In the early nineties, when award-winning architect Ieoh Ming Pei unleashed his modernist designs in the form of the Bank of China building in central Hong Kong, it spawned a flurry of renovations and reconstructions in its immediate neighbourhood.
Pei, whose portfolio includes the Louvre Pyramid in Paris and the Museum of Islamic Arts in Doha, gave the building an unusual blade-like edifice, which, for the people of Hong Kong still steeped in tradition, was bad feng shui. The sharp edges of the massive building, they protested, would cast negative energy. So concerned were they that architects of the nearby Citigroup building constructed a curved façade, representing a shield, to deflect bad energy emanating from Pei’s masterpiece, while others added ponds and hung mirrors to ward off bad luck.
It might be 4,000 years old, but the ancient Chinese art of geomancy is alive and well, even amid Hong Kong’s breathtaking skyline.
The practice of arranging objects and the utilisation of the elements to achieve harmony in one’s environment has influenced decisions and choices of believers around the world for ages.
And the UAE is no exception.
Dubai-based expert Proshat Sarablou says she has seen her client base rise by almost 50 per cent ever since she moved to the Emirates about five years ago. The “well-being architect”, who started her company, Feng Shui Moments, says more and more people are opening up to the ancient art.
“As people here become more knowledgeable, there is increased demand and they are interested in creating the right environment for their homes,” she says.
“We all want to lead a happy life and this art can aid in that. It is not about having a lot of money and the best home or the most luxurious furniture. It is about arrangements and creating an environment that uses different elements that are beneficial for you.”
Although some misconceptions still exist, the expert says awareness is increasing and people across nationalities and faiths are adopting it. “A lot of people still think it has something to do with religion, which is untrue. Feng shui is an art and it is all about achieving a state of well being and improving your quality of life as a result.”
Sarablou says large UAE corporations are also seeking her expertise, realising the importance of productive and positive work environments. “When I started off, most of my clients were individuals who wanted to make their homes feng shui-compliant. But now the business community is also showing interest and we are working with a lot of offices and workspaces to create a productive environment.
“From choosing the right office space and deciding directions for tables and placement of computers, they all work together to create the right environment.”
Major developers are also joining in the fray. Last week, Hong Kong-based property developer Maison Limited revealed that it will soon build two 18-floor, feng shui–compliant boutique residential buildings in Dubai’s Downtown Jebel Ali. Constructed on four plots with a total land area of 10,000 square metres and a built-up area of 90,000 square metres, the project, to be launched later this year, will strictly adhere to feng shui principles, say developers.
“We are working together with a renowned feng shui master from Hong Kong and will offer a complete feng shui-compliant layout. People in Asia believe in feng shui, which is all about location, situation and flow of energy,” says Maison Limited’s Managing Director Shaya Shamszadeh.
“We clearly believe people who live there will certainly feel the difference, ” he adds. “We expect plot handover by March 2009 and completion by 2011-end.”
Although he did not disclose the size of the investment in the project, the official revealed that the fully furnished apartments will come with five-star services.
According to him, progressive foreign ownership laws and a booming economy are fuelling the demand for luxury properties and projects in the emirate.
“Dubai is on the forefront of international news and is no longer just a city in the world, but a trendsetting city in terms of design and styles of properties,” he says.
“We believe it also offers an excellent opportunity for boutique property developers.”
Downtown Jebel Ali, which is master-developed by real estate developer Limitless, is one of the largest development projects in Dubai, with a projected built-up area of 21.3 million square metres and an estimated value of $12 billion (Dh44bn). The 494-acre, mixed-use urban community is already coming up on an 11km stretch along Sheikh Zayed Road.
Shamszadeh, however, clarifies that his organisation is not exclusively targeting Hong Kong residents for its Dubai project but would market it globally.
“The projects will be launched globally,” he reveals, adding that the feng shui-complaint boutique residential collection will also be launched in Abu Dhabi.
“It will be targeted towards people who are living or spending more time in Dubai. We are looking at creating a global brand, which will be launched in Dubai and then it would be established in other major capitals.”
The Hong Kong-based company’s previous successes have been spread across a variety of industries including private real estate development, fashion and retail.
At the recently concluded home show Al Bayt Al Arabie, visitors had an opportunity to interact with expert Sarablou and learn about the finer points of feng shui.
“It is a great opportunity for our visitors to have another perspective on how to decorate their home,” said Daphne Cota, the exhibition manager of Al Bayt Al Arabie, an annual event. “Feng shui is a very old and respected art and can help provide the inspiration to make your home feel perfect.”
Sarablou also sells paintings created in accordance with the art. “Feng shui aims to achieve strength, harmony and balance. To reach these aims it considers locations, materials, proportions, shapes and orientation and this consideration can be used to improve different aspects of life,” she says. “Sometimes people think it can miraculously transform their lives. It is not magic. It does not change your life but rather helps in the process and aides to make it better. And if a better life is what we all want, why not?”
Feng shui icons around the world
The Feng Shui Institute (FSI), a US-based international resource and research centre for the promotion of traditional Chinese and contemporary feng shui, recently made a pick of some of the world’s icons as faithful to the principles of the ancient art of geomancy. Here’s a list of some of the landmarks you might recognise:
Burj Al Arab, UAE
The iconic structure’s sail-shaped design is an example of earth elements, according to FSI. And because it is a wood-type building, it is bound to receive a lot of support from its environment.
Sydney Opera House, Australia
An architectural landmark of the 20th century, the angular designs of this icon classifies it as a fire-type building and is perfect for housing the arts, according to FSI.
The Kingdom Centre, Saudi Arabia
According to architect Ellerbe Becket, the design is based on historic geomantic principles. In feng shui, this is a metal-type building in a fire and earth-type zone.
City Hall, UK
Resembling a pile of coins about to topple over, this building’s remarkable shape is due to its solar heating. A metal-type building, experts say the design is good for the banking district where it sits.
British Airways HQ, UK
The airline’s new headquarters surrounded by a 280-acre park with three small rivers running through the site is a fire building although it looks more like an earth-type building from pictures.
Kansai International Airport, Japan
Built on a man-made island, this wing-like passenger terminal stretches one and a half kilometres in two parts, and as a water-type building it is perfect for travel.