In the not too distant future, a Colorado architect believes someone will step into a novel, contemporary building designed with strange angles and sharp points. This place was created to be “exciting” and “unusual” and has a heart attack.

And this architect claims that as neuroscience advances and our understanding of neuroesthetics deepens, the courts of the future will side with the family of the heart attack victim when they sue the building’s designer.

Are lawsuits coming? Could someone go to jail for funky design? And don’t we all have a few places in mind whose architects we want to punish?

Don Ruggles, president of the Ruggles Mabe Studio in Denver, devoted to “serene, elegant, and romantic architecture,” wrote a book about the connection between brain research and aesthetic appreciation.

The architect Don Ruggles, who in his new book “Beauty, Neuroscience and Architecture” examined the neuroesthetic effects of architecture and looked at architectural models. (Marvin Anani, special for the Colorado Sun)

With the support of neuroscience, he claims that the human brain searches for certain timeless patterns without which we lack balance and well-being. Freaky, fun, unusual designs may be exciting, but they also excite and upset them.

Design not only evokes emotions, says Ruggles, it also affects our health. Beauty can evoke calm and relaxation.

In Beauty, Neuroscience, and Architecture, 2018 University of Oklahoma Press, Ruggles traces the idea of ​​beauty back to our reptilian brain, the original fight or flight response necessary for human survival. He has lectured on the subject worldwide for a decade, including a recent master class at the University of Colorado in Denver.

“Beauty has been marginalized quite a bit in the last century,” he told the students. “We have to bring it back. Architecture has a direct impact on our health and wellbeing. “

Architect Don Ruggles, author of “Beauty, Neuroscience and Architecture”. (Marvin Anani, special for the Colorado Sun)

He offered a tour of Denver to a reporter and photographer and gave examples of his theories. As he drove through town, he repeated how our instinctive drive – approach / avoidance – comes into play.

“The brain is a pattern recognition machine,” he said. “Avoidance is five to seven times stronger than approach.”

He quotes mind / body science to underpin his very specific classical taste in architecture. Cortisol, sympathetic input, fight / flight versus calm, parasympathetic input, and cell repair … it’s complicated. The point is, he explains, humanity has had a deep need for beauty since our first descent from the trees, as beauty literally physically creates a sense of security and comfort.

“Beauty is not ‘in the eye of the beholder,'” said Ruggle, “but a neurological event.”

And so we get into his SUV and let our neurons fire.

Built around 1910, the Cheesman Pavilion appeals to the most basic neuroesthetic sensibilities – its huge lawn that matches the human brain’s fondness for wide open spaces, and its orderly neoclassical design that is stable and responsive. (Marvin Anani, special for the Colorado Sun)

Taking a break on the lawn at Cheesman Park, Ruggles explains that our human brains prefer the open savannah where we can see into the distance when we approach predators. That’s why the vastness in Cheesman Park is one of the most sought-after wedding locations in town, he says. Do you see the mountains in the distance, the expanses of grassland and finally the rugged, familiar, Parthenon-like structure? That calms us down.

He turns to the marble pavilion and notices that our brain feels the stable structure as pleasant. Ruggles explains that it is actually a 9-square tic-tac-toe board. The Cheesman Pavilion, circa 1910, with its top-to-bottom neoclassical design in the center is iconic and timeless.

Next, our brain looks for the familiar facial pattern, he notes, the first thing an infant learns to distinguish between two eyes and a mother’s mouth. The features are often replicated in houses with two windows and one door. As soon as you see faces in architecture, they are everywhere. He drives through the upscale Polo Club district pointing out houses that are inviting because of the patterns – two dormers and a door or two windows and a door.

Denver architect Don Ruggles says there is a “hormonal, physical response” to the patterns in the facade of the historic Weckbaugh mansion on E. Cedar Ave. Repeat 1701. It was designed by architect Jules Jacques Benedict and completed in 1933. (Marvin Anani, special for the Colorado Sun)

Experience the Weckbaugh Mansion on E. Cedar Ave. 1701 designed by Denver architect Jules Jacques Benedict and completed in 1933.

“There’s a hormonal, physical response to the pattern,” said Ruggles.

The box-shaped modern architecture may be intriguing at first, but architect Don Ruggles, who takes the neuroesthetic of the building environment into account, says people who live or work there probably won’t stay long if the eye quickly moves away from the building away. (Marvin Anani, special for the Colorado Sun)

Across the street from the historic mansion, on the other hand, is a box-shaped, modern glass-sided house that looks fascinating. Ruggles disapproves, saying the design “can be stressful or eye-pleasing … people pay a lot of money for these houses, but they don’t stay long.”

