Song and dance or exact science? The guru behind the Beatles lives on through interiors
Laura Fisher Kaiser -- Interior Design, 2/1/2009 12:00:00 AM
With its pink marble floor and white Barcelona chairs in the lobby, Tower II at 2000 Tower Oaks Boulevard in Rockville, Maryland, looks like a typical suburban office building. But observe more closely, and you'll notice that tenants avoid stepping on the illuminated square of inlaid onyx by the elevators, the ceilings are precisely 9 feet 3 inches, a meditation room occupies the northwest corner on one level, and every single desk faces north or east. That's because Kishimoto.Gordon.Dalaya incorporated principles of Vedic or vaastu design, based on ancient Hindu texts. "We're not Vedic architects per se," KGD principal Tsutomu Ben Kishimoto says. "Like building codes or ordinances, Vedic guidelines were simply another set of program requirements."
The program required that Tower II conform to "natural law" as defined by the Institute for Maharishi Vedic Architecture in Fairfield, Iowa. Yes, that maharishi, aka His Holiness Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who introduced the Beatles to transcendental meditation and founded a quasi-religious real-estate empire worth billions. The maharishi died a year ago, but his followers—who include developer Jeffrey Abramson, a partner in the Tower Companies—are carrying out the guru's vision. During the design and construction of Tower II, Jonathan Lipman, who serves as both institute director and chief architect of Fortune-Creating Building, vetted KGD's blueprints and materials.
A Los Angeles duplex condo by the Bondanelli Design Group. Photo by Beuth Photography.
To provide "cosmic harmony and support to the individual," the maharishi decreed, a Vedic building must be oriented perfectly to the cardinal directions, with an easterly entrance to face the dawn; be constructed according to "precise mathematical dimensions in harmony with the cosmos" and "proportionally designed to mirror the geometry or architecture of the universe"; contain a core of silence called a Brahmanstan; and have each room "carefully placed to resonate with the different energies of the sun as it moves across the sky." For example, Lipman arrived at the ceiling height at Tower II through a series of arcane calculations. Maharishi brochures claim that a wrongly placed entrance can fill a life with anger, aggression, poverty, and even chronic illness. In fact, they say, 75 percent of buildings suffer from incorrect orientation and thus are a major source of health and societal problems.
"Regardless of the more mystical aspects, the space does feel good," KGD senior associate Stefan Dytrt says. "Is it because we're good designers working with a soothing palette and natural materials? Is it the daylighting? Or is there a sixth sense? We don't know."
The lobby, with its glowing wall of onyx and sweeping northeast views of treetops, does evoke serenity on a late afternoon in winter—despite tinny Muzak playing somewhere. Then again, maybe that's partly to do with the air, which is super-scrubbed by high-tech mechanical systems. A LEED Platinum certification is pending.
A vaastu diagram and Leonardo da Vinci's Vitruvian man, both showing how human forms can produce harmony in man-made structures. Images courtesy of Sharad Mathur.
While only six architects in the U.S. are maharishi-certified, unaffiliated designers embrace a looser interpretation—never mind that if a building isn't auspiciously aligned, Lipman says, rearranging the furniture won't make much difference. For them, vaastu is more aesthetic than science, a kind of Indian feng shui that promotes similar goals of harmony and positive energy.
Interior Design Hall of Fame member Clodagh says that she views vaastu as one of many arrows in her quiver "to energize a space and make lives fruitful." If vaastu works, fine. Otherwise, she may tap feng shui, bio-geometry, or pyramid power.
Kinari Design principal Doug Atherley, having grown up in India and traveled extensively in Japan and Southeast Asia, considers vaastu part of a broader Asian aesthetic that influences his style. Still, he says, "Working mostly in London, I have little room for a stricter approach. I am not at liberty to change the orientation of a Victorian terrace!"
Likewise, Bruno Bondanelli of the Bondanelli Design Group says his work has vaastu elements but demurs on specifics: "In design, it's not about numbers but about proportions. I'm more spiritual, not a great mathematician."
Sharad Mathur, vice president of marketing for the office-furniture manufacturer Inscape Corporation, grew up and practiced vaastu architecture for more than a decade in India. He attributes a resurgence in popularity there in the past 15 years to politicians, tycoons, and Bollywood stars constructing vaastu homes. The most prominent example is the Antilia, a 24-story corporate meeting facility and private residence in Mumbai that Perkins + Will designed for billionaire Mukesh Ambani.
"I spend a lot of time explaining this is not hocus-pocus," Mathur says. "It's not spirituality. It's science."
In addition to blogging about vaastu design, Mathur gives popular lectures at trade events. He advises fellow designers to place most furniture along south and west walls and bedroom mirrors in a location where they won't reflect negative energy back at you while you sleep. Most important, avoid putting the master bedroom in the northeast corner of a house, which causes instability in relationships. Instead, he suggests, put the spare room there to ensure no guests overstay their welcome.