OPINION PIECE: Can Feng Shui be Applied to Exhibit Design?

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Anyone who knows me knows that I’m open-minded and willing to give just about anything a try. I’m also a chronic insomniac. I’ve had trouble getting sleep since I can remember. If I’m not taking 2+ hours to fall asleep, I’m waking up at 3am and unable to fall back asleep. And I have tried everything. I’ve tried every combination of everything. I’ve tried aromatherapy. I’ve tried proper diet, exercise, no caffeine, turning off electronics an hour before bed, not using the bed for anything but sleep, etc. And, of course, the list includes Feng Shui. Did it work? I can’t be sure. I definitely slept like a baby that first night. But whether it was from Feng Shui or exhaustion from pushing furniture around, I can’t say.

For those that aren’t New Age Hippies like me, Feng Shui is a Chinese philosophy of harmonizing with your environment. Calculations and formulas balance the invisible force of the universe (or qi). Feng Shui has been used to orient buildings and design homes. Even the Skeptic Encyclopedia concedes it is rational to wish to harmonize with your environment. And my philosophy is: what could it hurt?

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Shapes and Layout

There are certain aspects of Feng Shui that can be helpful to exhibit design. Feng Shui encourages a variety of shapes in your environment to keep your Feng Shui elements balanced. From a more practical standpoint, the mixture of shapes will keep the eye engaged. If everything is rectangular, the design will become monotonous. Feng Shui also emphasizes the importance of flow. This is definitely important in exhibit design. There has to be a clear pathway through the exhibit space.

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Colors and Elements

Plenty of research has been done on the psychological effect of colors. And these effects are not much different than the color meanings in Feng Shui. Marketing and branding uses color to influence our purchasing decisions.

The interior of our museum is dominated by wood and metal elements with a touch of earth elements. In our permanent exhibit, the area is dominated by wood elements in materials and shape. (The element of wood is connected with rectangular shapes.)

Our walls in our exhibit are gray and light blue. Psychologically speaking, light blue calms the mind and aids in concentration. But it can be perceived as unemotional and unfriendly. It is not an inviting color, but may aid the audience in learning. Gray is a psychologically neutral color, which is why it is used in our changing exhibit area. It is supposed to be an unseen backdrop. But the question is, do we want an unseen backdrop of color or do we want to affect how people feel when they are in the space? (Unfortunately, in the temporary exhibit space, how we want them to feel may be ever changing.) In Feng Shui, blues invite wisdom and calms the mind. Not so different from proven color theory. Gray, however, is not a neutral color in Feng Shui. Instead, it is considered a helpful color as it balances black and white.

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Controlling Our Exhibit Elements

Our overabundance of the wood element is counteracted by the metal element. Metal helps to control wood. The color gray and the metal light fixtures help combat the wooden display cases. However, according to Feng Shui, we would he helped by having more circular items. (Circles are connected to metal). In this aspect, I agree with Feng Shui. We could definitely soften up our exhibit.

However, we have only ‘controlled’ our wood element. We have not tried to ‘reduce’ it, which would be done by adding the fire element to the mix. Fire is associated with the color red, which is a powerful color psychologically. Red makes a statement, that’s for certain. Colors also include yellow, orange, purple, pink, and magenta. Fire is associated with triangle and star shapes. It is meant to enhance fame, reputation and public attention. Not a bad addition to a museum’s Feng Shui. Maybe I can look into adding fire elements as we move forward with updating our permanent exhibit.