Gem Infosys

Gem Infosys

1.0 Introduction

Gem Infosys (hereafter also referred to as “the Company”) is a small software company which has decided to enhance the security of its computer systems after suffering a two-day network operations shutdown following a severe malware attack. Information security breaches may arise at any time resulting in severe impacts; therefore, it is important to implement an incident-response policy to reduce the Company’s network downtime in the event of network security incidents. Wood and Lineman (2009) defines incident response as a well-planned approach to management of the aftermath or consequences of an information security incident – attack or breach. The ultimate goal of an incident response strategy is to effectively and efficiently manage the situation towards limiting associated damages and reducing recovery costs, time and effort.

2.0 Incident-response policy 

2.1 Purpose

The aim of this policy is to provide guidance on standards, protocols, best practices, and strategies necessary for Gem Infosys to reduce network downtime if future network security incidents occur.

2.2 Scope and applicability

The policy is applicable to the Company’s management, all employees, and vendors and contractors. In addition, it covers the following major information assets used by the Company: a firewall, three file servers, two Web servers, one Windows 2008 Active Directory server for user access and authentication, ten PCs, and a broadband connection to the Internet. The policy also covers the following elements: development of an incident-response team, disaster-recovery processes, and business-continuity planning.

2.3 Policies

2.3.1 Development of an incident-response team

Developing a competent incident-response team is the first step in implementing an incident-response policy. The incident-response team consists of IT personnel who are contacted to restore functionality in case of a security incident. The following are the roles and responsibilities of different members of the incident-response team:

  • Senior IT manager or Chief Information Officer (CIO) or Chief Information Security Officer (CISO): oversee the management of network security incidents while making decisions regarding specific incidents and notifying appropriate stakeholders.
  • Incident response manager: manage the incident response process and coordinate post-incident reviews.
  • Incident response lead: coordinate the work of small teams performing response tasks.
  • Multi-disciplinary internal team (legal representative, PR officer and business management): perform different incident-response tasks.
  • Vendor representatives: provide system-specific professional guidance and consultancy.

2.3.2 Disaster-recovery processes

All IT users and/or employees are required to immediately report existing and suspected information security incidents to the incident-response team via email, telephone, or in-person.

The incident-response team should apply relevant forensic techniques and review logs (derived from information systems, firewall, servers, DHCP, and Active Directory) to clearly understand the incident at hand and protect evidence from damage. People who report security incident(s), victims and witnesses will also be interviewed by authorized personnel. This helps understand a security incident, along with its scope of impact, sensitivity and criticality of information asset, and probability of breach propagation for effective and efficient remediation.

The incident-response team should log the incident in the “Incident Tracking System”, and conduct appropriate procedures needed to proactively eliminate or lessen the overall impact of compromise of affected assets – containment and remediation. Typically, the goals of containment and remediation are to (Shimonski, 2003; Wood & Lineman, 2009):

  • Prevent potential loss of sensitive or confidential data, for example, by changing firewall rules.
  • Prevent propagation of security breach or further damage, for example, by blocking affected systems, locking a user account, blocking some services or ports, updating anti-virus software, isolating affected computers or subnets, or disabling VPN access.
  • Plan for IT user training and awareness.
  • Notifying external personnel such as law enforcers.
  • Restoring affected network resources and services to their desired state could encompass the following procedures:
    • Re-installation of affected IT systems from scratch.
    • Restoration of data or applications from backup.

Members of the incident response team will uphold confidentiality of data such as people’s names, date of birth, credit card details, salary, postal or physical address, telephone number, social security number, and medical information.

A post-incident analysis and report must be prepared for security incidents falling under “Critical” and “Serious”. Moreover, such a report should be developed if requested by senior company management or IT personnel. Evidence should also be preserved and prevented from potential breaches (Shimonski, 2003).

Follow-up is also important to ensure that implemented measures are effective. Additionally, it helps document lessons learned from the recovery process and make sound recommendations for preventing future incidents.

2.3.3 Business-continuity planning

Business-continuity planning defines how a business operates after an incident towards returning to normal operations as quickly as possible. The sensitivity and criticality of information assets facing potential disruption challenges as well as the overall impact of a security incident are often used as the main prioritization factors regarding business-continuity planning (Shimonski, 2003). The following are major classifications of information security incidents and typical associated information assets based on the severity levels of threats related to them:

  • Critical: extended outage, complete violation of information, necessitating business continuity action, massive legal liabilities, large financial costs, impact on human safety, and permanent loss of information asset. Information assets under this category include: Web servers and Windows 2008 Active Directory
  • Serious: significant outage, loss of customers, damaged corporate confidence, and considerable compromise of sensitive data. File servers fall under this category.
  • Damaging or significant: damaged reputation, considerable effort needed to repair, embarrassment, and loss of confidence. The firewall and broadband internet connection falls under this category.
  • Minor and insignificant: insignificant/no impact, noticeable by only a small of number of people, and minimal effort needed to repair or restore. For example, PCs.

The business-continuity planning encompasses (Wood & Lineman, 2009):

  • A backup strategy: an effective backup and recovery strategy is critical to successful incident response and business-continuity planning. The backup strategy should assure continuity as the incident-response team attempts to restore functionality to normalcy. For example, critical data and systems such as file and Web servers and Active Directory should be deployed into redundant infrastructures through replicating data to external storage devices, cloud environments, or to PCs kept in secure off-site locations from where quick restoration can be executed.
  • Documented business continuity planning procedures and agreed relocation strategies.
  • Alternative means of running operations and processes.
  • Communication plan.

3.0 Conclusion

The incident-response team will handle the security incident process through analysis or assessment, containment and remediation, reporting, and follow-up. Business-continuity planning seeks to minimize disruption of network resources in case of a security incident, and it will be managed adequately and appropriately in the order of impact severity. For example, data breaches related to a user PCs may result in insignificant damages in loss of workforce productivity and/or efficiency. However, if Web servers are compromised, then the Company might experience a considerable loss of workforce efficiency or productivity, revenue, reputation, customer trust and confidence, or legal liabilities arising from confidential data breaches. Therefore, it is important to classify information security incidents and associated assets based on the severity levels of threats related to them to ensure that the disaster recovery and business-continuity planning processes are effective.

4.0 References

Shimonski, R. J. (2003). Make an Incident Response Plan. Retrieved from

Wood, C. C., & Lineman, D. (2009). Information Security Policies Made Easy Version 11. Information Shield, Inc.

Social engineering

Social engineering


In information security, social engineering is an attack scheme where criminals use social skills or psychologically manipulate unsuspecting computing users with the ultimate aim of gathering confidential or sensitive information, gaining unauthorized system access, or committing fraud (Arachchilage & Love 2014). In social engineering, an attacker impersonates an authoritative, respectable or trustworthy individual or organization to gain the confidence and/trust of the to-be victims. Authoritativeness seeks to boost the chances of response because people tend to fear potential consequences that are usually explicitly stated by attacker(s) (Arachchilage & Love 2014; Jing et al. 2014).

This comparative analysis focuses on phishing. Phishing is one of the major examples of social engineering techniques, and it involves fraudulent gathering of confidential or private information targeted and spammed e-mail messages (spear phishing), instant messaging, fake websites, or unsolicited telephone calls and text messages (Parsons et al. 2014). User training and awareness is one of the simplest and most reliable security countermeasures (Caputo et al. 2014; 2014). 

