Answers to Some Questions from a Student of Interior Design.
January 16, 2014
Happy New Year! This is the first blog post of the year. I have been helping a university student doing her final year thesis assignement on feng shui and design, here are three interesting questions that she asked me with my reply. Please feel free to make your comments, since your input will help her broaden our understanding of feng shui and design as well.
1) What has influenced you to apply Feng Shui into your design?
HC: Three things have influenced me to apply feng shui into my design:
i) A traditional built form in China, whether it was a house, a village or an old town, has always been done in an harmonious way with its environment, this is somehow due to the influence of feng shui, so I would like to use the principles underlying feng shui to do the same with my design. I think the more complex our society becomes and faster it is moving, modern architecture needs to be more simple and slow down to compensate for the inbalance and feng shui can help us to achiecve this.
ii) In the Daoist Five Arts 五術 Feng shui belongs to Xiang Shu 相術 or the Art of Observation and Gestalt psychology maintains that “the human eye sees objects in their entirety before perceiving their individual parts, suggesting the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Further, the whole is anticipated when the parts are not integrated or complete. Gestalt psychology tries to understand the laws of our ability to acquire and maintain stable percepts in a noisy world. Gestalt psychologists stipulate that perception is the product of complex interactions among various stimuli. Contrary to the behaviorist approach to understanding the elements of cognitive processes, gestalt psychologists sought to understand their organization” (Carlson and Heth, 2010), so I feel the way that we learn to see from a feng shui perspective would help me come to a design that is more holistic and comprehensive, able to satisfy the physical, the emotional and the spiritual at the same time.
iii) The San Cai principle in feng shui can help us to achieve this effectively, because we not only learn to observe what is above (heaven Qi) and what is below (Earth Qi), but also what is in us (Human Qi – both the architect and the clients) as well. This holistic approach may not produce a feng shui style but it has a feng shui depth to it and it is basic to all good design.
2) How would you determine whether Feng Shui really works or it is just superstition?
HC: Feng shui works when it is practically efficient and ritually correct at the same time. By being practically efficient I means the result is simple and straightforward, cost effective without any unnecessary and superficial “decorations” that works in a “wuwei” 無為 way in harmony with its environment. By being ritually correct I mean the result is in keeping with the context of the site, it looks and feels “ziran” 自然 (being self-thus) and it satisfies the social, philosophical and personal needs of the occupants. This is the criterion that we use to judge the result of our feng shui architecture and built-forms, including interior and graphic designs. Feng shui becomes superstitious when the practitioner fails to understand the basic principles involved and how these principles are applied in technical applications. For example, the principle of Yin and Yang is not fixed; their technical application depends on the context of the situation and the reference point used. A mountain can be considered yin or yang compared to water, it depends on whether we are looking at it from a height point of view or from an activity point of view and so forth.
3) How has Feng Shui affected modern designers? (or it hasn’t made an impact to modern designer?)
HC: From what I can see in the west Feng shui has not made much of impact on modern designers because most of them don’t want to bother, thinking that feng shui is just an old Chinese superstition or a “New Age” fade. But I hope in the near future, when a new generation of Chinese designers learns to appreciate their own culture and they will look to feng shui for a unique source of inspiration, things will change. If the Japanese can come up with a modern “Japanese” architectural style that is universally acceptable, I am sure the Chinese can do the same one day and most likely it will be influenced by feng shui principles, even though they might not use the term feng shui because it is politically incorrect. In a few of the modern designs that we can see coming out from China, like the works by Atelier Feichang Jianzhu Beijing and Amateur Architecture Studio Hongzhou, I think the days are not far off. What they have produced is not just a superficial “Chinese” style, but what we called in feng shui a “Xing Shi” (Form and Configuration) 形勢 way of locating a built form in the existing environment, so it is in keeping with the “Ben Xing” (essential characters) 本性 of a given site, both in the man-made form and the use of color and material.