Environmental balance or good design?

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Suzanne Metzger sells crystals as part of her business, Feng Shui Consulting Services.

From the halls of major hospitals to the board rooms of large corporations to small family-owned businesses, more companies are hiring feng shui experts to design their space.
But it’s not a one-size-fits-all proposition.
“Feng shui is different for home offices and cubicles than for major corporations,” said Suzanne Metzger, owner of Feng Shui Consulting Services in Colorado Springs and the author of “Feng Shui Principles.”
Feng shui, literally meaning “wind water,” is the popular name for the ancient Chinese philosophy of nature. Practitioners believe lives are deeply affected by the physical and emotional environment.
So what’s the first thing you should do in the office to make sure you are in harmony with the environment? Make sure you’re facing the door.
“It’s that reptilian brain working,” Metzger said. “One of the most important things is having their desk situated so they can see their door and protect their back. It’s hard in a small office. Some people want to look at the wall, so they can get work done, some want to look out the window. In those cases, we try to have a mirror or some sort of reflective surface.”
People with their backs to the door tend to feel stress more often, and are likely to be tense at work, she said. People also should be as far away from the door as they can get.
But not everyone believes that every feng shui practitioner is remaining true to the principles of the ancient Chinese study of the natural environment.
“Feng shui is related to the sensible notion that living with, rather than against, nature benefits both humans and our environment,” explains Robert Todd Carroll on his Web site, www.skepdic.com. “It is also related to the equally sensible notion that our lives are deeply affected by our physical and emotional environs. If we surround ourselves with beauty, gentleness, kindness … we ennoble ourselves as well as our environment.”
But the author of the skeptics’ dictionary and professor of philosophy at Sacramento City College goes further, saying that the ancient art has become a kind of “architectural acupuncture: wizards and magi insert themselves into buildings …and use their metaphysical sensors to detect the flow of good and bad ‘energy.’ In short, feng shui has become another New Age ‘energy’ scam with arrays of products from paper cutouts of half-moons and planets, to octagonal mirrors to wooden flutes, offered for sale to help you improve your health, maximize your potential and guarantee fulfillment of some fortune cookie philosophy.”
Carroll, who has written books about critical thinking, says that feng shui has been confused with interior decorating.
“Any mumbo jumbo about office décor having ‘bad feng shui’ is gibberish,” he said. “Can interior decorating be beneficial to a business office? Sure. And there are people who study this kind of thing. Believe me, they are not called feng shui experts.”
However, Carroll isn’t a total skeptic, at least on this point: he believes feng shui is “concerned with understanding the relationships between nature and ourselves, so that we might live in harmony within our environment,” he said. “True feng shui is about living with, rather than against, nature.”
While some remain skeptical about the benefits of the Chinese art, others embrace feng shui.
Metzger said she has worked at Penrose-St. Francis Hospital’s cancer center, creating a space for recovering patients at the behest of the hospital’s wellness center. She’s given seminars for employees at the El Paso County Courthouse, and is creating a “feng shui friendly” décor for an upscale coffee shop.
Metzger has studied feng shui for 18 years and started her consulting firm nine years ago.
“I see a variety of people,” she said. “Frequently, I’ll work on someone’s house, and then they’ll show me a floor plan of their cubicle. I just give them suggestions to make things go more smoothly at work.”
Adjusting office décor to feng shui standards is usually very simple, she said. Sometimes, adding a mirror or a multifaceted lead crystal to the workspace is all that’s needed.
And a tidy work surface is very important for feng shui.
“Clutter is a big thing,” she said. “It’s a derailment to chi (energy), so clean off the desk every once in a while. If a company has a cluttered entrance, it will make a difference to the people coming in the front door.”
The entryway is the entrance for chi.
“The main entrance is the main mouth of chi, so clutter will block the energy entering your home or business,” she said. “Boxes or other clutter should be moved. Sometimes, too much furniture makes the clutter. In those cases, put up mirrors or artwork to help break up the clutter.”
Carroll begs to differ. “I don’t believe there is chi running through our offices any more than I believe there are people who can detect which way it’s flowing,” he said.
Feng Shui divides space into nine quadrants, called a bagua. That division should be reflected in every room in a house, and every business, Metzger said.
The most important people in the business should be in the back, and the sales staff should be in the front.
“Whoever handles money should be in left corner,” she said. “That’s the wealth corner. It’s the same for home. The back spaces in the bagua – wealth, relationship, fame – are the most powerful. So, the most powerful people should be there.”
Although Metzger has worked with hospitals and schools, she said it’s difficult to bring in feng shui principles into institutional architecture.
“Schools do a good job, because they have student artwork on the walls; that breaks up the chi,” she said. “Hospitals should do more of that, the chi just zooms down the halls. You don’t want straight lines; that’s bad for productivity and creativity. You want the chi to meander.”