In Seattle, an American architect friend complained to me.
“This Feng Shui is really killing me!”
“What’s the matter?” I asked.
He explained that a client from Hong Kong had commissioned him to design a house – and insisted that, for the sake of good Feng Shui, the door had to face south. But on that particular piece of land it made no sense to have the main door facing south.
I told him that the problem was that his client really didn’t understand Feng Shui.
I have encountered many Chinese who have come to the United States to buy a house. Many have a lot of “impressions” about Feng Shui – there shouldn’t be a tree in front of the door, the entry door should not face a staircase, the rest-room should not be in the center of the house, and so on.
They want to follow these rules, but they don’t really know what the rules mean. Even worse, I knew someone who was eager to buy a house, and was very happy with it – but rejected it just because the number on the door was not auspicious – from their point of view.
Seattle is called “The Emerald City”, because of its abundant vegetation. If there shouldn’t be any trees in front of the door, how many houses would actually be available?
In the old days, the rest-room was dirty, smelly, and generally an objectionable spot. But modern rest-rooms are very different, they no longer represent a undesirable space.
Many Feng Shui books often stress facing south is auspicious – but this is not a universally applicable feng shui principle. The reason it stresses south facing has to do with the climate and geography of northern China. Here in winter there are cold winds and sand-storms that come from the north. Furthermore, in the winter, the sun moves from east to south to west, so with a south-facing house the sun can help warm the house.
There are cultural factors too. In China, the Emperor sits with his back to the north and face south to rule the country. So, facing south is a noble as well as auspicious location.
But this rule is not universal, even in Feng Shui. What about in the southern hemisphere – say, in Australia? Would it still be good to face south?
In actual design, it’s important to consider geography, the form of the land, the climate, cultural factors, and so on. But one should not use low-level rules to over-rule high-level principles.
High-level Feng Shui principles take natural law and Chi monism as its pillars, and uses the Four Features as the design model. This does not mean that there is inevitably a conflict between cultural patterns and Feng Shui principles.
Traditionally the American Indian teepees face east, toward the sunrise. There is no conflict with the feng shui principle, as there is no Mountain feature involved. In South America, where it is hot and humid, people often locate the doors in line with prevailing winds, so that the wind will help cool the house.
In India, there is a design system similar to Feng Shui called Vastu. That system claims that, of the eight basic directions, only facing east and north are auspicious. It’s hard to see how that is in line with natural law – but it is tradition, and people want to follow it for that reason. There are many other features of Vastu design that are very helpful, so having just one departure from natural law may not cause many problems.