Feng Shui is an Asian tradition that uses energy as the foundation for understanding life forces to design living and work environments that promote harmony. It concentrates on promoting a positive energy flow while avoiding or neutralizing destructive energy flows. In literal terms, "feng" means wind and "shui" means water. In the Chinese culture, gentle wind and smooth water bring good health and good harvest. Harsh winds and stagnant water are associated with disease and famine.
While Feng Shui has often been criticized by skeptics as a pseudoscience, the basic principle behind it, that environment affects our well being, does have a wider level of acceptance. In 1984, for example, a researcher by the name or RS Ulrich conducted a study which found that post-op patients placed in recovery rooms facing windows recovered much faster than patients in recovery rooms facing a brick wall. If we take this and other studies like it into consideration, it does seem that our environment influences our level of well-being (and possibly our behavior) to some extent.
Although Feng Shui laws governing the placement of hexagonal mirrors and fountains seem a bit dubious, it wouldn't be too much of a stretch to believe that Feng Shui would still have some good ideas about the placement of tables, chairs and other pieces of furniture to create an optimum environment. This got us to wondering what Feng Shui had to say about the layouts of meeting and conference rooms. We did a little digging, and this is what we found out:
Positions of power (1 = most powerful)
The position of power in any meeting and conference room, as far as Feng Shui is concerned, is in the rear of the room. The rear of the room presents a good view of the rest of the room, thereby putting you in a position of power. The location farthest from the door holds the most power, according to this ancient art. Sitting with your back against the wall while having a clear view of the door provides the optimum position for your desk or meeting table no matter what size room you're in. Not only does it put you and your employees in a position of power, it increases everyone's concentration, focus and productivity.
On a practical level, this makes sense. Sitting with your back to the door, a place where someone could approach you without you knowing it, has the potential to make anyone feel uneasy--especially in feudal Japan, where stabbings were known to happen through rice paper doors. Because of this, it's customary for guests in Japanese business meetings to be seated at the back of a room, facing the door. Ambushes and assassinations notwithstanding, should you yourself conduct a meeting it might be good see what you can do to seat guests near the back of the room so that they can feel comfortable and secure.
Table and Chair Placement
As far as small boardrooms are concerned, Feng Shui suggests that you use a table that is proportional for the room size with all chairs facing the door. With a round table, leave the part directly in front of the door free of chairs so energy flows freely into the room. Arrange the chairs so each participant has enough room to move freely. Cramming the chairs together will increase negative energy and cause negative emotions such as frustration, claustrophobia and irritation, hindering productivity.
This seems like common sense. Chairs in front of the door make it awkward for people entering a room, and makes it especially uncomfortable for the person sitting in front of the door. Also, it's no secret that people like to have a little elbow room when sitting down at a table. These seem like sound recommendations, regardless of whether you believe in energy flow or not.
Large Event and Conference Spaces
In Feng Shui, a large space increases positive energy by allowing participants more room to move, if the table and chairs are not too large for the room area. Good Feng Shui involves placing an oval or round wood table in the center of the room to "enhance positive energy requirements." Avoiding the sharp edges found in traditional L-shaped tables promotes new ideas and growth. Place chairs so all backs are against a wall to increase productivity, focus and communication.
A round table dominates the center at Soker Studios in San Francisco
We think round tables make sense because you don't want want people edging around corners to talk to people. Indeed, most hotels banquet halls are set up with round tables as a default. As far as the chairs against the walls, this may be a good way to get people up and moving since they won't be tempted to sit down at a table.
For an event hall, Feng Shui believes that using full spectrum lighting gives the most natural appearance to promote the natural progression of new thoughts and ideas. Having audience members sit in comfortable chairs with enough room to take notes and take part in the discussion promotes positive energy. Presenters need to sit at an oval wooden table with their backs against the wall to let energy in and enhance communication and productivity.
The lighting suggestion seems like a no-brainer. After all, no-one enjoys the buzz or glare of fluorescent lights. Does this "promote the natural progression of new thoughts" though? Who knows? That might be an interesting topic for future researchers like RS Ulrich to study. As for the oval table for presenters...that seems a little odd. At least in our experience, presenters usually sit behind square tables and there doesn't seem to be anything wrong with that.
Finally, in Feng Shui color plays a key role in stimulating ideas and promoting positive energy for all room sizes. Walls painted either a soft green or terracotta will energize conversation of people in the room and encourage new thoughts and ideas.
Do blue lights really affect mood?
While there is still not enough research to support it, there does appear to be a correlation between mood/energy and color. The city of Glasgow, for example, installed blue street lights and witnessed a decrease in crime in the areas illuminated with the new blue lights. Studies have also shown that colors do effect moods, but that how colors effect people's moods seem to vary widely on the person. So should you go with soft green or terracotta? Possibly, but we think that table and chair placement is likely more important than color.
What do you think? Do you think it's worth the trouble to take Feng Shui technques into consideration when choosing a venue or planning an event, or would it be too much trouble? Is it all pseudoscience, or might Feng Shui have a basis in human psychology? We'd love to hear your ideas in the comments below!
Lantern Photo by Eddie Van 3000