On Wind-Water

The Theory of Architecture comprises interpretation and critical commentaries on the architecture of past, present, and future.  Most theories exert a wide and beneficial influence on the era. Such thoughts are criticized and transformed with their implementation and the way they are spread to the masses. Feng Shui is one such theory of the past that guides in design thinking and construction for a better living. 

Feng Shui (风水) “wind-water” is the art of ancient China, which manifests architecture in terms of invisible forces that binds the universe together into energy, called “Qi”. It is an intangible form of energy, solely responsible for providing the ‘breath of life’ to everything. It is believed that it flows under our feet, floats above, resides inside us, and changes the environment through transforming and constant movement. Based on this concept of Qi, Feng Shui believes that everything is formed by the circulation of Yin Qi and Yang Qi. This contrast relation in the nucleus between the positive and negative leads to neutrality and balance in the micro or macro-environment. Feng shui uses Qi to form a unified connection between humans, the built environment, and nature. At its core, the philosophy of Feng Shui embodies holism, circulation, balance, and transformation, interpreted by the concept of Qi and the theory of Yin Yang and the Five Elements. Qi itself an unexplained phenomenon Feng Shui becomes a mystical pseudoscience at times bordering on superstition.

Originally Feng Shui was the soul of Chinese architecture for five thousand years. The earliest record of it dates back to the Pre-Qin period in books like Shang Shu, followed by the Book of Burial by Qingwuzi in the Han Dynasty, The Book of Burial (276-324 AD), the first written literature on the Form School which states that there are five primary elements of the Form School: Chi, Wind-Water, Four Emblems, Form, and Direction. Quoting a glimpse of “The air is scattered with the wind and is blocked by water.”  It also describes the law of house and methods to interpret Feng Shui in buildings through the combination of nature and geomantic omens.

Feng Shui Architecture has a profound impact on Chinese culture and ideology. Various texts and illustrations contain the philosophy of life, an outlook of nature with space and time, and the value of knowledge and humanity. Landscape Architecture, selection of sites, and construction stand as the main factors in Chinese architecture. It strongly advocates keeping the balance and harmony between the human and the ecological worlds. 

The Forbidden City, today called the Palace Museum located in the northern city of Beijing, is constructed on the laws of Feng Shui. The Palace went through numerous changes in the layout through various dynasties, due to false Feng Shui theories and implementation.

Besides the palace, cities in China were also built based on Feng Shui. Tekes in Ili, Xinjiang was mapped in the Eight Diagrams Picture, a tool used by masters to map a location. Qiu Chuji, a famous Taoist from the Song Dynasty (1127 – 1279 AD) discovered that the site had majestic mountains, flat plains, and water. Present-day Tekes is a historical landmark in the study of Feng Shui. Built by a famous Feng Shui master Gua Pu in the Jin Dynasty, the Wenzhou city was orientated on the south riverbank, this allowed abundant sunshine to the houses.  This city is also evident in how the adjustments in Feng shui took place, as five ponds and sixty-four water bodies were constructed to adjust the layout of the city. To add to it the region’s mountainous terrain (Chi Vein, spots located at the foot of the mountains in Feng Shui) provided protection from enemies over the centuries.

Before and after the 20th Century liberation, Chinese history clearly shows a drastic change in faith of this concept. The decline of the imperial system gave a heavy blow to the theory and implementation of Feng shui.  Only in the 20th century, due to international attention, these ancient principles got a new meaning. For instance, The Sydney Opera House designed by Jørn Utzon was discovered to have followed Feng Shui rules without a master. The structure is said to draw energy from the Wind and Water to itself and the city, that surrounds it.

In a broader context, the city of Hong Kong has a major influence on Feng Shui. The planning and building orientations are said to have brought wealth and prosperity to many businesses. During the design of HSBC Bank Headquarters (1979-1986), Norman Foster + Partners consulted a Feng Shui master.  Thus, the building instead of a ground floor incorporated a hollow atrium for the passage of Qi. The escalators in the atrium were placed at an angle to prevent evil from the upper levels. Moreover, due to false feng shui principles, like sharp and angular edges in the adjacent Bank of China Tower by I.M Pei. Two cannon-like structures were mounted on the roof of the HSBC building to deflect this cut through the energy back at the river bank.

Feng Shui now dominates the Hong Kong skyline with other structures like the Jardine House whose façade is treated with circular reflective windows, according to Feng Shui these round shapes indicate the sun and coins and are associated with heaven and wealth. Whereas, The Repulse Bay has the most striking features of Feng Shui, the dragon passage, an uninterrupted gateway for invisible dragons which in turn create positive Qi.

In 1995, Donald Trump hired Pun-Yin and her father to make changes in the development of his Int’l Hotel & Tower project. To increase his foothold in the real estate prominent changes were made in the building. The most iconic of it is the metal globe that stands before the building intended to deflect the negative energy produced by the traffic in Columbus Circle. The entrance was shifted from the Columbus circle to facing the central park.  Furthermore, the reflective tea-colored glassy exterior is said to absorb the positive energy from the sky.

“You don’t have to believe in Feng Shui for it to work. I just know it brings me the money”, this statement by Donald Trump paints a picture of how feng shui was looked upon in the western world after the building was done. Though, according to The Guardian, Trump is neither the most profitable real estate developer nor is he the largest. But the flurry of media attention from Trump’s tower not only made a name for Pun-Yin, but it also introduced a very foreign concept of Feng Shui into the mainstream.

Due to a rise in Asian financers in the past decade, the western and modern interpretation of Feng Shui is now inclined towards upliftment in real estate investments. For the design of financial projects, architects and designers have started consulting masters for design layouts and orientation of the structure. Steadily Feng Shui is also becoming an aspect of interior designing with a basic sense of placements of furniture, use of color, and adding metal and wooden elements to the house. But according to an architect Steve Robinson, based in Santa Fe practicing Indian architecture, “Feng shui is becoming so popular in the design field that Robinson said he fears it will lose its traditional roots. “It’s on the verge, I’m afraid, of it becoming somewhat of a buzzword,” he said. “We’ll have to survive that. It’s far more powerful than that.” With the rise of awareness of this ancient practice, it has also become a New Age “vibe” which sells inauthentic metaphysical products that guarantee fortune and health.   

Most of the guidelines used for the design processes is more or less addressed in the concept of Feng Shui. The label changes its origins and way of use. For instance, the Vastu Shastra in Indian architecture has its own principles and values, whether as forefront or subconscious ideas for a project, these guidelines ultimately provide the well-being of a space. The concept may induce contradiction to our wild imaginations, but it can add harmony and spirituality to these imaginations. Instead of focusing on the literal applications of Feng Shui in our designs, architects can focus on this beautiful process of thinking. Elegant slits and openings for majestic dragons to pass don’t seem such a bad idea after all.


  • Body, Mind, and Spirit: Feng Shui Applications for a Healing Environment Prototype.

Author: Shou-Jungi We, Florida State University Libraries. 

  • Traditional Feng Shui Architecture as an Inspiration for the Development of Green Buildings

Author: Su Bo, Faculty of Civil Engineering and Mechanics Jiangsu University, China. 


Author: Choopong THONGKAMSAMUT Assoc. Prof. Vorasun BURANAKARN, Department of Architecture, Faculty of Architecture,Chulalongkorn University.

Author: Z. Zhong & B. Ceranic, Faculty of Arts, Design and Technology, University of Derby, UK

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