The Intersection Between Feng Shui and Biophilic Design

Maureen Calamia, author of Creating Luminous Spaces, has written a blog post on how to combine the areas of feng shui and biophilic design, read Maureen’s blog post here.

The Intersection Between Feng Shui and Biophilic Design

Feng shui is an intuitive art that has been practiced for thousands of years. It was built on the observation of nature, common sense, and gut instinct and was used to locate the optimal places for survival. But today, the primary goal is to enhance success in life. Feng shui is a language of metaphor that requires attention to the feel of spaces

On the other hand, biophilic design was developed in reaction to our modern, technology-driven lives. It is based on researchthat shows access to nature and natural elements decreases stress and improves our feeling of wellbeing. 

How are they alike? 

Through four millennia in China, feng shui has evolved into many different schools and branches. It absorbed the culture, folklore, and technologies of its era. 

Biophilic design was created for our time. It has absorbed the culture and technologies available to us now. 

But at their core, they are the same. They harness the power of nature to heal body, mind, and spirit. They help us thrive in our spaces. 

Both disciplines acknowledge our deep subconscious yearning to live among healthy, vibrant natural environments. In these spaces we are hard-wired to feel more alive!

Our emotional freedom, our spirit, is nurtured and supported by those environments which are themselves alive” – Christopher Alexander, architect

Biophilic research confirms many of the basic principles of feng shui. For instance, in feng shui command position is the location for a bed, desk or chair that provides a view of the entry to the room. Its biophilic design counterpart is “prospect and refuge.” Both provide a feeling of safety and security which allows for greater focus, rest, or productivity. 

One is an art, the other a science. One is yin, the other is yang. Different sides of the same coin. Nature nurtures our spirit. 

In my practice, Re-Nature Consulting, LLC, I work with both biophilia and feng shui simultaneously. Biophilic design provides yet another language and of tools, which may appeal to a wider, and sometimes, different audience. 

In commercial spaces I tend to use the language of biophilia. My clients are often more interested in how my recommendations will impact the bottom line rather than contribute to a feel-good space. These spaces tend to have limited access to nature and are traditionally more yang. For instance, there are hard surfaces, lots of equipment, harsh light, lack pattern and sterile white or gray walls. 

On the other hand, most residential spaces have much more access to nature and the goals of my client are to “feel good.” The language of feng shui is more suited for these conversations, however, biophilic design is always a part of my work. 

Here are some connections between feng shui and biophilic design. The language is different, yet their goal is the same. 

Location & Vitality of the Land – In both disciplines the land itself is #1 importance. In feng shui, the best site has good “landform” for protection from the winds and plenty of fresh flowing water. There is diverse vegetation and wildlife. In short, the ecosystem is healthy and alive. It has vitality. It also can sustain development and habitation. In both systems, we want to maximize healthy nature views for the inhabitants. On the spiritual side, this healthy ecosystem translates to a sense of place and belonging to the earth.

Orientation of the structure – The compass directions are an important factor to harness sunlight, reduce energy consumption and in determining the layout of the space. Understanding our need for natural light, both feng shui and biophilic design seek to create a layout incorporating the best locations for activities depending on the time of day. Both systems consider the orientation of the building as it relates to land features, such as water, hills, mountains, and roads.

Movement & Chi Flow – In our built environment, a prime consideration is how people move through the space. Pathways should allow for comfort and ease to get us from one point to another. In feng shui this is called the “flow of chi”. Paths that are narrow, long, and straight will funnel people quickly and awkwardly. Paths that are wider and provide more space will allow people to slow down, linger and feel more comfortable passing each other.

Placement/Personal Orientation & Command Position – Personal orientation and placement within the space are key to a feeling of wellbeing. Windows should allow for natural light to penetrate the building, as well as provide views of nature. “Prospect and refuge” is the biophilic design counterpart to “command position.” Research shows that people are more relaxed and can function better when they have protection from behind as well as a clear view of the space before them. 

Sense of place – As our modern culture becomes one big melting pot, our sense of place is disappearing. When we use local materials and acknowledge our location, we honor and respect the land and people that came before.

Variety & Yin-Yang – Diversity mimics a healthy natural environment. Feng shui calls this “yin and yang.” Biophilic design calls this “information richness.” Environments that have complementary opposites, such as soft and hard, sunlight and shade, textured and smooth, dark, and light, a panorama of color and shape, satisfy this need for variety. 

In feng shui, the five elements (wood, fire, earth, metal, and water) are further expressions of yin and yang. These elements guide us to bring nature into our spaces. From Eastern philosophy, the five elements are not just the natural materials of each element, but the energy, images, and deeper representations including color, shape, and esoteric symbols. For instance, gentle water sounds represent calmness, stillness, and contemplation, and therefore, water contributes to ideal place for study, quiet, and meditation. 

How are they different?
Because feng shui has evolved over the years and has diverse methods and practices, not all feng shui is biophilic in nature. Not all biophilic design is feng shui.

For instance, in biophilic design, land with a deep ravine at the back might be appreciated because of the nature views and possible wildlife living there. But from a feng shui perspective, this back area, representing the store of resources and money, would be lacking support and would be a detriment to the inhabitants of the land. 

Biophilic design does not address basic architectural design concerns of chi flow. In feng shui a narrow, long hallway, which would create “rushing chi.” A wall opposite an entrance to a space that would impede the flow of chi. 

And perhaps some good feng shui spaces, might not be good from a biophilic design perspective. There is always more to learn about how they interact. 

But one thing is clear to me: There is great synergy in bringing these two disciplines together to create both human and earth friendly spaces. 

Maureen K. Calamia

Creating Luminous Spaces

Use the Five Elements for Balance and Harmony in Your Home and in Your Life

Fun with feng shui. The Five Elements of feng shui refer to an ancient Chinese system that brings the cycles and benefits of nature to your home interior. Part spiritual growth workbook and part treatise on the power of nature, Creating Luminous Spaces brings an energy boost to home interior design.

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