How Much Does Feng Shui Matter : The Case of the Bellevue Art Museum
We define Feng Shui as the knowledge of the relationship between the energy of an environment and the people who live in it. Recognizing that we are affected by the energy of the environment we live in, we accept the validity of Feng Shui. But that still leaves open the question of how much effect Feng Shui factors have.
In general, the amount of effect is a matter of scale. It is directly related to just how good or how bad the Feng Shui of a place or building happens to be. In other words, it is a matter of intensity. In all human endeavors, there are three related elements: Heaven, Humanity, and Earth – the Time, Human, and Space factors. As in a three-legged stool, each leg is crucial Feng Shui deals especially with the space factor. Thus, when the Feng Shui has a serious flaw, even if the Human and Time factors are very good, the overall effect will not be good.
The recently closed Bellevue Art Museum is a case in point. The BAM was situated in downtown Bellevue, right across from the Bellevue Mall. From a Feng Shui point of view, this was a good energy spot. However, the extremely flawed building design (by New York architect Steven Holl) doomed the Museum before it even opened. People described the barn-red building as a “bold statement” in the midst of the sterility of downtown towers, shopping and traffic. It was certainly bold – shamelessly bold, and stupid. The color is a minor issue: the main problem was the extremely unwholesome form. The building was the equivalent of displaying a dismembered, eviscerated human body, with broken parts haphazardly piled up. It was not even possible to see a central form from which the parts had been broken: it was simply a disjointed heap.
I first saw it in January 2001, when I was taking students on a field trip for my Interior Space Design class. Our project was to analyze Bellevue Mall. We were all appalled – even students who had only taken a few classes could see right away that, from a Feng Shui point of view, the project could not possibly be successful. With such a bad exterior design, it didn’t matter what the interior structure might be like. The building could not be a success.
Furthermore, the door of the Museum was facing north, and it was on a slope that fell off from north to south, leaving it without good support (in other words, no Mountain). As soon as the Lincoln Tower was built at the northeast corner of the Museum this year, representing a “hostile White Tiger” for the Museum, the inevitable happened. The Museum found itself forced to close.
From a Feng Shui point of view, with such a badly designed building, no amount of managerial skill or vision could make the Museum work. Nor is it likely that any other organization would have any future there. The building is simply a waste of $23 million.
This is how much Feng Shui matters.
There is another museum basket case in the Seattle area – the Experience Music Project, generally known as the EMP. The building is a signature design of Frank Gehry, an architect with a world reputation, the recipient of the Pritzker Award. He threw this fabricated steel frame and sheet-steel panel building into Seattle’s favorite public locale, the Seattle Center area. There is no harmony between the building and the land, or between the building and any of the buildings in the vicinity. It is like a bully that has forced himself into a crowd, punching and kicking wildly in order to draw attention to himself. Even if such a person is somewhat restrained by the situation, he can easily hurt someone, if only by accident.
This kind of design might work well in a much more open space – like that of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain (another Gehry design). But not in the Seattle Center area.
The self-centeredness of many modern architects allows them to see only their own design, without having any sense of the other buildings with which it will exist. Their designs thus have no energetic balance with their surroundings. Unfortunately, the style of modern architecture has become orthodoxy – and, as in the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes, no one dares to challenge what everyone seems to accept.
At the grand opening of the EMP, most Seattleites found the building ugly and distasteful – but the news media could only bring themselves to call it “interesting”! It seemed that the media did not want to take the chance of offending the power and influence behind the EMP. The striking, dazzling color was intended to evoke a visceral response – and it does, in a thoroughly negative way. It creates a visual pollution, which on a daily basis affects everyone who lives nearby, or who drives past. And this effect will persist as long as the building exists.
From a Feng Shui point of view, this is naturally a bad design. First of all, it has a negative effect on the innocent public. Second, it has a negative effect on the owner and the institution, which will never be successful as long as they are anchored in that building. Luckily, the owner, Paul Allen, has pockets deep enough to continue to make up for the consequences of the poor design. But this need to pay will last as long as the building exists.
This again is how much Feng Shui matters.
Good Feng Shui is about the harmony between a building and the land it rests on, about its resonance with the immediately surrounding buildings and features, about the wholesomeness of the form that manifests wholesome energy, about the quality of the energy flow both outside and inside, about having good features and interior design that provokes good feelings. Most of all, Feng Shui is about seeing beyond physical form, and seeing the energetic form, since what ultimately affects people is the intrinsic energy that manifests from the physical form. This concept is very foreign to the culture of architecture, which is why knowledge of the Feng Shui principles that derived from the Form School approach could be very useful for architects – and their clients.
Feng Shui matters more than most people think.
© 2012 B