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Learning from the crazy…

As designers, we frequently exclaim (with complete seriousness and utter confidence), “I really love the feel of the space” or “The space feels really good.”

We are also guilty of talking about design in anthropomorphic terms, saying things like “That building is sexy.”

Yet we are the same designers who are quick to roll our eyes, scoff, fidget uncomfortably and dismiss or merely tolerate Feng Shui, Vastu and other articulate philosophies around the harmony between the built environment and the natural or aspirational one. Why did the Golden Ratio become the gospel of modern, western, design and not another ancient philosophy?

I’ve recently worked with the second client in my career committed to the practice of Feng Shui. You’d instantly recognize this client as they are one you likely interact with on a regular basis. This client has enjoyed fantastic success, is consistently ranked as one of the top companies to work for, and has a top performing business model. They continue to thrive and expand in our new economy. As the years go by they continue to grow, stay true to their mission, live their values and bless the opening of each new space.

This client makes sure each new space they inhabit has not only a solid team of architects, contractor, engineers and designers, but also a Feng Shui expert. While not the ultimate or only driver of the final design, they do insist the design team understand and use the Feng Shui report that evaluates the floor plans and makes suggestions for the location of critical business functions. The result? Spaces people flock to for work, social interaction, shopping, and enjoyment. While I’m perfectly willing to take credit for their success based on our work for them, I must also acknowledge that the Feng Shui report and recommendations were integrated into the final solutions.

Feng Shui, literally translated as “wind-water,” has been practiced for over 3,500 years in China. During that time it has been widely used to orient buildings in an auspicious manner. Depending on the particular style of Feng Shui being used, an auspicious site could be determined by reference to local features such as bodies of water, stars, etc. The cultural revolution of the 1960s was briefly successful in suppressing the practice in China, but today it is as popular as ever.

Feng Shui and many other ancient ideas about the connection between space and how it makes us feel have stood the test of time, changing philosophies, shifting economies, and geopolitics. Isn’t it possible that they are much more than just common sense or crazy tree hugger wisdom?

As our practice seeks to take responsibility for the wellbeing of the users through design solutions it may be the right time to suspend our disbelief and start to learn from the so called "crazy."

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go read my horoscope……

Kate Clemens Davis is a Design Director with Gensler’s Chicago office, the North Central Regional Leader for the Workplace practice area and an Aries. While demonstrating the ability to fulfill a project’s practical design requirements, she also finds opportunities for enriching the human experience through creative space planning and experiential design. From discovery, strategic real estate analysis, programming and space planning to project and construction management, Kate’s diverse experience translates to a thorough understanding of the project’s “before, during and after.” If she weren’t doing this, she is convinced she would be a regular on SNL or 30 Rock. Feel free to contact Kate at Kate_Davis@gensler.com

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