The advent of the Chinese New Year of the Rat on Monday isn’t likely to be of earth-shattering – or even minimal – significance for design consultancies. But an ancient Chinese science, Feng Shui, is starting to gain momentum as a business tool in the West, despite its previous hippy image as a philosophy adopted largely by sandal-clad New-Agers.
Feng Shui is the oriental science of arranging workplaces and homes to take advantage of positive energy flow, and clear obstructions that cause frustration and stress. The Chinese have been using it for at least 3000 years, and it’s now taking hold in the West. A number of organisations have implemented it, including mobile telephone network Orange, which has applied Feng Shui principles to its whole UK operation.
And if you consider that businesses in the prosperous Pacific Rim rarely make a move without consulting a Feng Shui practitioner, you could be forgiven for concluding that perhaps there’s something in it after all.
Designers are giving it serious thought, and not only because an understanding of Feng Shui principles is a prerequisite to working in the East. Design Bridge, for example, is currently putting some elements of the system into place in its London headquarters.
“You’ve got to keep an open mind about all this,” says Philip Lawder, chief executive of Design Bridge’s Asia Pacific arm. “As designers, we’re open to new ideas constantly – that’s what we do. And having worked in the Pacific Rim and the Far East, where Feng Shui is seen as a business tool as much as a way of life, Design Bridge is looking at it with an open mind.”
The consultancy brought in one of the West’s leading Feng Shui practitioners, American William Spear, to look around its offices and give “tailored, practical advice”, says Lawder. “Spear was disturbingly accurate and we are now in the process of carrying out very low key things in a concentrated area and monitoring how those things work.”
“The odd wind chime, crystal or pile of charcoal in a corner of the office might appear, and we have been moving desks,” comments Lawder. However, he does add that Feng Shui is more complex than this. “It’s about a logic which goes beyond common sense. It’s intuitive,” he says.
The London-based Feng Shui Network International has been running courses for years, including one for designers and architects. The organisation’s director, Gina Lazenby, claims more and more small businesses are calling for advice on the system.
“Research from the Chambers of British Industry shows that one third of all sick days are the result of stress, anxiety or depression. This amounts to a staggering 91 million days a year and accounts for 3.7m of lost productivity,” says Lazenby.
“If people do not feel in harmony with their environment, they will be stressed. There is a multitude of possible causes, among them poor lighting or ventilation, cluttered rooms, excessive paperwork and awkward desk layouts that obstruct rapport between workers,” says Lazenby. “Feng Shui is a science that allows a practitioner to identify environmental problems and recommend simple changes that get new energy flowing and transform staff morale.”
Lazenby is giving a seminar on the philosophy at the Contract Interiors 1996 exhibition in London at the end of April.
Even if you are a thoroughbred sceptic, it is clear that Western interest in Feng Shui is increasing – witness the fact that Spear’s book Feng Shui Made Easy, which was launched in October, had to be reprinted after only ten days on-shelf. As Design Bridge’s Lawder says, it may be worth keeping an open mind.