"Feng Shui and Healing Architecture"
By A T Mann
(This article is World © ATMann 1996 and was published in "Contemporary Earth Design: A Feng Shui Anthology," Edited by Jami Lin, Earth Design Inc., US, 1997)
It is one thing to understand the theory of feng shui, but if you follow the advice of some practitioners, your house is likely to end up looking like a Chinese restaurant, festooned with bamboo flutes, gaudily painted mirrors and who knows what else. The challenge we face at the present time is to integrate feng shui principles into a vision of architecture, design and interior design that is suitable for those with taste and spiritual discrimination.
My architectural education started in 1961 at Cornell University, and I expected to be initiated into an ancient, magical tradition that utilized shape, volume and movement through time to enhance the environment and humanity. It was therefore quite surprising and then disturbing to realize that no such knowledge seemed to be a part of modern architectural education. Beyond this, I discovered that architects tended to resist self-knowledge in favor of self-assertion. The only magical quality desired by them was to make money and achieve fame. While many of my classmates from that time seem to have learned these lessons extremely well, I always resisted. I expected higher values and had to retire from a successful career in New York City architecture in order to "see the light."
Thus began a very long and frustrating journey in search of meaning, which has now lasted some thirty years. But, I did discover that there are traditions that are ancient but still very much alive, which carry the mystery, magic and spirituality I sought. After moving to England in 1973, I investigated the cathedral schools, Egyptian religion and architecture, Indian thought and its manifestations in sacred architecture, Buddhist temples and Islamic mosques, megalithic monuments, memory theatres and others, in every case looking for the underlying logic and feeling possessed in such great measure by certain buildings and monument which we all know and love, such as Stonehenge, the great cathedrals, the Taj Mahal, the stupas of the Indian subcontinent and many others.
I became an amateur and then professional dowser and was a regular speaker at the British Society of Dowsers, following energy channels through the landscape, on maps, on horoscopes and also through the human body. It is axiomatic that earth energies and body energies reflect and interact with each other. In the mid-1970s I learned radionics, a subtle healing technique that works with patterns for diagnosis and healing the "subtle body" using pendulums as a psychic device. And, for the last 34 years, my primary occupation has been as a professional astrologer, working with patterns in both space and time. Throughout all these years and pursuits, I never lost track of my original love: the sacred in architecture.
I have been using the I Ching regularly for 37 years, but it was not until fifteen years ago that I began studying and using the Chinese art and science of feng shui. Of all the arcane arts of the east, this is to me one of the most universal, tying together like Ariadne's thread most, if not all of the strands I had followed: astrology, orientation, healing, earth energies, the ancestors, geometry, pattern, colour, time and their spiritual interaction.
The Chinese based their art and science of orienting and siting buildings upon the workings of mysterious earth forces that were known as Feng Shui - literally 'wind' and 'water'. Chinese medicine is based upon interplay and balance between the twelve energy channels (the acupuncture meridians) which travel through the physical body, so in feng shui the earth is criss-crossed with energy lines affected by (and affecting) virtually all geographical and topographical phenomena. This means that our environment affects us and we in turn modify our environment by what we do within it. Certainly this is also the premise of healing as well. Meridians carry vital energy (or information) along specific routes and distribute it by various loci and internal organs connected to external outlets. Hundreds of acupuncture points lie along the meridians. Similarly there are forces in the earth and carried by the wind which are connected and can be modified.
My Bua Gua, which I found in a street market in Copenhagen in 1995.
Every earthy and bodily energy contains both yin (passive) and yang (active) components, and for health and good fortune it is essential to have a balance of the two. Yin/yang energies are never separated because everything contains them both in some proportion. The ideas of Chinese life philosophy as manifest in the I Ching, the Book of Changes, is the interplay between these two dancing energies, and both architecture and healing are popular and necessary grounds for their interaction. The cosmic currents are collectively called ch'i', the same term which describes life energy pulsing through the body. The earth currents or energies could be seen as the acupuncture meridians of the Great Mother, who in turn created the polarities.
Feng Shui is a form of geomancy (geographical divination) which utilizes principles such as astrology, psychic and physical phenomena to determine whether the location, form and orientation of a building or monument is auspicious or inauspicious. Like Chinese medicine, it has both diagnostic and therapeutic forms. Buildings that utilize the natural elements of the land and tap into its energy are healthy, auspicious places to live, work or bury the dead, while places that are antagonistic to these energies are unhealthy and inauspicious.