Caputo et al. (2014) seeks to ascertain whether embedded training and awareness is an effective countermeasure against spear phishing. The authors discovered that majority of participants ignored the training, and continued to click of the test spear phishing emails. On the other hand, Kumaraguru et al. (2007) found that such phishing incidents are on the rise and come with significant damage to victims. The two identified embedded training as a better security strategy compared to communication of security notices. 

The significance of this topic rests in the high rate of phishing attacks hitting companies globally in addition to the relative ease of ensnaring victims. A study conducted by Verizon in 2014 indicated that cybercriminals take approximately 82 seconds to catch the first phishing victim. The report also showed that approximately 25% and % of people tend to click on or open a phishing e-mail (Donaldson et al. 2015). Basically, criminals can steal confidential information without exploiting well-known IT systems’ vulnerabilities (Kumaraguru et al. 2007; Parsons et al. 2014).

Summary of the first paper: ‘Going spear phishing: Exploring embedded training and awareness’

Caputo et al. (2014) starts by noting that social engineering has emerged as an easy, effective and efficient technique for criminals to directly compromise users. Use of email has proven to be a successful social engineering attack vector. These researchers have noted that the Anti-Phishing Working Group’s (APWG) released a report showing that there is an accelerating trend regarding spear phishing attacks for espionage and advanced persistent threats (APTs) among other purposes, with some hitting high-profile companies. The annual financial benefits associated with spear phishing are in excess of millions of dollars even in instances where phishing emails attract the attention of only 25% of the recipients. The authors claims that spear phishing has emerged as one of the major problems that organizations face. The Institute for Information Infrastructure Protection (I3P) has initiated research aimed at reducing spear phishing vulnerabilities through employee training and awareness to recognize the threat. The research also seeks to bolster an organization’s security culture aimed at reporting incidents of spear phishing. However, how long would security training and awareness last? In addition, to what extent will employees practice security measures?

The study by Caputo et al. (2014) is based on a hypothesis guided by past study findings that: ‘that embedded training offers an effective way to increase security awareness and reduce the dangers posed by spear phishing’.  Generally, organizations offer ‘security awareness training’ to ensure that their employees uphold documented security and privacy measures. Such awareness training is conducted once per year to help employees understand IT security threats, along with specific steps each user should take in order to protect information assets. Research has shown that security awareness training is significantly ineffective due to poor retention of imparted information. Moreover, most guidelines are not adequately practiced. Research indicates that IT users click on embedded phishing links and enter personal information even after being warned about potential security risks. ‘Gotcha’ exercises have been identified as an alternative strategy to enhance spear phishing awareness. These exercises are conducted by sending phishing emails to employees to observe how they would react to them. Those who click on them are reprimanded and informed about phishing risks. After about two months, an organization repeats the exercise until their employees strongly recognize the phishing risks and countermeasures. This way,   employees are better placed to recognize potential spear phishing attacks. Consequently, fewer users are likely to fall victims to phishing scams in future.

How effective are security awareness training with regard to reducing phishing? In methodology, Caputo et al. (2014) relied on the hypothesis that – ‘if users are provided with training immediately following an error in judgment, they will be less likely to make the same error when presented again with a similar judgment’.  The researchers emulated typical cybercriminal actions using crafted emails to trick participants into clicking on an untrustworthy link. All the emails contained the following five issues that would have made participants suspicious of a likely spear phishing scam:

  • The ‘From’ field had a disparity in ‘name and address’.
  • Obvious errors, for example, misspelling and incorrect grammar.
  • Soliciting immediate action or response.
  • Mismatched link description and link address, which is evident on hover.
  • Intuition to create a feeling of something that is not right.

The following three phishing trials were carried out:

  • Trial 1: an email that allegedly sent from the firm’s timecard system soliciting for acknowledgement of changes and explaining why the changes were made. This proved difficult to detect potential spear phishing attempt perhaps because the email appeared to have originated from the company. There was no differential phishing training that had been offered during this trial, thus it had the highest click rate (almost 60%) in comparison to other studies. However, this might be attributed to the fact that the email did not request for personal information. Nevertheless, criminals may need just a click to execute their attack missions.
  • Trial 2: provided a link to a Washington Post which reported on ranking of other similar companies.
  • Trial 3: seemed to be sent from a staff to an inexistent corporate email list about the company being ranked in the Wired World’s 50 Most Innovative Companies. The email also had a hyperlink to the stated article.

Table 1-4 represents a summary of user behaviour with regard to click rate.

Table 1-4: Summary of Trial 1 clicks by condition (Caputo et al. 2014)

Table 2-4: Summary of Trial 2 clicks by condition (Caputo et al. 2014)

Table 3-4: Summary of Trial 2 clicks by experience (Caputo et al. 2014)

Table 4-4: Summary of Trial 3 clicks by experience (Caputo et al. 2014)

These results show that many people who clicked during Trial 1 did not click during Trial 2 (60% against 34%). While this can be attributed to training, awareness and experience, the fact that Trial 1 used an ‘internal’ email which attracted the attention of many users. Nevertheless, Trial 3 received more clicks from people who clicked Trial 1 and Trial 2. This has little connection with embedded training, thus researchers assessed the following groups of people:

  • All-clickers: they always click on links regardless of past spear phishing training or awareness.
  • Non-clickers: avoid suspicious emails at all.
  • The rest: are inconsistent in clicking behaviour. Training may be especially effective for this group.

The researchers concluded that it is unlikely that majority of participants read the entire training materials; therefore, no tangible training occurred. All-clickers and non-clickers represented 11% and 22% respectively. People who did not click on the initial email are more likely to ignore subsequent ones.  Nevertheless, what did non-clickers and the rest do right? Were they just lucky? Do they just ignore to open their emails? Do they observe more security consciousness? Therefore, the researchers interviewed a host of participants from each of the three groups. Most participants believed that embedded security training and awareness is more effective compared to mandatory training conducted once per year.

Summary of the second paper: ‘Protecting people from phishing: the design and evaluation of an embedded training email system’

In their research, Kumaraguru et al. (2007) defined phishing as a semantic attack – exploiting human vulnerabilities as opposed to system vulnerabilities. Adversaries exploit the mental model of users. There world has experienced a sharp increase in phishing where victims are conned through spoofed emails as well as fraudulent sites. Victims tend to trust these emails because they appear to be sent by a legitimate brand, but they are actually crafted and sent by criminals. Cybercriminals can also spoof some elements of a web browser to hide potential phishing warnings. Despite the growing attention given to security training, users still fall for phishing scams. This attracts doubts about the perceived effectiveness of phishing training and awareness strategy. Why would one open a clearly suspicious email?

Email remains of the most phishing attack vectors. Phishing emails use diverse tactics to gain the trust and confidence of users and trick them into giving personal, confidential or sensitive information. The following are the common tactics used by adversaries:

  • Requesting for user account or profile verification.
  • Urging people to become survey respondents where personal information is required.
  • Informing people about potential consequences if they fail to take provided action.

Similar sentiments are shared by Arachchilage and Love (2014) who claims that people become phishing victim because of the aforementioned tactics, for example, informing the to-be recipients about consequences of non-cooperation. Warnings range from loss of compensation or closure of a user account. Cybercriminals continue to enhance the complexity of phishing emails and schemes, which makes it significantly difficult for victims to tell whether they are legitimate or not. How can organizations prevent their employees (IT users) from becoming phishing email victims?

Kumaraguru et al. (2007) focused on training people about phishing risks and protection measures. The authors concentrate on phishing attacks conducted via emails – spear phishing. In line with this, these researchers developed an embedded security training strategy to teach people about protection against phishing in the course of using email technology. The strategy entails sending periodic fake emails to people to mimic an actual phishing activity. People who click on the link provided in the email are offered an immediate feedback detailing ‘what happened’ and actionable steps that such victims can take for security purposes.

