In the past, Chinese emperors designed cities in accordance with feng shui principles. Although cities in China are less explicit in the practice today, it still influences architectural design in places such as Hong Kong. The belief system influence ranges from the layout of an area space to specific calculations on when to install certain objects like an entrance door. Feng shui is so ingrained into Hong Kong’s architectural identity that in 2005, the Hong Kong City University became the first in the world to offer a feng shui course as part of its building and engineering master’s degree program, according to an article in The Guardian.
The basic idea of feng shui is that there is good energy floating around called qi (pronounced Chi), and if you optimize your physical environment, you can channel that good luck.
The HSBC Building, the Hong Kong Shanghai Bank, is often used as an example of applying good feng shui principles. According to an interesting Vox video, the building squares off nicely with the mountains in the back and the harbor in the front allowing good qi to flow. When you enter the lobby it’s noticeably elevated with escalators set at an intentionally weird looking angle to fend off bad luck as it’s coming through a hole in the bottom of the of the building.
The Bank of China Tower, a nearby skyscraper next to the HSBC Building, is often criticized by feng shui practitioners. The developers explicitly ignored the concerns over the sharp angles of the skyscraper design, which would cut the good qi and create bad luck for all the surrounding buildings. The HSBC Bank put up maintenance cranes in the shape of cannons in response to combat the bad qi they thought was coming from the sharply angled skyscraper.
A common feature in the Hong Kong skyline are buildings with holes in the middle. Vox described the holes in the buildings as “dragon gates,” deriving from the superstitious belief of dragons. The reasoning is the dragons live up in the nearby mountains and travel down to the water. If buildings block them they send out bad luck. Vox later clarified that:
“while construction firms have specifically cited feng shui as a motive for putting holes in their buildings, the unique design also has other purposes other than superstition, including heat ventilation and city code compliance. Feng shui is not always a factor in these design decisions but we did hope to show that the belief systems have influenced architectural decisions in Hong Kong.”
Hong Kong’s architecture is a good example of expression in cultural identity. Feng shui continues to shape the urban design layout and is taken seriously among many of the city’s residents.