A FUTURE COMEBACK OR FENG SHUI VS. BULGARIAN ARCHITECTURE IN THE REVIVAL
Arch. Diana Ilieva from Dikanski and Partners Architectural Studio invites us to go back to our roots by making some interesting parallels between the ancient Chinese art Feng Shui and the traditional Bulgarian architecture from the Revival period. You might be surprised by the number of similarities.
Using this material I would like to draw the attention on an interesting fact. The wildly discussed topic of Feng Shui has numerous similarities with the traditional residential architecture from the period of Bulgarian Revival.
What is Feng Shui? This is an ancient Chinese art of favorable positioning. It is the way of creating order and balance in the surrounding environment and a tool for a better life. Apart from being a theory, is also a system of advices, skills and techniques that satisfy different aspirations. By using them, we are able to change our home and office and in that way to enjoy more our everyday life. We create our home, but our home also creates us.
Professor Lin Yun, the master of Feng Shui, defines Feng Shui as the method that people use to choose and define the place, to build and create, and to adapt and transform their living and/or working space in order to achieve the maximum level of health, welfare, and wellbeing.
It is interesting to point out that the term “Feng Shui” comes from a Chinese saying which describes the best place for living as: Where the wind is mild and the sun is warm, the water is clear and the verdure is rich.
It seems like these thoughts are the result of a deep research on the houses from the period of Bulgarian Revival. In a vast period of time those houses were built by different craftsmen for different owners from a different wealth and social status with diverse cultural and everyday life needs. Usually the houses were placed among a big green yard surrounded by a high stone fence. The home is situated in such a way that its’ main façade, where the entrance and the “chardak” (“chardak”is a second floor loggia, an open space or the summer living room) are, is looking towards the yard and the porch; and is also oriented to the sunny and windless side (usually south, southeast or southwest).
Feng Shui works by balancing and harmonizing the energy of the living power, or Qui (ch’i) that flows in and around our homes. According to Feng Shui each building draws energy from its surroundings and this energy circulates inside of it. Every time our domestic environment either charges us with energy, or extracts energy from us. Qui flows in the anatomy of the building, which unites geometry, plan, colors, and materials. The location of each room, their proportions and design, and the connection between the house and the earth create energy flows in the house.
Let’s go back to the Bulgarian houses from the period of the Revival. The floor plan of the house includes an open “chardak”, a room called “v’kushti” (in modern Bulgarian language “v’kushti” literally means “at home”), where the traditional fireplace is situated and the entrance of which is through the chardak, “soba” or room, and another room, called “odaya”, again with an entrance from the chardak.
Later on, a room, called “prust”, is designed between the odaya and v’kushti to insulate from the cold. The closet is in improvement in the residential houses. According to Feng Shui, we could say that the closets are the ones that stop the energy Qui from flowing out and protect the house from the northern cold.
From an architectural point of view, there is nothing redundant, needless and accidental in Bulgarian homes. Each façade element has good and logically defined forms which not only correspond to the constructional necessity but also meet the aesthetical logic. Elements such as arches, chardak’s frames, and tracery railings, are used very frugally. The architecture from the period of Bulgarian Revival is organically connected to the natural environment and reflects the specifics of local building and artistic traditions.
The term “Feng Shui” means “wind-water”. According to East philosophy life, and the world, is a three-polar model – good vs. evil, light vs. dark, warm vs. cold; together with their connection the two absolutes form the Trinity. This Trinity is based in the philosophy of many – it is sufficient to point out the Christian Holy Trinity and the three aspects of Hinduism.
This Trinity is visible in the Bulgarian Revival houses when grading the spaces. The house grows in height naturally and organically from the ground. The ground floor, the connecting floor, is where the farm spaces are; the upper floor is for dwelling. The open space, the chardak, connects the house and yard. It is there where the connection between in and out is situated; in the warm months this is the place for work, relax, dine and sleep.
Another fundamental philosophy in Feng Shui is the symbolic aspect. The main idea is that our home symbolizes our life. Every part of our home reflects who we are and what the state of our inner and outer life is. For example, the entrance door symbolizes the beginning. It is the most important point through which energy enters our home. It is the point that defines the border between the “inner” and “outer“ spheres of our surroundings. If this place is blocked by any means, all aspects of our life will suffer. If our house door is beautiful, full of positive energy, then our life will be blessed. Feng Shui teaches that if our ways and house doors are free and unobstructed, then the energy and the blessings could easily flow in our houses and improve our lives.
The yard porch in the Bulgarian Revival houses is big and beautiful. A shapely stone path across the year connects the porch with the main house entrance and the wide “chardak”. The main façade speaks of wellbeing.