There are many strategies that have been proposed to prevent phishing in past studies. These strategies are usually associated with silent elimination of phishing threat, warning people about phishing, and user training and awareness. These strategies have a host of problems. For example, silent elimination of phishing through shutting down suspicious or well-known phishing and automatic deletion of phishing emails do not impart awareness to users. As a result, users are set to become victims in case of prolonged lack of proper awareness. In addition, existing security tools cannot detect all phishing emails, and APWG asserts that phishing websites take about 5 days to be brought down which is adequate for compromising unsuspecting people. Warnings such as the trustworthy level of a site are usually not well understood by users, thus they may eventually end up becoming victims. While user training and awareness is recommended, it should be considered as a complimentary strategy to silent elimination of phishing threat and warnings.

User security training and awareness can take a number of forms, including posting phishing articles on sites, tests to help people evaluate their phishing knowledge, or classroom teaching. Most past studies focus on showing that user training and awareness helps enhance their capacity to identify fraudulent or suspicious emails. However, Kumaraguru et al. (2007) focuses on the design and assessment of email strategies to understand the designs that are practically effective in user training and awareness regarding phishing scams.

The embedded security training system entails the following workings. People are sent phishing training emails at regular intervals may be from a system administrator. These emails appear like the ones used by cybercriminals, requesting recipients to visit some sites and subscribe. If a person opens an email and clicks on embedded link, the researchers provide a risk notice along with some protection tips. Anti-phishing training has two major intervention points, namely the web and email. However, these authors focused on the email vector because it is the prevalent phishing approach. People are less likely to visit websites without being targeted via emails from where adversaries trick them into following one or more links.

The training design can be traced back to paper and HTML-JavaScript prototypes. After considerable evaluation of these prototypes, the best embedded training strategy was chosen. Consideration entailed whether the system should immediately show email interventions upon clicking on provided link. They concluded on instant intervention to avoid confusion, which may make people to overlook test emails. In addition, this approach modes a cause-and-effect model to close the gap between ‘clicking on a link’ and receiving a warning about phishing. The following are the main suggestions that should be incorporated into a user training system: manually type suspicious urls into browsers, under no circumstances should one click on a link embedded on a suspicious email, never open suspicious emails, report suspicious phishing scams, call customer care of organizations provided in suspicious emails to clarify on legitimacy of issues such as personal account problems, and never share personal or confidential information. These are steps that apply to both expert and novice IT users. In addition, this is a simplistic approach which expects IT users to adapt to and improve their capability to stay safe from phishing scams.

Simply providing advice to people is both inefficient and ineffective because it does not guarantee that it will be followed. As a countermeasure, it is important to provide sound abstract information along with concrete case studies or examples. Situated learning, which involves training and instruction offered in the course of a problem solving activity is recognized as one of the most effective knowledge transfer strategy. As such, the researchers situated participants in a training session detailing how criminals craft phishing emails, cues that guide detection, and actions one should take in the event of a phishing attack.

The researchers categorized participants into the following three groups based on intervention approach:

  • Security notices: there was no behavioural change even after administration if security notices. Only 40% of participants actually read the entire training content, while 60% closed the training window after just skimming through the information. Moreover, only 10% went on the follow the second notice.  Participants claimed that the notices had a lot of information. Moreover, they cited clarity problems in the notices.
  • Text and graphics: this was somehow helpful because the rate of clicking on the phishing email decreased from 80% to 70% after this form of training. 70% went on the follow the second notice. 
  • Comic strip: the most effective approach because the final phishing test fell to 30% from the initial 100%. 60% went on the follow the second notice.  The comic strip approach was the best because of its engaging nature in form of a story.


Both papers reveal that conventional email security notifications are largely ineffective. In addition, the two papers tested IT users (respondents) for more than one time, and considered use of the internet as opposed to intranet-based attacks. Moreover, both studies have not focused on a single scenario (for example, a PayPal or eBay), instead looking into general cases of phishing involving emails. In addition, situational training has been cited as an effective instruction technique. As a result, their findings provide significant insights into the role of user training in addressing phishing attacks. Moreover, the two studies show that most victims may not necessarily provide requested information even after clicking on phishing links. However, they also agree that even clicking alone is dangerous because information security attacks such as malware propagation can be executed through a mere click on a link.

While Caputo et al. (2014) notes that embedded security training is not as effective as claimed by Kumaraguru et al. (2007) who lauds the strategy as an effective approach. How can organizations enhance the effectiveness of embedded security training? Kumaraguru et al. (2007) focuses on enhancing the effective of user security training. On the other hand, Caputo et al. (2014) largely focuses determining the effectiveness of the embedded strategy. Moreover, Kumaraguru et al. (2007) assesses how better people can apply information provided through security training to other information security risks by promoting a simplistic approach with support for continuous adaptation. 

Both Kumaraguru et al. (2007) and by Caputo et al. (2014) adopt an instant intervention approach in the event that a participant victim falls to a phishing email. However, Kumaraguru et al. (2007) grays out the training email message and uses a ‘floating window on top’. On the other hand, Caputo et al. (2014) takes people (who have fallen victims to phishing emails) to a different web page. The former approach may minimize confusion to a greater extent compared to the latter. Moreover, a floating window is better in terms of attracting the attention of people as it brings a closer view of the situation at hand. Therefore, Kumaraguru et al. (2007) used a more effective strategy in their intervention procedure because of potentially reduced confusion levels and better capacity to avoid missing out on critical content. Nevertheless, both studies use cues to signal and impart critical information.

Caputo et al. (2014) considerably addresses a number of methodological challenges evident in the study by Kumaraguru et al. (2007). For example, the latter uses students as respondents and fails to place them in reasonable situations to derive results that can be applied in the context of the wider industry. Moreover, only 30 participants were recruited in the study by Kumaraguru et al. (2007). This is a weakness in sampling, and Kothari (2012) notes that researchers must adopt a sampling strategy which supports generalization and the confidence of results. For example, Caputo et al. (2014) faults the study by Kumaraguru, Rhee and colleagues by claiming that their research on the effectiveness of embedded training because it relied on ‘students role-playing and imagining what they would do if the message appeared in their email inbox’. Caputo et al. (2014) uses a larger sample size (1359 participants) stratified sampling strategy, which enhances the overall clarity with regard to population representation and boosts the overall confidence in results. In addition, Kumaraguru et al. (2007) relies on a convenient sampling approach by using volunteers and posting flyers. Therefore, Caputo et al. (2014) overcomes inefficiencies evident in the study by Kumaraguru et al. (2007), for example, lack of valuable scientific research elements to an extent that replication of research findings to the broader context cannot be guaranteed.

Kumaraguru et al. (2007) found that a comic strip approach is more compelling and effective compared to security notices and text and graphics intervention strategies. Nevertheless, a comic strip may be effective in a student context, but employees in a corporate setting may find it inappropriate. The study by Caputo et al. (2014) took about 90 days, which were long enough to test the rate of retention. In contrast, the 28 days adopted by Kumaraguru et al. (2007) were too few to provide substantial insights into retention levels associated with different training strategies.


It can be concluded that Caputo (2014) used a better methodological approach because of the following major reasons: use of a considerably large sample; testing the rate of retention about 90 days, which were long enough compared to 28 days; participants (employees) were engaged in their normal occupational experience; and use of stratified sampling strategy, which enhances the overall population representation and boosts the overall confidence in results.  

