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Feng shui (pronounced “phong shway”) is a Chinese philosophy focused on the relationship between humans and their environment: a system of how to live and excel in harmony with nature. The principles of feng shui were applied to the design of the newest branch office of The Adams National Bank, located in Washington’s Chinatown neighborhood at the corner of 7th and H Streets, NW.


The foremost objective of the designers of The Adams National Bank branch in Chinatown was establishing an office that works, while achieving a design respectful of the Chinese culture. This had to be accomplished within an L-shaped shell made from two townhouses in an historic block, along 7th and H Streets, NW.

The challenge was to create an environment in which feng shui principles did not interfere with a workable bank design but rather generated a harmonious environment….

Feng shui is the ancient discipline of placing objects in their most auspicious locations, complemented by the use of appropriate colors which are thought to balance energy, call in needed energy and diminish negative energy….

The feng shui design is expressed in materials, color and numbers. For instance, a sculptural red wall of lacquered wood on the south side of Adams’ Chinatown office is broken into nine panels since the number three is associated with the south and nine is a multiple of three. Black and white metal elements, found on the north wall, reflect the colors linked to that direction and produce a modern-looking version of a traditional Chinese wall system. The east side features green and gold, colors of spring and renewal; green-patina copper check-writing counters are located at the east end of the space. Each element of the distinctive materials and finishes found in the office has a special meaning and tries to mediate between the modern bank, the historic building and the Chinese culture.

Many factors are called upon to determine optimal feng shui. For internal feng shui, these factors include the direction of the entrance to a house or office and the location of rooms or work areas. The primary entrance is where life-enhancing energy, known as “ch’i” flows in. An office, which benefits from this energy, should be designed to keep the ch’i in, so The Adams National Bank features a patterned glass screen wall located just inside the branch entry to keep the ch’i from going out the door.

In the wing along 7th Street, tellers’ windows are located along the south side, which feng shui associates with fame, fortune and happiness. When making their transactions, customers stand on solid concrete inserts that symbolize the importance of their business. The north side of the wing, associated with business success, knowledge and wisdom, is where managers sit and customers seek their help. The public entry is from the east, the direction associated with family, here the community of Chinatown….—Mike DeBonis