To chime with the Chinese New Year celebrations on 19th February marking the start of the Year of the Goat, I thought I would write a little about the Chinese art of Feng Shui. Translating as ‘wind-water’, this ancient philosophical system is intended to harmonise humans with their surroundings, and is still practiced today. Originally it would take a Feng Shui Master a considerable twenty years to become an expert practitioner, and the main tool was a kind of compass developed from the tradition of astronomy, which predated and yet closely resembled the magnetic compass. Employed to decide the best orientation for a building or tomb, and its most advantageous position within the landscape, the Luopan compass also helped to locate structures in time and space, by relating them auspiciously to astral bodies.
Special ‘Bagua’ maps depict eight human aspirations on a grid, and are still used to correspond the different zones on interior floor-plans with these aspirations, so that if necessary the internal layout of a house can be adjusted to enhance the inhabitants’ wealth, health, career, relationships and so on. As a nerdy teenager I read about Feng Shui and found some of the recommendations both memorable and fascinating, such as not positioning lavatories centrally lest negative energy should spiral throughout the whole house, not storing belongings under the bed or else the qi (life force or energy) might not flow freely through the space causing other problems, and not placing mirrors so that they might reflect negative energy across the vital organs of those sleeping in bed, in case they become ill or have nightmares. Some of the principles are clear common sense, others are more spiritual or astrological and so would be dismissed instantly by many. But one thing is certain, that the Chinese invested in creating such a detailed, structured and ancient system for optimising architecture and interiors demonstrates the value of giving our surroundings the careful consideration they (and we!) deserve.