The following two behavioural changes are expected after security training: a decreased rate of clicking on ‘spear phishing links’; and an increased reporting rate with respect to suspicious emails. These behavioural changes show an improved organizational security culture, which is the overall goal of security strategies against spear phishing. However, such changes are extremely challenging to achieve. Most people do not seem to apply provided security training, thus they tend to open and/or click on suspicious emails.  Why do people click? Victims are usually compromised because of gaining interest in presented subject matter. In addition, lack of due attention also increases the chances of clicking. Many non-clickers avoid clicking links, and seek proper information by conducting further research. Non-clickers also tend to take recourse to the actual sites of organizations instead of following provided links.

Generally, it is evident that the process of improving the effectiveness of embedded security training in a corporate context is significantly challenging. Even immediate and tailored intervention or feedback has proven to be effective to only a small percentage. Therefore, training and awareness should be used as a complimentary technique to shutting down suspicious or well-known phishing and automatic deletion of phishing emails. Nevertheless, embedded training is a better security strategy compared to communication of security notices, and it is a well-recognized protection against spear phishing attacks.


Arachchilage, NA, & Love, S 2014, ‘Security awareness of computer users: A phishing threat avoidance perspective’, Computers in Human Behavior, vol. 38, no. 2014, pp. 304-312.

Caputo, DD, Pfleeger, SL, Freeman, JD, & Johnson, ME 2014, ‘Going spear phishing: Exploring embedded training and awareness’, Security & Privacy, IEEE, vol. 12, no. 1, pp. 28-38.

Donaldson, SE, Siegel, SG, Williams, CK, & Aslam, A 2015, Enterprise Cybersecurity, Apress.

Jing, Q, Vasilakos, AV, Wan, J, Lu, J, & and Qiu, D 2014, ‘Security of the internet of things: Perspectives and challenges’, Wireless Networks, vol. 20, no. 8, pp. 2481-2501.

Kim, E 2014, ‘Recommendations for information security awareness training for college students’, Information Management & Computer Security, vol. 22, no. 1, pp. 115-126.

Kothari, CR 2012, Research Methodology: Methods and Techniques, New Age International.

Kumaraguru, P, Rhee, Y, Acquisti, A, Cranor, LF, Hong, J, & Nunge, E 2007, Proceedings of the SIGCHI conference on Human factors in computing systems, April 28-May 3, 2007: Protecting people from phishing: the design and evaluation of an embedded training email system (pp. 905-914), ACM.

Parsons, K, McCormac, A, Butavicius, M, Pattinson, M, & Jerram, C 2014, ‘Determining employee awareness using the human aspects of information security questionnaire (HAIS-Q)’, computers & security, vol. 42, no. 2014, pp. 165-176.    



Architecture is the process of designing and constructing, usually buildings and other tangible and material structures (Corbusier 1931). Several architectural works differ in the materials used in construction as well as in cultural symbols and art work (Pierre 1994).  Architectural works reflects technical, environmental, functional, social and aesthetic considerations (Needham 1975). Past civilizations are commonly identified by their existing historical architectural achievements. Chinese Feng Shui is an ancient art intended to channel the earth’s and the environment’s energy for the human benefit. In that sense, it has recently remarkably achieved diffusion and verbosity in the West in form of texts, magazines and the World Wide Web (www) as a set of commonly used concepts in decoration and interior design (Manini 2004).

However, the use of Feng Shui techniques, since 4,000 years, was directly linked to the landscape and architectural design and essentially to the ancestral planning of urban areas (Wang 2012). The Western Architecture history is marked by a progression of new and emerging solutions to structural issues. For example, there has been progression form the most ancient shed roof and uncomplicated truss to vertical posts referred to as columns supporting horizontal lintels (Watkin 2005). However, there exists many features, some similar and others different, as far as the Chinese Feng Shui and the Western Architecture are concerned. Feng Shui has developed into an aspect of interior design in the Western world’s architecture. For instance, Feng Shui masters are hired to state the directions where doors among others things should face or hang (Mak & So 2009). This thesis is divided into sections: Introduction, Feng Shui, Feng Shui and the Forbidden City, Palace Design in Western Architecture, Chinese Architecture Vs Western Architecture, Functional Architecture in Modern Western World and finally the conclusion.

What are the similarities between the Chinese Feng Shui and Western Architecture? This constitutes the thesis of this course. 

Feng Shui

According to Lip (2008), Feng Shui refers to a Chinese idealistic system of synchronizing the surrounding environment with the human existence. The literal translation of the word Feng Shui in English is “wind water”. Feng Shui forms Physiognomy, one of the five arts of metaphysics in China (Mak & So 2009). The Feng Shui exercise exposes architecture in terms of invisible forces that combine together the earth, universe and man. Since ancient times, Feng Shui has been extensively used in auspicious orientation of buildings – often in terms of spiritual significant structures, for example tombs though others structures such as dwellings and palaces are also based on it (Lip 2008).

Depending on the specific type of Feng Shui style being used, a propitious site could be established by referring to local surrounding features such as stars, water bodies or a compass. Though Feng Shui has remarkably increased in popularity, it was suppressed in the mainland China in the 1960s, a period characterized by the Cultural Revolution (Cai 2011). There exist mixed contemporary reactions to Feng Shui. Zhang and Wang (2008) states that some Feng Shui principles are quite rational, while at the same time noting that some fake remedies and superstitions have been integrated into its electric mix.

The prime instrument used by Feng Shui practitioners is the Feng Shui compass, a saucer-like wood block within a square base and a magnetic needle at its center. The vital force of Feng Shui is behind the energy that stays in all things – the Qi. Therefore, all elements of nature co-exist in parallel thus nature should be incorporated in architectural structures. To benefit from energy flow, human beings can manipulate the quality of water and wind and study space properties and relationships with human behavior. Feng Shui is based on the principle of harmony between the earth, universe and the human energy. It is based on five elements: water, fire, wood, metal and earth whereby all affect one another and represent different views and ideas of life (Zhang & Wang 2008).

The Figure 1 below shows the fundamental levels of Feng Shui.

Figure 1: Fundamental Levels of Feng Shui.

Source: (Mak & So 2009).

According to diagram 1, the three elements intersect and overlap.

Wang (2012) outlines modern uses of Feng Shui as:

  • Landscape ecology – There are plenty of Feng Shui woods in the Asian old forests associated with historical continuity and cultural heritage. These indicate healthy homes, environmental components and sustainability of ancient Feng Shui.
  • Landscape architecture has by far used ancient Feng Shui as well as its methodologies.

Today, Feng Shui is applied not only in China but also by the Westerners though it is criticized by Christians all over the world. Christians see it to be entirely incoherent with Christianity in that balance and harmony are realized from the channeling and manipulation of energies or non-physical forces, or that which can be done by ways of appropriate placement of tangible objects. Christianity justifies that such techniques, belong to the sorcery world. Feng Shui is also currently used commercially and is available to everyone, including banks, residential houses, hotels and several other structures (Lam 2008).

Feng Shui in Chinese Architecture and Forbidden City

Feng Shui has several applications in the day by day Chinese culture.  The relationship between architecture and its surroundings can be unified by means of the traditional Chinese cultural values of synchronization of the human, universe and the built environment (Lam 2008). The plan of the Beijing’s Forbidden City, the capital of China is the most famous illustration of Feng Shui. The city is a walled enclosed space containing temples, administration buildings and the residence of China’s Ming and Qing dynasties.  It has more than 8,700 separate rooms. Upon Mao coming to power, he opened the city to the whole public thus spread the Feng Shui secrets throughout China and the whole world (Lip 2008).