An unpleasant influence to our welfare is the situation when the house has a staircase pointing directly towards the front door. The idea here is that the energy could enter the house and go straight to the back part of the house without creating any welfare for us. If we want to attract clients, it is necessary to have a exquisite and welcoming entrance.
It is a question whether the Bulgarian craftsmen knew about this when building their beautiful houses. The “chardak” in the Bulgarian house from the Revival is oriented to the south and the staircase is always situated along the house, usually on the west side. Later on, the entrance is designed under a high three-arch penthouse, carried by beautifully ornamented wooden columns. The entrance is the axis of the middle arch. A double staircase leads sidelong the way towards the entrance. It emphasizes its’ meaning and give it a solemnity.
The Holy Octagon
Another fundamental theory in Feng Shui is the one about the Holy Octagon. It is a system and a method to interpret the energy models. It is in our favor when all parts of the Holy Octagon are well balanced and equally strong. The Center is the ninth sector which dominates all of the rest. The Center symbolized health and unity; it supports and nourishes all other eight parts of the octagon.
It is the Center where the Bulgarian craftsman would place the fireplace, the big room, the salon. In this area Feng Shui advices to place pieces of art, sculptures of a healer, images of angels or healing creatures. By bringing Earth’s energy in the Center, we make our health stronger and thus all aspects of our life. This energy could be brought in by placing objects that have a connection to the Earth, for example – ceramics, big flowerpots, wooden furniture and objects.
A typical trait of the big room in the Bulgarian houses is the “mensofa” – an uplifted area to seat and relax. A decorated wooden frame separates it. The side walls of the mensofa are designed with cupboards, woodcarving and drawings.
Colors and aromas
Feng Shui symbolism involves colors and aromas. The color is one of the most useful ways to create a better life.
Our people share the love to the ornamentals and multicolor. It could be seen in our uniquely embroidered traditional clothing and ceramics that bristles with color and various geometrical forms; as well as in our architectural work. For the mastery of our craftsmen speak the colors which suggest serenity and confidence and the mildly curved lines.
The aroma is a way to create a quick connection with the inner spirit. The precisely chosen scent could elevate the mind, could fasten the curative process, and could create the desired atmosphere in our environment.
Do you remember the scent of the backyards of Karlovo, Klisura, or Sliven? Flowers like roses, hyacinth, chrysanthemum, tulip, and lavender, cover those yards from early spring to late autumn. The evergreen boxshrub and the red geranium have an irreplaceable presence in the garden.
Feng Shui advices we must increase the amount of flowing water in our lives. Water is the universal symbol of prosperity. The presence of flowing water corresponds to a stable flow of money and a healthy business network.
Every Bulgarian yard has a fountain (tap) or a well. It is also common to have a stream of clean water flowing in the yard – it is a pleasure to listen to it and a refresh in the hot summer days.
In order to improve the happiness in our family we could Feng Shui advices to pay special attention to the rooms where the family dwells – the living room, the dining room, the cabinet. Every effort to make those rooms cozier will increase the family harmony.
The salon is the representative center, the backbone of the architectural composition and the artistic decoration in the city houses of the wealthy Bulgarian people in the period of Revival. Its’ dominancy is also clearly shown in façade. The interior is composed of element of wood-carving, decorative application, wrought iron, carpets, colorful rugs, exquisite knitting works and pieces of embroidery. They fill the spaces with coziness, warmness and beauty.
The Bulgarian Revival Houses
They are created by our craftsmen using a comparatively narrow means of expression – rounded stones, clay and wood in their natural color and texture; white and colored walls, usually shouldered with wood; sloping and narrowly indented roofs, covered with stone stales or roof-tiles; wide and shadowy eaves; the contrast between the light wall and the dark empty space of the chardak at the back; columns, railings; doors; cupboards; ceilings and chimneys; uplifted relax areas, called “kioshk”; consoles of the second floor; rearranged windows with or without grating and/or shutters; graceful chimneys; bipartite outer staircases; arcades; balance-beam-curved of the frontons; the interior and exterior frescos – those are all part of the various artistic means that our craftsmen architects would use to create this diversity of completed architectural forms.
It is hard to find anything in their work that is strained or in surplus – all forms, elements, and details, are logically connected to the idea, composition and construction of the building.
This unity between façade and interior, between building material, detailing and construction where the material is used; between color and material texture and architectural form, create this feeling of completeness and that our traditional architecture carries. This is architecture created with love; an architecture that follows the principles of unity between theory and practice; between continuity and use of the architectural legacy.
The Bulgarian architecture in the period of Revival is an architecture that has developed individually and separately. However, it carries a large number of techniques and recommendations that Feng Shui teaches – a 3000-year-old ancient Chinese art of favorable positioning and of balance with the surrounding environment.