Early geomancers likened the mountains that meander across the spectacular landscape of China to dragons that carry power and influence (for good or evil) over the wealth and happiness of inhabitants of the land. If the landscape dragons remain happy then the people living with and around them will prosper, while if the dragons are aroused by ignorance, insensitivity or maltreatment, they cause bring illness and poverty to the inhabitants, if not destroying them outright. While this seems superstitious or mythic to the extreme, I believe it is an absolutely correct view that we should regard highly indeed.
All natural shapes in the landscape have meaning to the Chinese and correspond to animal qualities that they reflect, so that a particular pinnacle could be a tiger's ear, while a benign mountain might be a protective watchdog. The determination of direction and siting either utilizes these forces or antagonizes them. Not only do they affect the luck of the inhabitants, but it is believed that they determine the prosperity and health of everyone living within their realm of influence. It is common sense to be sensitive to and respect the earth energies within which we live, but this is rarely the case.
It is obvious that the two primary natural forms that must be respected and utilized are water and mountains, although in our modern cities we lose track of this basic principle. Water is the essence of life and is critical for its processes. The flow, location, depth, purity and strength of bodies of water are all considered and used in evaluating the correct location for a building. Similarly, mountains are considered intersections of earth and heaven, and as such dispense energy to the surrounding land. In the analogy of the Tao, water carries the yang or active principle and mountains carry the passive or yin principle: water nourishes and hills separate.
Farming and residential lands must have access to water for many reasons, so mountains and hills are used for special purposes such as siting temples, shrines and burial places. Water flows from above to below, and the orientation of buildings often either goes with or against this underground movement. Dowsers know that such watercourses are indicators of ill health and disruptive energy if houses or other buildings are sited above them, particularly if one sleeps above them. The electromagnetic currents generated by running water can disrupt the human energy field. Similarly, because water originates in mountains or hills and flows down from them, buildings must respect their relationship with those mountains or hills within their view.
The axis of mountains and buildings can be determined and are perceived as points from which energy either emanates or is attracted. The proper siting taps the ch'i of the area at those points where it is closest to the surface. Such places can be easily confirmed by seeing lush foliage, strong trees or rich soil and are reflected in healthy and prosperous people living in them. The veins and meridians of the landscape run down hillsides and across valley sides, criss-crossing to create energetic nodes of activity.
Certain places tap into the beneficent ch'i energy while others are devoid of such benefits and lead their inhabitants to stagnation. Flat valleys, areas without nearby flowing water, or places where the topography is too violent, which could signify a dragon's mouth or lashing tail, are to be avoided. They would bring bad luck and ill health for inhabitants. The interaction and intrinsic harmony of water and mountains is considered essential to the proper siting of buildings. It is obvious that powerful dragons guarding the land need plenty of clear water to drink. The potency of the landscape is determined by the flow of the water. Its clarity shows the positive qualities of the ch'i it carrying through the land, as an abundance of pure blood circulates through a healthy body. However, if the water flows too straight or its flow is excessive, it can be dangerous, susceptible to flooding and therefore an influence to subdue or avoid. Literally the land can have a heart attack!
For most of us these principles ring true, but are extremely difficult to apply to "real" situations. And it is quite rare for an architect knowing these principles to have the opportunity to utilize them in an entire site and in buildings on that site. I have been lucky to have had this chance.
The Perfect Project
In 1993 I was extremely fortunate to be chosen by some friends of ours in Denmark to design a house for them on a piece of land they owned. They are a prominent couple in Denmark, extremely active and committed to promoting co-housing, recycling, alternative forms of energy and particularly a type of land use called Permaculture, where the land is formed to attract animals, winds, the sun for warmth, natural water for irrigation and many other obvious and sensible concepts. They also are very much involved with their spiritual life, it being a family ritual to meditate at 6AM every morning. I realized that for all these reasons my work as an architect would entail enabling them to integrate their spiritual and ecological consciousness within a place to live. It was an inspiring project.