Several Chinese renowned cultural monuments, such as Beijing’s Beijing city were designed using the principles of Feng Shui. Feng Shui has a deep effect on the China’s society as it is widely embraced by the Chinese community (Mak & So 2009).  

Characterized by extensive use of woodwork, the Forbidden City employs Feng Shui principles and is rectangular shaped. It is the largest palace complex in the world covering around 74 hectares. It is surrounded by a ten meter high wall and a 52 meters wide moat. Each side of the wall has a gate with the distance between each gate being 960 meters. The harmonized curtain wall has unique and fine structured towers. These forms views over the palace and the outside city (Mak & So 2009).

Huge timberwork and other readily available materials were used (Manini 2004). This is in fact a Feng Shui architectural principle which advocated for use of wood and other materials such as white lime, viscous rice, and egg whites that are in the immediate neighborhood. Surprisingly, these hard to believe materials make the walls extra strong. The walls are shaped in an angular manner to make it impossible to climb it from any direction in the surrounding environment. The roof is constructed with dominantly yellow glazed tiles since yellow is the royal family’s symbol in China (Xinian 2002). Most of the decorations in the city are painted yellow. The bricks on the floor and the ground are also yellow. Wanyuange royal library is an exception in that it has a black roof due to a belief that black is a representation of water and could put out fire (Wang 2012).

The Forbidden City is not only famous for its enclosed palaces, but also for its architectural styles especially the Fung Shui principles. It also greatly influences the Chinese architecture.  The city is the largest existing China’s wooden structure. The building is supported by white granite terrace (Zhang & Wang 2008).

Lam (2008) stated that Forbidden City was built symmetrically along a fundamental North-South axis, which is as well the axis of the ancient Beijing city.  Feng Shui strictly requires proper positioning of central axis in construction of cities running from North to South. Additionally, its north end should point directly to a mountain that runs from East to West.  The protector of the city is the mountain and a winding river running round the city is regarded as a favorable feature.  Forbidden City was strictly built abiding by these Feng Shui rules (Lam 2008).

Figure 2: The Forbidden City.

Source: (Wang 2012).

All the palaces were built based on the union of the nature and human being. The harmony of nature and the heaven can be depicted in the names of palaces, for example, the palace of Earthly Tranquility and the Palace of Heavenly Purity (Xinian 2002).  The city’s gates were built based on the Eight Diagrams of China, a move aimed at achieving union with the nature. However, ancient people in china laid emphasis on balance and harmony; therefore all the palaces are symmetrically built along the middle pivotal axis (Lip 2008). The main frames of the palaces are constructed with wood. The main elements are the wooden beams as well as columns while auxiliary structures are the walls. Color paintings have been extensively used for decoration and for protecting the wooden structure from depreciating (Lip 2008; Needman 1975).

The design of roofs is very attractive whereby more than ten types of roofs exist. In addition to provide shelter the roof symbols act as symbol s of different ranks. The highest level of roof is at the Hall of Supreme Harmony with ten animals each at its roof corners showing superiority. On roof corners, there are mythical animals which are characteristics of the Chinese architecture and have special purposes (Xinian 2002). These animals include: the lion, Chiwen, kissing dragon, phoenix, heavenly horse, sea horse, Suanne, Yoyo, Chaetae, Kingship, Dounias and the flying monkey. It is believed that the kissing dragon watches fire, the lion show power to the owner of the palaces, the phoenix brings good luck and happiness, the horses shows the capability to reach the sea and the heaven. Yoyo which is a dragon looking like a fish collects clouds and put out fire, Haetae stands for uprightness and justice, Douniu fights for peace, and the flying monkey prevents destruction by thunder (Wang 2012).

The Feng Shui Chinese ancient discipline is thus well incorporated in the Forbidden City as evident in the way in which it is built to allow harmony between human beings and nature.  The discipline further embodies an effortless recognition of nature to enhance human being’s lives (Manini 2004).

The landscape design of the Forbidden City is as shown in the Figure 3 below

Figure 3: Landscape design of the Forbidden City. Source: (Wang 2012).

Major abbreviated landmarks are explained below.

Approximate separation line between the North and the South courts.

E. Corner towers

G. Hall of Supreme Harmony

L. Palace of Heavenly Purity

From Figure 3, the North-South axis is seen showing that Feng Shui was applied in its design. To make a mountain present at the back, an artificial one was built and it was referred to as Coal Hill. Though it covers a large area, it safeguards harmony from its design (Lip 2008).

Palace Design in Western Architecture: Buckingham Palace

Western architecture is the architecture in Europe and areas that share the cultural traditions of Europe. The Western architecture has been marked by a sequence of new answers to structural problems (Sutton 2000).  Much is accredited to Greek architecture which formalized several structural and decorative essentials into three conventional orders namely Corinthian, Doric, and Ionic, which have influenced architecture to a greater extent (Watkin 2005). In ancient times, religious concerns were the preserve of the ruling class alone; the religious mystery by the times of Greeks had skipped the restriction of the temple and palace compounds and was now the people’s subject (Sutton 2000).

According to Lam (2008), the life of ancient civilizations had turned to be inscribed in space but divine wisdom nevertheless controlled human affairs. Therefore, palaces were located with close adherence to surroundings and nature. Feng Shui principles utilize space and its environmental features to improve and balance the wellbeing of human beings (Lam 2008). Both spiritual and environmental elements are integral parts of designs based on Feng Shui. Whether architectural design practices are explained through Western functionalism or by Feng Shui principles, they speak with respect to nature.

Buckingham Palace located in London is the current administrative Monarch headquarters and was previously the official house of the Britain’s sovereigns.  It consists of 775 rooms spanning a length of 108 meters and a height of 24 meters. Expansion work in the 19th Century by Edward Blore and John Nash formed three wings principally around a middle courtyard. The Ballroom is the largest room in the Buckingham Palace where State Banquets and Investitures take place nowadays. The room opened in 1856 and is 36.6 X 18 X 13.5 meters (Oldfield & Mitchinson 2011).

Robison (1995) notes that the original interior designs in early 19th Century included extensive use of blue and pink semi-precious stone lapis and brightly colored sculptures called scagiola. At the back of the palace, there are principal rooms contained within the piano nobile. Architecturally, the center of the state rooms’ suite is the music room with a large bow to imitate the major characteristic of the façade. Adjacent to the music room are the drawing rooms, white and blue in color. There is also a picture gallery, at the center of the state rooms, acting as a corridor to connect the rooms. To impress, the picture gallery is lit from the top and hung with many works (Oldfield & Mitchinson 2011). At the back of this Buckingham Palace, there is a large garden where the Queen hosts her yearly garden parties every summer, and also holds large events to mark royal milestones, for example jubilees (Robinson 1995).

Oldfield & Mitchinson (2011) notes that an improvement programme spanning approximately a decade included the construction of the east wing. This wing has the famous balcony, initially used for a noble wave by the royal in 1851 Great Exhibition opening. The palace’s front wing (east side) was built last (Farrell 2003). It was commissioned by Queen Victoria in 1840s to offer extra space to cater for her growing family. In 1851, this new wing inevitably moved the Marble Arch monument from the entrance to the palace to its current site close to Speaker’s Corner. The east wing effectively closed the courtyard converting the building to a rectangle. The Forbidden City is rectangular shaped as a Feng Shui principle. Rectangular shaped guarantees symmetry thus grandeur.

