Applying an Ancient Asian Art to Design of a New High-Rise Builders Incorporate Incense and Rice, Light and Airflow, as Buyers Seek Spaces That Conform to Notions of Feng Shui

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It was just an ordinary Friday morning on the beachfront here - traffic buzzed on Ocean Boulevard, jets echoed overhead, Rollerbladers clicked their wheels on the boardwalk cement.

But in the courtyard of a new $100 million, luxury high-rise apartment, a quiet ceremony was beginning to catch the attention of passersby. Behind a table festooned with fruits, flowers, and roast fowl stood Feng Shui Master Chi Jen Liu in a white Mandarin jacket alongside assistant Jenny Liu in floral silk. As Ms. Liu described the meaning of his gestures in English, Master Liu gnarled his hands into a dozen shapes, slicing the air like a Samurai swordsman without the sword.

"This is not a trendy, quick fix," Ms. Liu said to the gathering of mostly Western press. "Feng Shui is an 8,000-year-old art and science of how to select, create, and live in harmony with the environment." The event was a ceremonial blessing that came at the end of an arduous, time-consuming analysis performed by the Lius for the owners of The Pacific, 16 stories of elegant condominiums priced from $250,000 to more than $2 million. For $1,500, the duo submitted a thick document containing suggestions on where to place furniture, appliances, computers, offices - as well as what colors, textures, and materials to use. Such suggestions were based on the Chinese philosophy (pronounced "fong schway") that tries to understand how to create a comfortable environment in which the user can live and work efficiently. Some theories are literally far out - how energy fields align between earth, stars, and planets - while others are more down to earth, such as how terrestrial features (rocks, trees, waterways) collect or scatter sunlight and wind. The ceremony and the analysis are the subject of heated debate among scholars and lay people in the US - and even in China, Korea, Japan, Thailand, Burma, and Vietnam, where the practice has been long established. But whether Feng Shui is a religion, a science, or a superstition, it makes a significant design contribution for believers such as The Pacific developer James Ratkovich. "Any builder in the US who refuses to consider the principles or practice of Feng Shui does so at his peril," says Mr. Ratkovich, a leading developer of buildings in Los Angeles. Billionaire developer Donald Trump has incorporated notions into his buildings, and others who have not say they have regretted it. When Chinese architect I.M. Pei designed the new Bank of China, for instance, he neglected to consult a Feng Shui master and met with widespread opposition to the 70-story office tower in the middle of the city. Noting that 1 in 4 of his Long Beach tenants are of Asian heritage, Ratkovich says: "We have found the principles and the ceremony to be of very great significance to Asian buyers, and increasingly, non-Asian buyers. …