Making way for feng shui in building design

Finance & Commerce –

From Curt Gunsbury’s new 7west apartments in Minneapolis to Lynn Gordon’s soon to open French Meadow Bakery & Café in St. Paul, feng shui principles are inching into building design and businesses in the area.

In feng shui (pronounced fung shway), every building is believed to possess an inherent energy, known as qi (pronounced chee). The idea is to marshal and promote that energy while keeping out bad forces, according to feng shui consultant Andrew Hong. The Chinese process includes everything from the site of a building and its orientation to the colors and fixtures selected to inhabit it.

“A building is composed of energy, and that energy can be good, or it can be bad,” Hong said. “We want to channel the good energy to our benefit.”

Hong, 71, has been busy as one of the region’s leading practitioners of feng shui. His largest project was the 213-unit 7west apartment building at 1800 Washington Ave. S. in Minneapolis. One of his most recent is the French Meadow Bakery opening in January in the former Coffee News Café at 1662 Grand Ave. in St. Paul.

According to Hong’s feng shui vision of a city, skyscrapers are mountains and freeways are rivers. In the 7west project, he saw a “tsunami” of energy emanating from the Seven Corners neighborhood and began thinking about how to control it.

The biggest change he recommended for the $41 million project was to move the front door to face Washington Avenue rather than an adjacent Marriott Courtyard. “I immediately saw the entrance was in the wrong position,” Hong said.

He recalls that the design team balked at the idea, citing the expense of moving the doors. The entrance ended up being moved because of pressure from the city of Minneapolis rather than adherence to good feng shui principles, he said with a laugh.

Inside 7west, Hong had part of the ceiling carved out in a circle to the flowof energy that comes into the lobby from the street. A large mirror helps “the whole building look alive” by offering a reflection of the lobby and the street.

Each of the five feng shui elements (wood, fire, earth, metal and water) has a color, he said, and they were incorporated into the furniture, carpeting and fixtures in 7west’s lobby. Feng shui puts the fire element on the south side of a building, a concept that led the architect to place a gas fireplace in the lobby facing both the lobby and the street. “It’s very unique. I thought the architect did a great job with that,” he said.

Gunsbury, the 7west developer who hired Hong, said in an email that the consultant has a “keen intellect and an artist’s soul, which together provide a path for sharing his passion for feng shui.” He praised Hong’s work in picking an appropriate groundbreaking date, for making him understand that “energy flows like a river” and for incorporating the five elements into the common areas through color selection and design.

Opening in January, the new French Meadow Bakery & Cafe in St. Paul will display something unlikely to be found on any other retail establishment on the storied street. Two hard-carved “baguas” suggested by Hong will be installed on the roofline above the restaurant’s Grand Avenue entrance.

The octagonal baguas are three feet in diameter. They employ mirrors to protect against bad energy and the “arrows” coming from the surrounding buildings.

“That was a really big contribution to the building’s design. I think it was brilliant, and I would not have thought of that,” said Gordon, French Meadow’s owner and herself a feng shui practitioner. Gordon had the baguas built by Minneapolis wood carver Erik Wyckoff.

For the new store, Hong suggested a water fountain on the back patio. He encouraged rounded corners, something Gordon already practiced in her new Bluestem Bar at 2610 Lyndale Ave. in Minneapolis.

In the Bluestem project, Hong mainly educated the restaurant and bar’s staff about feng shui and suggested a “wealth corner” in the wine tasting room that showcases a gold-colored wall hanging that Gordon already owned. While Hong’s idea for installing a water feature proved too costly, Gordon points out the bar has a blue tile facade that captures the same sensibility.

Several of Hong’s suggestions were “too expensive, way beyond our budget,” Gordon said. “But Andrew was a welcome addition to the French Meadow Bluestem Bar design and illustrated the practical implications of placement orientation.”

Hong’s other projects includereworking the entire interior of Advisors of America Inc. office at 1001 Johnson Parkway in St. Paul and designing an Asian cemetery in the Sunset Funeral Home and Cemetery at 2250 St Anthony Blvd. NE in Minneapolis.

The Singapore native and son of Chinese parents learned feng shui from his grandmother, who did designs in return for food and gifts during an era when women could not accept pay, he said. Hong later immigrated to the United States and says he earned a business degree at the University of Chicago and a master’s of business at New York University.

He came to the Twin Cities in 1990 to work as a financial planner and, eventually, as a feng shui consultant. The Edina resident and visual artist founded the Feng Shui Institute of the Midwest a decade ago with Carole Hyder, a Minneapolis-based practitioner.

Hinda Abrahamson, president of the Minnetonka-based institute, said more businesses have been contacting members over the past few years for help in designing offices and selecting colors with a feng shui flair. Many of those business owners work internationally and have seen feng shui applied in Asia, England and elsewhere, she said, and they want it incorporated into their offices.

But it’s far from a thriving enterprise. “I get a sense on the East Coast many practitioners can make a living doing feng shui, but in the Midwest it’s not our members’ sole source of income,” Abrahamson said.

In 2009 Hong worked on his first, and only, cemetery feng shui project at Sunset Funeral Home and Cemetery. The “Garden of Eternal Peace” features Chinese architecture that included a welcome gate and bench, gingko and evergreen trees.

Hong says much of his design work doesn’t add much, if anything, to the cost of a project, Hong said, explaining that most of the approaches simply make sense regardless of their mystical Asian roots. Good colors and an orderly workspace aren’t at all Asian in origin, he said.

“A lot of feng shui just makes sense,” he said.

By: Frank Jossi
Date: December 25, 2013 10:00am CST
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