Nash’s work as an architect is classically a work of illusion as he demonstrated in his remodeling of the Buckingham Palace into a metropolitan status where he was partially successful (Watkin 2005). Within Buckingham Palace, at the Queen’s Gallery, architect John Simpson made three new galleries plus a lecture room with hints both externally and internally forms the 19th Century job at the gallery (Farrell 2003).  Hedley (1976) notes that the connection between the Greek Doric way in portico as well as the higher wing which hosts the entrance hall in the rear emulates the asymmetrical disposition of Buckingham Palace.

A more striking visual symbol of the palace was achieved by architect Sir Wyatville in remodeling and enlarging of Windsor Castle in the period 1824 – 1840 in a huge medievalizing style. John Simpson’s works in 1954 including additions to the palace in broadly new Queen Gallery develops themes from John Nash’s work, the onetime palace’s architect. There was search for significance in architecture, partially provoked by the apparent nonsense of many post-modern ornament, was and is still supplemented by developments in historical art scholarship, for example Robin Rhodes’s art work in Architecture and Meaning on the Athenian Acropolis (Watkin 2005).

The Bucking ham palace did not have a forecourt initially but it was created together with rails and gates in 1911 as part of commemorating Queen Victoria. This is the place where Changing of Guard function takes place.  The is a regular ritual involving daily cleaning and combing of the forecourt’s gravel using mechanical tools to clear away any rubbish and the ensure that it is always impeccably clean (Watkin 2005).

The garden in Buckingham palace covers 40 acres, with a helicopter landing area, a tennis court and a lake. The garden also accommodates more than 30 different bird species and over 350 various wild flowers, including some which are extremely rare. The garden hosts summer parties, tennis charity competitions, classical and pop music concerts and children’s parties (The Royal Household n.d.). This enclosure within a garden in combination to a lake constitutes Feng Shui practices.

 Facades are a must in any worth structure; the palace got its memorable façade made of white Portland stone in 1913 as a replacement to the original French stone which was soft and had decayed from pollution. This new design was realized by architect Sir Webb who surprised people by transforming the front from dirty black to glossy white (Watkin 2005).

Bucking palace’s balcony is one of the most famed in the world. In 1851, the Royal balcony was first documented, during the launch of the Great Exhibition upon Queen Victoria stepping onto it. The King or Queen may appear on the balcony to cheer with crowds as it happened at the ending of the World War II (Robinson 1995).

The Buckingham Palace is held by the Queen not as a private property but as a Sovereign. Therefore, the Queen as an individual can recommend upgrades but cannot dispose of the palace as she wishes. This is also the case with the Palace of Holyroodhouse and Windsor Castle. Not only is the palace the Queen’s home, other figures such as the Duke of Edinburg, The Earl and Countess of Wessex, The Duke of York, Princess Alexandra and The Princess Royal have private apartments and offices within the palace (Robinson 1995).

The first installation of electricity in the ball Room of the palace took place in 1883 and by 1887 the electricity had been extended to the whole palace. Currently, the number of light bulbs is over 40,000 (Robinson 1995).

Oldfield and Mitchinson (2011) notes that there are underneath tunnels running under the London streets linking Clarence House to the Parliament Houses and the Buckingham Palace. River Tyburn still flows under the palace’s south wing and the courtyard.

Chinese theme is present in the Buckingham Palace in a number of rooms. It is evident in the furniture and decorations which originally were based in the oriental style of Prince Regent’s Royal Pavilion situated at Brighton. The palace has in-house chapel, swimming pool, cinema, staff hotel, surgery room, and a post office. These facilities among others show how design work could have been cumbersome to properly position them within one enclosure (Oldfield & Mitchinson 2011).

Robinson (1995) states that architecture and environment are inseparable in various facets of landscape design to establish aesthetic and ecological harmony. In the operations of the Buckingham Palace, environmental issues constitute a major concern. Approximately 99 per cent of green waste in the palace garden is recycled. To reduce energy consumption and cut electricity use, a joint Heat and Power Unit and Light Emission Diodes (LED) lights are used respectively. Feng Shui aims at ensuring there is maximum prosperity in a structure by ensuring that positive energy flow or qi does not go to waste (Zhang & Wang 2008).

Buckingham Palace have been met with some criticism, for example, in 2009, a travel blog Sydney Morning Herald listed the palace as the most substandard British tourist attraction. Moreover, many other surveys have repeated the same rating. It is just huge grey building (Oldfield & Mitchinson 2011).

Feng Shui Chinese practices and the Western architecture understand power in a functionalistic and materialistic perspective since an operational and a structural approach was adopted. In both cases, a system involving constructed space in institutionalization of the power operations is actively utilized. A system of space is created and it bears the field of its influence, movement and locus of power (Zhu 2012). Scale is the difference between the two in that Forbidden City is larger than the Buckingham Palace.

Depth and the power of enclosure form the strongest feature of Forbidden City’s architectural design. The city is extremely deep when approached from outside due to use of layered walls enclosing it (Zhu 2012). The most important feature of Chinese architecture is its emphasis on a heavy and horizontal platform and a sizeable roof floating over this platform. Vertical walls have been de-emphasized. Western architecture tends to grow both in height and depth (Cai 2011).  

The placement of Buckingham Palace and the surrounding neighboring urban countryside forms an important part of the 18th and 19th century Western designs. The palace is located adjacent to a river and landscaping is outstandingly downtown for a rural setting ().

Similarities and Differences between Chinese and Western Architectural Designs

There exist several similarities and differences between the Chinese architecture and the Western architecture designs which will be discussed below.

The origin of Western architecture is mainly from classic Roman and Greek designs with respect to the importance of proportion, geometry, and measurement to a building or a site. The dimensions, external form and design were intended to induce a response from people. Consequently, there exist breathtaking and inspirational cathedrals in the West. Modern Western architecture typically involves experimentations with forms and materials of building striking but impersonal structures. Ancient Chinese Feng Shui principles have been used to decide on locations, materials, forms, and arrangement of structures to realize people’s harmony and balance with nature’s energy of the site (Lam 2008).

China is continually undergoing a state of transition and growth decisively influenced by modernization mainly from the Western architectural concepts (Cai 2011). However, over centuries, the structural practices of Chinese architecture remain largely unchanged apart from changes of decorative details.

Buckingham Palace is based on neoclassicism architectural style. The palace is elaborate, imposing, symmetrical and everlasting works are evident.  Symmetry in Western Architecture aims at achieving grandeur. Elements in the structure have a feasible function while simultaneously pleasing aesthetically (Hoffmann 1985). The Feng Shui of Forbidden City shows strong adherence to symmetry to achieve a balanced Qi.

The Chinese have their building’s external appearance that implies the all-embracing characteristics of imperial China (Cai 2011). These ideologies have weaved their way into the contemporary Western architecture.

Another important aspect is the Chinese architecture’s emphasis on symmetry which implies sense of grandeur. This applies to almost everything ranging for farm houses to palaces. A notable exception is the design of gardens which are asymmetrical. Stress on symmetry is not a requirement in the Western culture but it is still evident as shown in Figure 4.

Chinese architecture is mainly built with either gray or red bricks, though wooden structures feature dominantly. These are believed to be capable of enduring earthquakes while at the same time vulnerable to fire (Cai 2011). Chinese buildings have roofs which are usually curved; there are strict categorizations on various types of gables, in line with the conventional column orders of Europe. Wood is present in Western Architecture but mainly as a form of decoration (Cai 2011).

