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Is Singapore's Architectural Landscape Built Upon Feng Shui?

By Kames Narayanan

Felicia Yap

A little over a decade ago, there was talk around town about a reported disappearance of a prominent feature located at the foot of the iconic Singapore river. The extended platform on which the striking structure dubbed the Merlion — a national mascot with the head of a lion and body of a fish — stood on was vacant. Standing at 8.6 metres high, spewing water from its mouth into the river, the magnificent landmark was an esteemed local emblem. Several weeks after, the statue resurfaced. This time, relocated 120 metres away at the Merlion Park, the Merlion now stands against a backdrop of the city’s skyscrapers. 

The move came shortly after the completion of the Esplanade Bridge and an adjacent expressway. There are two main theories by way of explaining the displacement. The first, a pragmatic deduction, was an obstruction to view the Merlion due to the newly constructed infrastructure. The second, an unfounded theory planted in feng shui (literally translates as wind-water) — a set of guiding principles grounded in Chinese philosophy. While cynics have dismissed the claims as a farce, the believers are undaunted. 

Over the years, this seemingly baseless narrative has been applied to other acclaimed landmarks in the country. Amidst these speculations, the question remains: Do the theories hold more truth than that of an urban legend carried through the winds? The answer, sought out from local geomancers, is split between confirmations of several theories and a declination to comment on others.

Felicia Yap

Feng shui can simply be understood as the guidelines to living harmoniously with the physical environment. “To put it even more simply, I call it the ‘Armchair’ configuration. When it comes to designing houses or buildings, it is preferred to have the back against a mountain or a higher building (like the back support of an armchair); have water or low-lying open spaces in front (like the legroom space in front of an armchair); and the buildings on either side of the building [that’s being designed] should be balanced and slightly lower (like the armrests of an armchair),” shares geomancy consultant Lim Eng Cheong from Chang Consultancy LLP. “In technical fengshui terms, it is known as the Green Dragon on the left, the White Tiger on the right, the Red Phoenix in front and the Black Tortoise at the back.” 

While it is commonplace for these considerations to be implemented within living spaces, their application to architectural structures is less heard of. Like home owners, architectural developers turn to geomancers in the initial stages of laying the floor plan of the building. The construction of the building itself then commences, guided by the carefully considered assessments.

Felicia Yap

“I would first need to understand the needs of the client, land regulation requirements, possibilities of land use, traffic planning and gather personal information of the client. I would then need to do a thorough feng shui assessment of the site, which includes a geographical study of the area, its exterior environment, consider the presence of water bodies and traffic flow along with taking measurements of feng shui-based directional bearings. Practical and auspicious recommendations and solutions regarding both exterior and interior design [are] then formulated and presented in a report to the client,” explains Lim. 

Lim’s revelations, however, come to a quick halt, when enquired about the build of Singapore’s landscape based on the principles of feng shui. An impermeable confidentiality and an air of ambiguity shroud the conversation. 

“Companies, hotels and governments believe in feng shui, but somehow, it is inconvenient for them to acknowledge that they engage such services. This could possibly be due to feng shui’s association with religion,” divulges Goh Guan Leong of Way Feng Shui Group. 

Without explicitly confirming a relationship between the two, Lim examines the layout of Resorts World Sentosa Casino and that of its surroundings. 

“With reference to the ‘Armchair’ configuration that I previously talked about, you can identify the pattern at the Resorts World Sentosa Casino. It cannot be more obvious! We see an open space plaza and a body of water in front, a cluster of tourist attractions at the back, and two hotels on either side,” explains Lim. “Additionally, the casino has also been oriented to face Singapore’s financial hub.”.

Felicia Yap

The Resorts World Sentosa barely skims the surface of a seemingly convoluted list of landmarks, both old and new. 

“The Duo residence is designed with circular open spaces that allow for a smoother flow of energy throughout the physical space that it occupies. At Takashimaya, a water feature is positioned [at] its exterior, is located directly above another fountain [in] the basement. This flow of water draws the energy and along with it, human traffic. Similarly, the direction of the indoor river flowing through The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands directs the energy to the entrance of the casino, located within the mall,” shares Goh. 

After delving into the theories and identifying its parallels to the construction of reality, it is hard to pin the correlation to mere coincidence. Can we, in part, attribute the prosperity of the nation to the ancient Chinese principles of feng shui? 

“I would say that in land scarce Singapore, with buildings built so close to each other, it is getting more challenging to build according to the ideal configuration. Nevertheless, I believe the objective is always to design and build houses or buildings as comfortable and practical as possible. Feng shui is about feeling good and practicality [is needed] too,” offers Lim. This is as close to a conclusion that we can come.