In the early 1990s, they purchased a piece of land is western Denmark which had been called The World University since the 1960s. Indeed it was the place where Yoko and John Lennon learned meditation from the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. They wished to create an ecological co-housing project called Gaia Fjordvang (literally "the earth goddess' place on the fjord") on the property that would enable them "to live more lightly on the earth and in harmony with nature." (Quote from their project book) Although brave and futuristic in concept, the property had certainly seen its ups and downs. The previous Swedish owner had experienced many years of financial insecurity and in recent years of bad health.
My friends had ample finance to redevelop the property as a showplace for their social and environmental ideas. The existing building was a large classic Danish farmhouse composed of two wings in an L-shape facing down a sloping hill towards the fjord. (See site plan.) They had had many site plans made in conjunction with prominent architects from Denmark and other countries, in each case because the architects were so interested in the ideas that they volunteered their services to the project. My friends liked aspects of the earlier plans, but felt they needed someone else to design their own house there. In addition to a house for themselves, they wanted many co-housing units spread around the large piece of land, interspersed with permaculture farming projects, natural crafts, kitchen gardens, animal shelters, etc.
Indeed my friends had made a list that they dowsed to see which of the designers or designs were ideally suited to design their house. Unfortunately, the pendulum refused to select any of the projects or architects. In a sudden act of intuition, they included my name at the end of the list, and the pendulum automatically selected me. So even the selection process, about which I knew nothing, supported the ideas I had been working with for so many years.
Upon visiting the huge site (also an L-shape, about 700m x 400m), I discovered it to be a natural for feng shui techniques for many important reasons. Denmark contains more megalithic earthworks than any other country in Europe, and my friends were fortunate (or unfortunate as the case may be) to have a series of seven megalithic burial mounds, approximately five thousand years old, stepping across the property. As the Chinese revere their ancestors and particularly their burial places, this would immediately cast great seriousness and importance on the way the site was to be used. In some ways I felt initially that we should not build on the site at all.
The site contained much water already, in the form of a stream, the fjord below, a disused well, a pipe for municipal water supply and the clients intended to recycle site water and to create some ponds on the land. Because an L-shaped building is irregular and shows in-completion of some kind, I knew that the new house, which had by law to be quite close to the existing building, would have to remedy some of the existing problems. Indeed, I realized that the financial and health problems experienced by the previous owner were inherent in the site itself. My initial analysis of the site follows. Some of the insights described here came through advice from my friend, astrologer and feng shui practitioner Angel Thompson, from Los Angeles.
The Feng Shui Analysis
I prepared a feng shui analysis of the house project and the property as a whole, both as an educational device for my clients, but also so that any design clues could be collected, correlated and integrated into the design and siting of the house. In the end it was an extremely useful tool with which to work and led directly to elements of the final design of the house.
The Site: The axes of the burial mounds are shown pointing toward the house site.
The site has good feng shui, due to the land sloping towards the water to the southeast, and because the buildings can face the south and its views. The site is shielded from the prevailing westerly winds by a line of trees. From the proposed house site the views are good and the existing building blocks the detrimental western setting sun, from which the house would otherwise have to be shielded.
Ponds near the house (which is a condition of the clients) are good in general, providing they are not too close. When ponds are close there must be circuitous paths to them to disperse the ch'i. The fjord below the property is in a wonderful position, being to the south and east, within view of the house, but not too close. The well is a serious problem. Blocked, disused or poorly maintained wells may become "reservoirs of sorrow and bitterness" or sources of health problems or financial decline. This may well explain why the previous owner experienced such financial and health problems. The well should be neutralized either by making it operable again or planting above and around it.
The access road that extends along the north side of the trees to the house should have a curved or circular ending (or a turnaround) because straight roads that just end create difficult ch'i.
The Neolithic burial mounds are aspects of a Venus Dragon and must be treated with extreme care and caution. Disturbing them would disperse negative energies to all those living on or near the site. According to the School of Forms, the mounds represent the humps of the dragon living under the ground, with the head of the dragon (the largest mound) closest to the house site and the tail leading away to the south. (See diagram) The best approach may be to echo the form of the mounds in the house in some way, i.e., a curved or semicircular end towards the east, a dome or curved roof in that direction, or some other such solution to befriend the powerful forces of the dead on the site. This sounds to me like a very good design motif, and has stimulated a possible building form to be developed.
