Here Be Dragons: How Feng Shui Shapes the Skyline of Hong Kong – 99% Invisible

Hong Kong’s skyline is crisscrossed with huge voids. huge holes in the middle of tall towers seem to defy aesthetic or structural logic. and the reason for this unusual architectural choice? dragons.

Dragon hole in Hong Kong by Tim Hill

Dragon hole in Hong Kong by Tim Hill

Such “dragon gates” are designed to let these mythical flying beasts pass from their hilltop homes down to the water each day and then return again each night. Considering the flow of dragons, air and energy is just one part of a much larger phenomenon: feng shui.

Reading: Dragon gate feng shui

“Scorned by western skeptics as a strange new age, the art of feng shui is serious business in hong kong,” writes megan belt. “Feng shui, translated as ‘wind and water,’ comes from the ancient art of geomancy, or connecting with the energy of the earth.” Among other things, feng shui deals with the relationship of buildings to the natural environment, including mountains, seas, and skies. Proper positioning and flow paths are considered critical components of good urban feng shui.

Dragon gates in Hong Kong via A Passport Affair

Hong Kong waterfront via A Passport Affair

Following the Cultural Revolution, the practice of feng shui was seen by many on mainland China as needlessly superstitious. Yet in Hong Kong it persisted. Today, it is estimated there are as many professional practitioners as there are accountants or lawyers. While the scope of feng shui is also much broader, it deals with a variety of things in the realm of real estate, including interior design and urban planning.

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Feng shui diagram by Anna Hape

Feng shui diagram by Anna Hape show balance of five essential elements

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“Everything from the orientation of a building, the shape of the building, the position of the entrance and position of furniture within are believed to influence the prosperity of a business or the homeowner,” writes Kaushik. “Feng shui practitioners are consulted in almost every new home [or office plan and purchase]. Even enormous architectural and engineering projects around this island nation are dictated to a large degree by feng shui … examples of feng shui practice are almost everywhere in Hong Kong.”

Architects, even famous ones, ignore feng shui at their peril.

a tale of two towers

bank of china tower

Bank of China Tower, image by Shepard4711

The sharp-edged Bank of China Tower by starchitect I.M. Pei was broadly criticized for failing to employ geomancers in developing the design. Concerned feng shui experts saw the angular shape as “cutting” the good fortune of adjacent buildings.

Since then, the skyscraper’s poor feng shui has been blamed for adjacent business failures and other mishaps. many of the structure’s floors remain empty to this day.

hsbc tower

HSBC tower with feng shui deflectors aimed at BOC tower, image by Tom Mascardo

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Nearby, the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank building by Foster & Partners did take into account the advice of feng shui experts. Its architects have been lauded for their efforts, taking flow paths and views into account in the orientation and construction of the building.

Still, the hsbc building has to deal with the energies of its disadvantaged neighbor. Thus, maintenance cranes have been mounted on the top of the building that look like cannons as deflectors of negative energy. these are aimed directly at the i.m. pei structure.

fighting towers hong kong

Banking District in Hong Kong featuring BOC and HSBC towers, image by Brian Sterling

Some see this all as superstitious, but for Norman Foster, feng shui was a practical consideration as much as a cultural one: “If a building has good feng shui,” he said, “it’s probably also a good place to be.”

In fact, the popularity of feng shui (and its resurgence inside and outside mainland China) goes beyond the principles of spiritual harmony. many designers see their dictums as guidelines for good design, whether or not their practitioners accept the larger spiritual or philosophical context.

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