Certain colors and cardinal directions in Chinese architecture showed the belief of metaphysical and philosophical theories of presence of the divine powers, where the nature of something could not be attributed to a principle or god but was not reducible from that thing.  Some colors reflected different levels of power in the Chinese buildings. Western buildings still use different colors, for example, the Falling water has Cherokee red color which specifically represents architect’s preferred color (Waggoner 2011).

Modern Western architecture commonly entails surrounding a building in an open yard within the property (Sutton 2000). Open courtyards are a common feature in several types of Chinese buildings. For example, courtyards are best demonstrated in the Siheyuan where there is an empty space enclosed by inter-connected buildings either through verandas or directly. Most traditional Chinese architecture entails constructing a building or complexes taking up the entire property but has enclosed open spaces inside the enclosure. The enclosed open spaces serve as temperature regulators to provide a pleasant living environment (Wang 2012).

Feng Shui practices and Daoism concepts are dominant in the layout and construction of most Chinese architectural buildings – common residences, religious and imperial structures. This involves use of: screen walls facing the main door, talismans of door gods, orientation of the buildings with water and others (Cai 2011). Western architecture also involves use of these elements, though the West and the Chinese differ in the element’s significance to architecture (Watkin 2005).

Chinese structures used walls only as an enclosure. Western architecture defines walls as an element of load-bearing (Lancaster 2005). Chinese architecture has gone beyond the decorative function of wood to creating joints to connect beams and columns (Lip 2008).

According to Weston (2002), some Chinese architectural features were a preserve of the Chinese emperor. For example, the imperial color yellow is present in the roof tiles of most buildings in the Forbidden City. However, the Temple of Heaven is roofed in blue tiles as a symbol of the sky. There exist no specific colors in Western architecture reserved for the residences of rulers. The Chinese architecture represented power in terms of space while the West used height as a show of power (Weston 2002). Manini (2004) states that the Chinese architecture as depicted in the Forbidden City uses bright colors, roof guardians, paintings, and marble fence posts which is very different from the western architecture where advanced architectural concepts as well as technology is used to achieve the same purpose.

As shown in Figure 4, there is a long narrow avenue to Buckingham Palace which can bring powerful Qi to the palace. The roundabout can help in deflecting the Qi so that it hits the entrance gently and find its way into the palace. The location of Buckingham palace is on a flat land, which has Feng Shui’s lower force or dynamic energy. Zhang & Wang (2008) points that Feng Shui want buildings to be built neither on top of a mountain or slopes of a hill. Green surrounding provides fresh air which provides a natural ecological environment.

Figure 4: The Buckingham Palace – the narrow entrance, green surrounding and enclosure.

Source: (The Queen’s Palaces: pictures n.d.).

Solid scientific theories overshadow the notion that Feng Shui is functional. In order to achieve the purpose of Feng Shui, a building is surrounded by four sides at the left, right, front and posterior so as to spread the layered structure. Every mountain should diametrically face the core heart (Xuexin). In other words, the very final result of design and construction will be a building surrounded by water and circulated by mountain(s) with very attractive clean water and green mountain (Lam 2008).

Functional Architecture in Modern Western World: Feng Shui and Falling Water

In architecture, functionalism is the principle whereby architects design a structure based on the goal of the structure. With regard to modern Western World, this definition is a matter of confusion, is less evident and attracts controversy especially within the architectural profession. This can be explained by assuming that beauty among other building features can be entirely left out in the design and construction of a building. The Vitruvian triad forms the basis of functionalism in building. The triad explores utilitas (commodity, convenience, or utility) stands along with venustas (beauty) and firmitas (firmness) as typical goals of architecture (McCarter 1994).

Kaufmann (1986) describe Falling Water as the most famous contemporary house in America. The house is acknowledged worldwide as the prototype of organic architecture because the building is at the heart of its natural setting (Fallingwater n.d.).

Frank Lloyd Wright is the American architect who applied organic architecture in the design of Falling Water (Narciso 2000). On the other hand, Feng Shui is the ancient Chinese art of placement. Though Feng Shui ideas became trendy in America long before the life of Wright, the Falling Water suggests use of Feng Shui ideas. In the building, the Feng Shui goal to meet wind with water is accomplished. Residents and visitors of Falling Water can dip their legs in the waters and be in an environment full of fresh air coming from the Pennsylvania forest (Museum of Modern Art 1938). 

Falling Water is a country home which he designed for Liliane and Kaufmann in 1935 in a remote location of rural Western Pennsylvania. It is a mature demonstration of organic architecture. Wright’s choice for Cherokee red was aimed at emphasizing rather than covering up the metallic window frames present throughout the house. This forms a continuous line, creating their rhythm in contrast to the rough stone (Lind 1996). This emphasize the fact that some elements in Falling Water are present in Feng Shui in that Cherokee red is used both artistically and functionally but each instance of purpose is manifested differently.

As evident in Feng Shui principles, Lind (1996) notes that Wright’s work has been described by many in Europe as too spiritual or poetic, not rational enough. This criticism is also common in Feng Shui with claims that a lot of superstitions have been woven into architecture.

According to Zhang and Wang (2008), the origin and development of Feng Shui architecture is solidly associated with the Chinese cultural history. The modern scientific evidence of Feng Shui is the circulated mountain, encircled water, hidden from wind and accumulated energy (qi) as the fundamental architectural characteristics. Falling Water was faced by many problems mainly related to the location of the house at the North bank of River Bear Run. The Kaufmann family wanted to be entertaining a large group of people thus a big building with space was needed. This was headache to Wright as Bear Run was small to provide strong foundation to build the house. This problem of space was solved by deciding on a cantilever structure. This is a beam attached at only one end to carry the house to the support (Kaufmann 1986).

The striking natural surroundings within the Falling Water are also a feature evident in Feng Shui. The integration between the Falling Water and nature is a characteristic of Feng Shui teachings (Lam 2008).

Architecture Feng Shui shows the holistic idea of unifying the heaven and human beings aimed at achieving two major functions (Zhang & Wang 2008):

  • To achieve high firmness of earth to integrate as one entity with human beings.
  • To achieve unification of the human beings and heaven.

Feng Shui design enables storage of wind, accumulation of qi, encirclement of mountain and surrounding of water. A single building generally appears to be a rectangular-shaped structure.  Use of a middle axial line to serve as symmetry in the construction of the rectangular building shows a highly stable structure. The idea of this building style presents a good natural environment to suit human beings. Modern buildings yearn to acquire stability hence Feng Shui architecture is a resource for this stability. Feng Shui architecture wants all buildings to be constructed on flat land as opposed to mountain top or slopes, which has a lower force or dynamic energy. Deformed earth possesses low elasticity. The essence of mountain, water, wind and qi in Feng Shui principle can efficiently protect the building from direct wind blow (Zhang & Wang 2008).

Consequently, the building prevents wind and water direct strike which eventually prevents direct forces of wind and water. Presence of green mountain and clean water surroundings are useful factors for human beings to essentially survive in the natural ecology. Rectangular shaped buildings as agitated by Feng Shui distribute symmetrically to minimize energy flow. Evidently, triangular and irregular-shaped buildings are unusually seen in China as they demonstrate higher energy and thus are very unstable (Lam 2008). The mountain at the rear of most building in China borrows for Feng Shui principle of counting on the mountain as one unification and stable integration. Gently wind blows slowly providing an ideal living space. Modern science explains that wind should be in the stratified layer since turbulent wind carries many particles that can negatively affect human health (Zhang & Wang 2008).

