Feng Shui Architecture ~ What is our Philosophy?

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Studies show that in excess of 90% of experienced Australian and Hong Kong architects (122 senior architects responded) with no formal training in feng shui at all, use their perceptions and skills to locate a building on a site and provide the interior layout in a way that concurs with the ideal Feng Shui model of the “form school”. Architects are not instant feng shui grand masters skilled in the ways of taoism, but are extensively trained and skilled to provide a practicable and comfortable living and built environment. It is simply trite to say that architecture can provide good shelter for humans.

* 8 * Alfred Street Hurstville NSW

Humanity enjoys the freedom of fantasy and desire and dwells in the subconscious and the unconscious as well as the conscious mind. Can architecture in its earthly context adequately house our humanity, that is, our humanity in the sense that Heidegger would mean when exploring the question of being?

Architecture is more than shelter, more than Viollet Le Duc’s romantic sketch of the primitive hut in the landscape, more than just a dumb box in a form derived singularly by its function. It is also more than a built form carefully positioned in the landscape by poorly informed feng shui advocates.

It is a fundamental precept that all buildings communicate and that is, I think, unavoidable. Architecture is an art that communicates ideas. It is in contrast to the vernacular by expressing a heightened understanding of the devices that it has employed to share its message. At a basic level for example, architecture will attempt to express the character of its occupants and to communicate its function. It expresses feelings and emotions and it promises sensory experiences to those who would interact with it. Architecture, like much art, poetry and music, is an empathic pursuit.

Complimenting the pragmatic pursuits of building design by reference to program and function, Architects concern themselves with trying to communicate their art through built form, relying on human interaction. However, communicating clearly in built form is not an easy task because both space and form are abstract ideas requiring an understanding that is sophisticated and at the same time primal, it is concurrently sensual, emotional as well as intellectual. To “get it” requires a holistic understanding of the language of architecture and its context and cultural constructs current at the time.

Architecture engages memory and metaphor, syntax and symantics and it is interlaced with science, ecology, sociology, history, philosophy, art, music and poetry for instance, with potentially all of the mythical, ritualistic, sexual and theoretical human intellectual pursuits. It can incorporate indulgent conversations between architects and indeed other artists or disciplines, or heaven forbid, conversations in built form with its patron. Furthermore it’s intellectual pursuits are not limited by the constricts of time. It can involve discourse with the past and at the same time influence the future. It can be real or virtual or both real and virtual. It can be as ephemeral as an unrealised idea or as permanent as the pyramids.

More easy to appreciate, is the idea that communicating using esoteric signs and symbology, form and space, is likely to be communicated in a dialect that will inevitably be lost in time as entropy overpowers it. To take the simplest example, the function of a building could change with the next occupant but the building form will potentially remain the same, that is, meanings derived from function in architecture are notoriously dynamic whereas buildings are inherently permanent, therefore the communication of the intended meaning is easily obscured by change over time.

Not the least unexpected is that communicating function and intent may be far from clear from the resulting building from the outset.

In the case of a building’s function, vernacular architecture might resolve such issues simply by changing the sign over the door. That in itself is fascinating given the current propensity for architecture to be graphics driven. However, placing a sign over the door does not answer “why” a built environment has been constructed in the manner and form that it has.

1 Alfred St Hurstville NSW

A discontent man will be troubled with these questions but understanding them might effortlessly flow with an existential approach. Our true nature is that we are essentially limited participants, not masters, of the world which we discover. These concepts become intelligible by virtue of being part of an ontological world. We find understanding by accepting a holistically structured background of meaning rather than chasing meaning from ideas that are pigeonholed and then picked apart and perhaps examined piecemeal by reference to a set of pre-determined feng shui rules found on the internet or in a book.

Architectural concepts can only be disclosed through practical encounters with the built environment, its context and through a growing awareness of the language of architecture.

Feng Shui and philosophy

The practice of feng shui has ancient beginnings and is mainly concerned with understanding the relationships between nature and ourselves so that we might live in harmony within our environment. (Robert T Carroll) It naturally originates by reference to taoist philosophy, starting from the premise that everything is inter-related. Understanding taoism is necessary to understanding feng shui. Taoism is a proponent of the idea that man is inescapably part of nature and we are bound to all of her universal laws so we ought live with nature rather than against her.
Chengde, China (1984)

In his blog Robet T Caroll puts taoist gestalt well:

“It is also related to the equally sensible notion that our lives are deeply affected by our physical and emotional environs. If we surround ourselves with symbols of death, contempt, and indifference toward life and nature, with noise and various forms of ugliness, we will corrupt ourselves in the process. If we surround ourselves with beauty, gentleness, kindness, sympathy, music, and with various expressions of the sweetness of life, we ennoble ourselves as well as our environment.”

