Thesis – Chapter 3 Planning Literature: 3.3 Ch’i
Thousands of years ago in China, people believed that an invisible energy force called ch’i was responsible for the way certain locations thrived more than others and thus were more sought after and inhabitable. They believed that ch’i was the powerful life force that existed within all things and that ch’i was the single most important factor that influences our lives for better or for worse (SantoPietro, 1996). They saw their fate as inextricably entwined with the creative and destructive powers of vast and awesome nature, and their fortunes bound to the mysterious workings of the entire universe (Spear, 1987).
All matter has vibration. Referred to as ch’i by the Chinese, ki by the Japanese, and prana or brahmin by the peoples of India, this invisible electromagnetic energy radiates in particular patterns from objects of all shapes and sizes. Detailed maps of ch’i in the body reveal pathways of energy called meridians and form the basis of the practice of acupuncture (Spear, 1987).
Fundamental to an understanding of the role of Feng Shui in planning is the knowledge that movement of ch’i is affected by the area through which it flows. It can be slowed or deterred when encountering obstacles like trees, the sides of a mountain, or simply the curves in a road. It can also be energized by moving objects, such as vehicular traffic or even people walking, and it can be accelerated by the inclination of a slope or even by virtue of there being no obstacles, as in the case of a straight, unbending road.
Ch’i enters and exits a structure in numerous ways. It can rush in and out through large windows and open doors and skylights. When a dark room is suddenly illuminated using electricity or candles, ch’i is activated. But the primary entrance of ch’i is through a gateway. Thus the main entrance into a space is known as the mouth of ch’i, and all objects within that space will relate to the flow of ch’i energy as it enters from this primary source.
The words feng and shui mean wind and water, where wind represents the moving energy that you cannot see, and water represents the moving energy that you can see. Thus Feng Shui simply refers to the control of ch’i movement, which means understanding and purposefully manipulating the physical environment to keep the energy moving, not too quickly and not too slowly.
When ch’i moves too quickly, the result can be natural catastrophes like tidal waves, hurricanes and tornados. When ch’i moves too slowly, the result can be stagnation or reduction in the benefits that support us. In quiet garden ponds, fish were thought necessary to add motion, less the water sour and become a breeding place for mosquitoes. Ch’i should be encouraged to slow down and collect, but never should it come to a complete stop (Chin, 1998).
How can one determine where the ch’i is flowing? The simple rule is, wherever the eye goes is where the ch’i goes. The synchronization of the vibration of the ch’i of the person and the ch’i of the space creates harmony for the person in the environment.
One of the first known uses of Feng Shui was in ancient China to determine the most auspicious sites for the graves of ancestors, believing that their position in death could help to bestow blessings on their descendants. Later it was used to site palaces, important government buildings and monuments, until finally whole cities were designed and built according to Feng Shui principles. Hong Kong is one such case in point, and its incredible prosperity is often cited as a prime example of Feng Shui’s effectiveness. An estimated 90 percent of all properties in Hong Kong are built according to Feng Shui principles. The famous case of the Bank of China in Hong Kong, which was reportedly sued by neighboring business because the sharp angles of its seventy-story building impinged on them, is an example of how seriously Feng Shui is taken in the East. There is no doubt that the architect of the bank knew exactly what he was doing and deliberately designed a structure that sent arrow-like killing ch’i energy at its competitors. This is an example of Feng Shui being used to manipulate energies rather than working for the highest good of all (Kingston, 1997).
Balance is achieved through the management of the ch’i energy that moves through the space. To scientifically address ch’i, which weaves itself in and around the study of Feng Shui, we turn to the study of quantum mechanics. “Physics informs us that the basic fabric of nature lies at the quantum level, far beyond atoms and molecules. A quantum, defined as the basic unit of matter or energy, is from 10,000,000 to 100,000,000 times smaller than the smallest atom. At this level, matter and energy becomes interchangeable. All quanta are made of invisible vibrations” (Chopra, 1991, p. 12). This is the essence of ch’i energy, “the quantum principle, [that] the subtlest levels of nature hold the greatest potential energy” (Chopra, 1991, p. 13).
To the same extent that matter and energy are interchangeable, Christopher Alexander, in A Timeless Way of Building, writes that “the patterns of events which govern life in buildings and in towns cannot be separated from the space where they occur” (1979, p. 73), asserting that the matter of the physical environment and the energy of the events that take place there are the same. Yi-Fu Tuan similarly links matter and energy; “we should remember that feeling and its object are often inseparable” (1974, p. 92)
Just as there is an intelligent quantum mechanical body associated with the human body, with its own subtle vibrations, the same is true of the body of the earth and for all matter that is composed of molecules. This means, that to an extent, every thing is alive, carrying its own vibrations, however subtle. The combination of all of these vibrations and resulting energies forms the foundation for what we interpret as ch’i.
When Alexander refers to patterns of events he is essentially speaking of the ch’i energy associated with those patterns. This specifically links his work to Feng Shui, and his process of relating activity to the place in which it occurs, is essentially relating the ch’i of the activity to the environment.