 Water as a required condition of Feng Shui architecture has many functions, for example, water maintains clean air and steady temperature. Water can to a greater level help human being’s health and enable plants to grow. A major requirement to realize unification of human beings and the heaven is the presence of uncontaminated water around the building (Manini 2004).

The Feng Shui is closely related to the process of praising the god and heaven. Scientifically, it can demonstrate the unification of the human beings and the heaven as one to buildings. Signals from heaven as an outer space can be absorbed through green plants growing in the mountain to effectively reflect toward Feng Shui building (Wang 2012).

Therefore, the Feng Shui structure characteristics can accomplish the exchange of message between the human beings and the outer environment so as to achieve the unification of the heaven and human beings as one. The surrounded water and circulated mountain which forms the geographic features of Feng Shui is similar to a parabolic antenna. The building is constructed at or above the focal point to maximally exchange the microwaves (message waves) of the outside environment. Green plants and surrounding water absorbs and reflects the message wave and can become suitable locations for biological effect as required by the human body. The green plant-cover ensures that the mountain is not barren to prevent the message wave from the external material from reflecting directly from the mountain to the human beings and consequently harm their bodies (Wang 2012).

Wright’s design of Falling Water reflects the importance of inter-penetrating interior and exterior spaces as well as the strong emphasis on harmony between human beings and nature.  There is a ledge rock protruding through the floor of the living room which was intentionally left to demonstrate the link between the inside and the outside (Stoller 1999). Wright had applied Japanese architecture through the manner in which space was treated. Sensibility of space is the most significant aspect of architecture (Lam 2008). Moreover, Falling Water has additional elements of nature that is appealing. Built on top of a flowing waterfall, Falling Water is designed organically thus connecting it to the site (Storrer 2002).

Integration with the natural setting extends up to small details. For example, in order for the stone walls and glassware to look uninterrupted by glazing, there is no metallic frame where glass comes into contact with stone walls (Storrer 2002). There is a connecting space linking the main house to the guest house and servant level where a physical spring trickles water inside. Unification with nature is further sought by the way Bear Run and its sound infuse the house (Pfeiffer & Larkin 1997). The walls made of local stones and the cantilevered terraces resemble the surrounding rock formations. The broad balconies and windows reach out to the building’s surroundings (Lancaster 2005).

According to Manini (2004), Feng Shui solutions are both pleasant as well as very functional. A building is more than an assembly of walls, roofs, doors and windows but patterns of energy and flow of life energy from one room to another. The flow of energy should form a blueprint from which buildings should be constructed. Therefore, Feng Shui aims at achieving buildings that are both comfortable and energetically balanced for its residents. Further, Feng Shui architecture has a vision of realizing aesthetic and functional requirements.

This knowledge on Qi is being used to complement contemporary science and technology. It has been used in many residences not that it is compulsory but to create a more nourishing, sensitive, comfortable, attractive and pleasant working and living environment. Therefore, it is a creative and an artistic practice (Wang 2012).

Feng Shui is very subtle in nature; therefore its use beyond China and especially in the modern Western nations does not demand adoption of Chinese styles, traditions or ideas. Rather it enforces the art of creating a more delicate, pleasant, comfortable, attractive, sensitive and beautiful building (Mak & So 2009). Wright’s design was intended to blend to its rural Pennsylvania natural settings thus he limited the color preferences to two colors: Light ochre in the concrete and Cherokee red in the steelwork (Hoffmann 1985).

Within the Falling Water House, dappled light effects, tumbling waters and surrounding foliage exemplify an attitude towards integration of nature and architecture (McCarter 1994). Integration of a building and nature is a fundamental Feng Shui practice.

Figure 5: Falling Water house, above waterfall and adequately integrated with surroundings.

Source: (Kaufmann 1986).


Feng Shui architectural principles perfectly integrate the human beings, the heaven and the earth as one. The Greek and the Indians builds mechanical nucleus theory. Western architecture as seen in the Falling Water building employs aspects of organic architecture which is similar to Chinese’s universal philosophy based on organic matter in the immediate surroundings. Can human beings live away from the natural law? No, thus religious significant buildings such as palaces should be constructed with adherence to achieving unification of the human beings, the earth and the heaven as one. This is by laying emphasis human life by considering elements such as symbolism of direction, wind blow, seasons, water, mountains and others in construction of buildings.

Functionality in Western architecture and Feng Shui are mostly parallel but some differences exist.  Lip (2008) states that Feng Shui examines the metaphysical aspects and functional qualities of some of the most landscape gardens and classical buildings.  

According to Sennott (2004), Feng Shui is both practiced in the East and the West. The Bank of China is characterized by sharp corners; shiny façade and domineering scale thus it negatively affect the surrounding. Thus there exist Chinese Architectural works that are similar to those of Western architecture in that the Feng Shui principles are not as explicit as expected.

Figure 6: The bank of China with sharp corners.

Source: Sennott (2004).

Feng Shui is more of the spirit of a building; it is the energetic feeling and the interior health as opposed to the dress and the makeup of the building. Feng Shui deeply cares about the entire environment and the atmosphere around and within the building. The concept of Qi was used by the ancient Chinese to describe the formless and the invisible, for example energy, spirit, atmosphere, feelings, impression, and energy field among others.

Falling Waters relates with Feng Shui principle in that the designer understood that human beings are creatures of nature, thus he came up with an architecture that conformed to nature to conform to the basics of human beings. Further, there is a hill behind the house as depicted in Feng Shui’s practices of a circulated mountain behind a building. This circulated mountain protects the building from strong winds as well as offers a serene attractive surrounding environment.

The Western architecture is related to Feng Shui practices but because of translation of traditional Chinese concepts to English words, ambiguities arise due to spoken and written texts that are wide open to different interpretations. Therefore, the exceedingly subtle Feng Shui practices prove hard to be verified in Western architectural concepts. Many terms used in the Chinese traditions have complex and exact meaning such that English equivalents do not exist (Mak & So 2009). The Feng Shui concept was initially introduced to the West during the late 19th Century mainly by missionaries to China (Lip 2008).

From various Feng Shui principles involving: water, mountain, wood, metal and others, works in Buckingham Palace and the Falling Water shows that the designers had an understanding of Feng Shui principles.

Furthermore, Feng Shui is evident in modern architecture in the West and the East. The Bird’s Nest Stadium was designed by Swiss architects Pierre Meuron and Jacques Hezrog has a beauty that seems an imagination (Ouroussoff 2008). The two architects also designed Allianz Arena. This shows that there is parallel in Chinese architecture and Western architecture. This Beijing stadium though designed by westerners, sits well within the surrounding which is a Feng Shui principle. With a huge shopping mall beneath it, disturbance to serenity of the neighboring park is well controlled. The Stadium is aligned to other landmarks, notably the Forbidden City, the Bell Tower and the Temple of Heaven to allow the good Qi to flow to the nest and bless it (Thoreau 2013). According to the Western Architecture, the shape, location, Water Cube, and colors present in the stadium are elements aimed at protecting the environment (Yan 2008).

Figure 7: Aspects of Feng Shui in Bird’s Nest Stadium.

Source: (Yan 2008).

Definitely, Feng Shui is not superstition as many would argue. The Chinese culture formed the concept of 4 dimensions with their personal understanding of the connection between human beings, earth and heaven which forms the basis of the Feng Shui theory.  Archaeological studies show that ancestral Chinese houses, villages and cities were arranged according to Feng Shui theory.  Therefore, it can be deduced that Feng Shui is in fact planning and architecture with Chinese characteristics.


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