Chengde, China (1984)

Importantly taoist thinking observes that everything is so by virtue of its own, by virtue of the qualities that they possess. The chinese word for this concept is ziran.

Taoist philosophy teaches that the tao that can be told is not the eternal tao. That is by reason that everything is forced to change to a natural stasis which is always changing. The same kind of observation was made in the second law of thermodynamics.

Summer Palace Beijing (1984)

Feng Shui advocates speak of the theory of yin and yang, wu xing and the concept of Qi to describe the relationship of the parts that make up the universe. They subscribe to the idea that the wholeness of the universe is polarized into two forces, whose interplay is the base of existence itself. There is a very cyclical feel to this, for example there is creation, involution, evolution, and finally a return to the source.

Suzhou China (1984)

Feng shui advocates say that they “feel the qi lines of force” and try to predict how the proposed man made incursion will affect the qi pattern, possibly avoiding Sha Qi or bad vibes, for want of a better description in english. The concept has an ephemeral basis that is entirely sensory in the field. Sha Qi travels in straight lines and follows along straight paths such as fences, roads, canals, power lines, pointy things, sharp things, poison arrows and so on whereas shen qi is said to be more difficult to detect and flows in synergy with the environment. Apparently there’s not enough shen qi to go around. To concentrate shen qi you basically need to re-direct it, potentially at someone else’s expense. In an urban environment it’s easy to appreciate that arguments over sha qi could get nasty.

Chengde, China (1984)

Fortunately, there are things that you can do about sha qi. Hanging a large pair of scissors in the window along with a mirror for example, can apparently cut up sha qi and reflect it from whence it came. Of course, if you use the wrong symbols, or accidently deflect shen qi, then you can simply make matters worse for yourself. Clearly changes in the environment can predictably be met with much concern and potential disruption. These consequences, heated debate and unpleasantries disrupt the way. Because the environment is constantly changing, then your attention to these seemingly small environmental details must obviously be vigilant and ultimately become natural to your sense of being.

Advocates of feng shui are therefore mindful of changes they make in their environment because it could impact them. What is less understood is that instigating changes to your environment could impact on your neighbour and adversely create dispute, bringing sha qi upon yourself. That is by reason that everything is inter-related. Obviously to be a taoist, one must be mindful and considerate.

Fragrance Hill Beijing (1984)

Thinking of the Heidegger question of being, in taoist philosophy consciousness itself is probably momentary.  It is the perception of Tao that one has in this moment in time.  What my consciousness is now is not necessarily was it was a moment ago or what it will be a moment from now.  Consciousness is fluid.

Thoughts on being are not dis-similar in modern culture.

“Your atoms don’t care about you, indeed they don’t even know you are there. They are mindless particles after all, and not even themselves alive. Consider that, if you picked yourself apart with tweezers one atom at a time, you would produce a mound of fine atomic particles, dust, none of which has ever been alive but all of which had once been you. For reasons unknown, your atoms will close down, then silently disassemble & go off and do other things, and that’s it for you. Survival on Earth is tricky. You must be prepared that everything about you changes ~ your shape, size, colour, species, everything. You have to grow fins, limbs, sails, you laid eggs, flicked the air with your tongue, you were furry, lived in the trees, lived underground, as big as a deer, as small as a mouse, and a million things more. Consider the fact that for 3.5 billion years, a period of time as old as the mountains, rivers and oceans, every one of your forebears on both sides has been attractive enough to find a mate, healthy enough to reproduce, and sufficiently blessed by fate and circumstances to live long enough to do so. Not one of your pertinent ancestors was squashed, devoured, drowned, starved, stuck fast, untimely wounded, or otherwise deflected from its quest of delivering a tiny charge of energetic material to the right partner at the right moment to perpetuate the only possible sequence of hereditary combinations that could result, eventually and astoundingly and all too briefly, in you” Bill Bryson.

The latter quotation forms the basis for my understanding of being.

Summer Palace Beijing (1984)

Feng Shui however seems to take another step. It leads down a branch of what can only be described as magical thinking. It is a culturally specific version of crossing your fingers. I have no difficulty with accepting that feng shui assists those who would support it. It seems a simple case of mind over matter.

Chengde, China (1984)

Let me put it this way, if I can believe that architects can speak to us through the buildings that they design, then who am I to argue that other inanimate man made and natural forms do not tell someone with a determined sense of perception other things?

Primitive Hut source: http://diaphanous-ness.blogspot.com/2008_01_01_archive.html

Ronchamp #1 Source: http://hanser.ceat.okstate.edu/2003/new%20pages%2001/2003mt27sld.htm

Ronchamp #2 Source: http://www.alovelyworld.com/webfranc/htmgb/fra066.htm


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