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Background -- a Historical Perspective on Feng Shui
Introduction -- Feng Shui and the Word Trade Center Site
Yin and Yang
Feng Shui is the traditional Chinese art of life space design, developed and evolved over thousands of years, with the universal goal of creating harmony and balance. Feng Shui has become quite popular in the western hemisphere over the past years, but it has been mostly aimed at individual “self-improvement” or localized interior design problems. With this current interest, it can be easy to overlook the original roots and major applications of Feng Shui, particularly in urban design, but also in the design of burial sites.
In fact, Feng Shui was an essential tool for choosing the locations of, and laying out historical Chinese cities. From the first capital Luo Yang (founded in 4000 BC) to the current capital Beijing (founded in 1200 AD), the principles of Feng Shui have been used to sectionalize functional areas such as the government district, markets and residential districts, as well as planning streets and traffic patterns. Throughout Chinese history, Feng Shui experts have always held important positions in building administration, and they were in charge of all major changes and construction within and outside of the cities. These Feng Shui masters were considered less spiritual practitioners than very practical and pragmatic builders.
Another more spiritually oriented, major early application of Feng Shui principles was in the design of burial sites, which in Chinese are called ‘yin’ houses. Again, the major goals are harmony and balance, such as the balance between honoring the memory of the deceased, the pain of losing a family member, and the need for the living to move forward and prosper. It should be noted that Feng Shui in itself is not a religion of any sort. As a matter of fact, long before major religions were born, Feng Shui was considered a common sense approach to deal with nature and its forces – with an emphasis on common sense.
What might come to many peoples’ minds when they hear ‘Feng Shui’ is arranging furniture in an apartment, placing mirrors to avert bad chi, or even “blessing” procedures offered by some practitioners. How does that relate to the WTC site? Considering the historical role of Feng Shui as outlined in the previous section, the challenges of rebuilding the WTC area are much closer related to the traditional role of Feng Shui than any of the more commonly perceived Feng Shui practices. At the WTC site, a large area needs to be rebuilt in a complex environment, posing in itself both a substantial opportunity and challenge to urban design. One needs to keep in mind that even before the immeasurably painful events that devastated the old World Trade Center, the area was the subject of constant controversy. Now, about one year after the disaster of September 11, when rebuilding of the area is the major focus, a conflict of interests and opinions has come close to a boiling point. The urge to honor the victims and manage the immeasurable pain of their survivors may conflict and compete with the substantial commercial importance of the area, including high-profile investors and local businesses, as well as some of the long-standing previous controversies.
Clearly, there is a strong need for balancing and harmonizing in the planned reconstruction of the WTC site, and the traditional principles of Feng Shui may offer just what is needed to help ensure the success of this project. The following discussion applies to some of the most basic Feng Shui principles and to some of the most critical issues encountered at the WTC site.
Yin and Yang are about the most basic and best known concepts of Eastern Philosophy, used to categorize anything according to its qualities of “male/female”, “dark/light”, and so on. At the WTC site, Yin energy is represented by the old Twin Towers (e.g. in their footprints) while Yang energy will be represented by any new buildings such as new towers planned on the site. Yin energy also represents the people who were killed, while Yang energy represents the people who will work or live there in the future.
Yin and Yang should be balanced, which means the old and new, the deceased and the living should interact in a harmonious manner. It should be noted that Yin and Yang cannot ever be separated completely; within any strong Yang energy there will always be a bit of Yin. For example among the new people and new buildings there will always be a memory of what happened in the past. On the other hand, within the Yin energy there will always be a bit of Yang, e.g., among the pain and suffering from the disaster, there are always hopes for the future.
According to Feng Shui, the Yin should never overwhelm the Yang energy. Therefore despite the overwhelming pain of families who lost loved ones at the site, dedicating an overwhelming part of the area for a memorial would not be beneficial for the community in the long term. Therefore the proportion of the planned memorial should not overwhelm the proportions of new buildings on the site.
The five elements of traditional Chinese philosophy are water, fire, wood, earth and metal. They have been associated with certain characteristics, and their corresponding influences on humans. Just as Yin and Yang, they should not be confused with strict categories of exact Western sciences. They are used to categorize and analyze relations between people and their environment in a conceptual way. The philosophical five elements may often be symbolized or substituted by associated colors, shapes or other architectural elements.
Rather than providing just a static scale to determine the status of things, the five elements have been associated with dynamic interactions. The two most important of these interactions between the elements are described as a production and a destruction cycle. For example, water can destruct fire, while fire can destruct metal, and so on. An analysis, with good judgment, of these dynamic interactions provides a tool to improve the balance of certain situations.
At the WTC, fire destroyed the former buildings, leaving a strong negative influence on the site. As water is the element that destroys fire, a water element must be placed in the memorial section and should be of large proportion to balance the vastness of previous destruction. The proposal of a memorial in form of two pool of water would represent a good Feng Shui approach. It should be noted, however, that placement of a water element need not always be taken that literally. For example, black color can represent the water element. This was used in The Chinese Emperors’ Forbidden City where a wall was painted black to symbolize water and to balance against fire elements. At the WTC, no fire elements should ever be used, while metal elements could be placed but should be of small proportion.
Another important basic Feng Shui concept is the Dragon Mountain; it identifies a tall mountain or (in the case of a city) a tall building that dominates an environment. The dragon mountain is seen as an influential entity that directs beneficial energy to the area or polarizes the surrounding energy towards a well-defined focus point. In psychological terms, a tall building or mountain plays the role of a powerful leader who can unify a diverse set of followers by providing an unambiguous and common direction.
The old WTC towers played the role of dragon mountains for downtown Manhattan, just as the Empire State building represents the dragon mountain for the mid-town area. Ideally, a dragon mountain should be taller than the environment but with the right proportion as not to overwhelm the whole space.
In the WTC area, most of the surrounding buildings are about 50 floors high, therefore at least one tall building should be placed on the WTC site with a height of approximately 75 floors. It should be located on the north side of the area, and the exact position would need to be determined in relation to the other building groups planned on the site.
Traditional Feng Shui theory describes an auspicious environment in terms of Four Spirits: White Tiger in the west, Green Dragon in the east, Black Turtle in the north, and Red Phoenix in the south. In between, in front of the major building, there should be an open space called Ming Tang (bright hall) in Chinese. The Four Spirits may be identified with geographical entities, but need to factor in historical significance and connotations. As a consequence, new buildings are required to account for and utilize older buildings and historical spirit. A good historical example is the city of Beijing: When the Ming dynasty took over from the Yuan in 1368AD, the new emperor wanted to create a new capital but not disregard the previous one. So the new capital was built east of the old one, giving the latter the meaning of White Tiger. Then they built taller buildings in the east to represent the Green Dragon and a manmade hill in the north as the Black Turtle.
In WTC, the old towers were located in the west and would represent the White Tiger. Therefore, there should be some buildings on the east side as the Green Dragon, and some open space in the very front of the site as Bright Hall while the existing buildings on the south side would signify the Red Phoenix.
The practice of traditional Feng Shui has a several-thousand year history. Over this time, common sense and experiences have been woven in a set of rules on how to analyze an environment and harmonize building projects to the benefit of humans. Feng Shui is seen as an essential tool in major construction projects in Asia, and has become a widely accepted source of knowledge in Europe over the past years. For the plans and the process of reconstructing the World Trade Center site in Manhattan, Feng Shui offers time-tested guidelines to create a balanced setting, in the interest of all people living, working, or visiting in the area.