The Site: The dragon burial mounds move towards the site of the proposed house.
According to the School of the Compass, the two possible orientations of the front entrance (which determine the overall character of the house) are: the water element k'an, the moon and winter, if the north entrance through the line of trees is used; or tui, which is the elements water and fire, the lake and the autumn, if the entrance is from the proposed private garden to the Northwest. A main entrance through a line of trees is not good feng shui, and k'an is more difficult and less benign than tui (wisdom and social interaction) which are qualities most valuable to the clients, so the best solution is for a formal entrance from the Northwest garden, with a secondary (back) entrance from the north through the row of trees. That would also work with our design and organizational ideas so far.
In my early interactions with the clients I spent some time investigating the site and not only dowsed on-site by walking around searching for earth energies, ley lines and watercourses, but also rechecked my findings by map-dowsing the site. Here the clients were very much synchronized with my methods because they had previously encouraged both a dowsing analysis of the site and also a wider range ley line investigation by prominent practitioners of both these arcane arts. There was no doubt that the site was a powerful energy node and as such needed to be treated very carefully. To me it was a bit like working with a large crystal, which contains powerful healing energies but also is a considerable force that requires great understanding and skill on the part of their owners.
The preliminary design I submitted to the clients reflected their architectural needs.They wanted the house done in a style that would blend in with the local vernacular architecture of Western Danish farmhouses. I attempted to satisfy as many of the feng shui conditions as I could within the limited scope of the house project itself.
Jackson House: The crystalline greenhouse reflects and echoes the burial mounds nearby.
The house was to blend into the environment by having structural walls made of stone found on the site. The site sloped some three meters from back to front, so that there would be substantial walls facing the fjord.
The part of the house facing the "mouth of the dragon", as I called it, I felt should both echo the form of the mounds and also reflect and disperse their substantial energies from entering the house. And of course it was natural that the clients wanted to be able to see the beautiful mounds from the house. I therefore designed the bulk of the house with a pitched, thatched roof that softened the roofline as seen from the rest of the site. In the corner of the house towards the "mouth of the dragon" I made into a full-height glass conservatory that functioned as a heat-collection and -retention space for the passive solar heating the building possessed. The corner towards the mouth was curved in a semi-circle of glass. Above the curved windows the glass met at an apex, creating a crystal form exactly facing the dragon's head. This would both reflect the dragon's form and also reflect the low light coming from the detrimental western setting sun, while simultaneously allowing the clients to see both mounds and setting sun. From a distance, this side of the house would look like a brilliant crystal embedded within the stonewalled and thatched-roofed farmhouse typical of the area. (Sketch of the house.)
My clients were thrilled with the first preliminary design I presented to them, yet there were complications. Being a rural conservation area of Denmark it was extremely difficult to get planning permission to build on the property, primarily because of the need to have the co-housing units for twenty families rather than my client's single house. They therefore experienced great resistance from local residents alarmed at the prospect of this influx of people, and also because of the strange ideas and practices of my clients.
My clients also had a teenage son who they had brought from their former house in the Copenhagen area that missed his friends and school. The combination of the resistance of the planning authorities and their son's unsettled state convinced my clients to postpone building the house and moving back to Copenhagen. They did however, keep the property and intend to develop it in due course.
What is particularly interesting is that I had insisted that they have the well opened, whatever course of action they took. I argued that, as owners of the site, they were taking onto themselves the energies of the Venus dragons, which astrologically govern finances and health. Indeed my client owned an extremely successful international investment/currency-trading firm whose fortunes had been decreasing during the time during which the project was developed. After they moved back to Copenhagen they had the well re-dug and reopened. Almost instantly they received the planning permission that had been a formidable barrier to further development, and the money markets took a signal upturn which has continued to this day. And in addition, the relief of having the flow of their lives returns by the combination of these decisions provided them with a new and fresh outlook that had been lacking for many months.
While one could say that these reversals would have happened anyway, but they gave me a great and secure understanding of the mysterious ways in which feng shui works to balance our world.
Mann, A T, Sacred Architecture, Barnes & Noble, New York and Element Books, Rockport, 1993.
Mann, A T and Lyle, Jane, Sacred Sexuality, Barnes & Noble, New York and Element Books, Rockport, 1993.