The most striking examples are two public areas downtown: the Hamilton Wing of the Denver Art Museum and next door the Clyfford Still Museum.

This is where Ruggles gets really passionate about his theories. The dazzling silver, dramatic, and surprising Frederic C. Hamilton Building, a collage of unexpected angles and sharp points covered in titanium by Daniel Libeskind and Davis Partnership Architects in 2006, could be a Denver landmark.

But Ruggles despises it as an incredibly uncomfortable building inside and out. Does it take off or does it fall down? Sure, it’s an icon, but it makes ruggles feel like they have to flee.

Architect Libeskind said in a TED talk that people “applaud the good-natured box,” but that he wanted to create something more, something new, something radical. Libeskind preached: “Architecture is a confrontation with our senses.”

Ruggles can be the anti-Libeskind. He believes that people seek safety in the built environment, that we would rather avoid confrontation. He (like many architects) disapproves of the Hamilton building as impractical, a blow to history’s accumulated architectural knowledge. It also makes people dizzy.

The Clyfford Still Museum, which is located next to the Hamilton Wing of the Denver Art Museum, is a modern building that follows the principles of classical architecture. Architect Don Ruggles, who takes the neuroesthetic implications of the design into account, says there is a balance between the Still and Hamilton wings. (Marvin Anani, special for the Colorado Sun)

The Clyfford Still Museum, on the other hand, is modern but follows classical principles, said Ruggles. There he notices the “9-square” design: three elements up and down, three elements in diameter. It may look boring next to its neighbor, but it’s ingrained and comforting. Ruggles believes that buildings work well together. “There’s a sense of balance between the two.”

Of course, you don’t have to be a traditionalist to find the Hamilton building problematic. Harsh Parikh, a modernist Denver architect and president of Parikh Stevens Architects, agrees with the dizzying effects of the Hamilton building and calls it “Libeskind’s Monument to Libeskind”.

But Parikh is not buying Ruggles’ premise.

“I do not agree that the human mind is conditioned for classical proportions. The human mind has evolved over 100,000 years. It’s a real challenge to argue that we tend to find a more traditional aesthetic appealing. “

In addition, the idea of ​​what is beautiful or relaxing is a flowing concept that over time is neither intercultural nor universal.

“Taking traditional beliefs that are barely 2,000 to 3,000 years old and saying that humanity is kind of hardwired to appreciate these things is probably going too far,” Parikh said.

The Hamilton Wing of the Denver Art Museum designed by Daniel Libeskind is intended to inspire. However, Denver architect Harsh Parikh is not buying the idea that his collage from unexpected angles is a neuroesthetic crime for humans. He says the idea of ​​what is restful is fluid. (Marvin Anani, special for the Colorado Sun)

“Tradition evolves over time in a cultural context,” Parikh said. “One could argue that when Buckminster Fuller built a geodesic dome, he seemed alien to a Greek architect, not to an Inuit who had lived in igloos. What people develop nostalgia for is not universal. “

In the end, Parikh said: “This is more of a conservative versus a progressive argument.”

William Logan, editor of Modern In Denver magazine, thinks it is more of an argument between good and bad.

“We spend most of our time distinguishing between good and bad design rather than typology or style, as there are good and bad designs in all types of architectural styles.”

Similarly, modernist architect Brad Tomecek of Tomecek Studios understands the point of Ruggles and believes that proportions and sizes are very important, but human needs and responses have evolved. “We used to live in caves,” he said, “that’s not the case this time. This discussion is more about the integrity of the project, ”said Tomecek. “It’s all about quality.”

But Ruggles replies that his concern is not conservative / progressive, modern / traditional. “In fact, I have included many examples of modern design and art in my book that support the use of homeostatic design. It’s about using the latest information from the neuroscientific profession to improve our profession. This is a public health issue, not a style issue. “

In accordance with Ruggles, Meredith Banasiak of Boulder Associates Architects specializes in neuroscience for architecture, namely healthcare and senior design.

According to Banasiak, her area of ​​expertise is growing steadily, with applications outside of healthcare. “It’s happening now because we can measure,” she said, citing a government workplace study that took physiological measurements of human response to building characteristics.

“I recently attended a conference at the Academy of Neuroscience for Architecture. One of the great recent discoveries was how we design prisons. The effects are not only psychological in nature, they also change the brain structurally. The results have really led to new guidelines for the design of prisons. ”

In a chapter in a forthcoming book, Banasiak writes on museum design and confirms “reports of sensory response in the brain to conflicting information.” (You too get dizzy in the Hamilton building).

The principles of neuro-architecture are not yet mainstream, said Banasiak. “Don is ahead of the curve.”

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