism In Practice –
The Newsletter of the New Urbanism Division of the American Planning Association
Volume 5 – Issue 2 – Summer 2007