How can Feng Shui apply to Urban Design?
Authors from Camillo Sitte in the 19th Century to Christopher Alexander in the 20th have taught the principles of feng Shui without referring to them by this Chinese term. Understanding that everything is energy, we begin to see how the physical form and physical activity can have an impact, even subliminally. Feng shui allows us to look beyond the paradigm of urban design that we have been taught to see things from a different perspective.
As humankind has progressed through the centuries, facts, figures and physical laws have replaced the intuition that guided us through the earliest times. Feng shui provides a way to reconnect with this innate and ancient knowledge, and specific guidelines for creating spaces that mutually support the earth and its residents. The way the residents feel about the form and layout of the community creates the connection that helps ensure not only the success of the community, but more critically the success of the inhabitants themselves.
The concepts are not difficult; in fact, common sense enters again and again. For example, “What we see from critical points in our homes- the front door, the kitchen window, the bedroom window- affects our self-worth”. This can take on new meaning in an affordable housing development, where the views may not be the best available. Imagine opening your front door to face a dilapidated overgrown property that has become a dumping ground. What would that view do to your self-esteem day after day? Certainly, it would be ideal to purchase the property and change it, but if that is not possible, at least block the view using fencing, trees and shrubbery. This is a problem with energy, both the physical form and the activity associated with the property, and that negative energy affects those who come into contact with it, even visually. It seems perfectly logical and easy to fix, but we have to recognize this as a problem before we know that it needs to be addressed.
Affordable Housing is an arena where feng shui can have significant impact. Certainly it has value in any development, but the potential for positive results in a neighborhood where people have limited resources is particularly strong. Using feng shui becomes a gift from the developer to help protect the prosperity and well-being of the people who live in the community, the people for whom we plan.
Feng shui is all about balance, harmony, connectivity, and community – principles which relate directly to good urban design. Good designs are typically balanced and harmonious in terms of building height and mass, access to natural light, and the balance of green space to the built environment. Connectivity can be found in trails, street design, access to transportation options and the general flow. Community can be found in diversity of building types and prices, the creation of space for gathering, and in identity. These myriad elements help to determine how we feel in a space. The value in feng shui is that it takes these things from a level of ‘feeling’ to the level of conscious choice, allowing us to mindfully choose better, more supportive environments.