Designing For: Beauty and the Brain (Season 2, Episode 4)

Inclusive Designers Podcast
Inclusive Designers Podcast
Designing For: Beauty and the Brain (Season 2, Episode 4)

Designing For: Beauty and the Brain

  • By: Janet Roche & Carolyn Robbins
  • Co-Hosted By: Janet Roche & Dr. J. Davis Harte
  • Edited by: Andrew Parrella
  • Guest: Don Ruggles

The ‘Neuroscience of Architecture’ can sound like a daunting subject to tackle, much less try to understand. Inclusive Designers Podcast interviews the forward-thinking architect Don Ruggles who explains this idea in an easy-to-understand way that will make you re-think everything you thought you knew about designing buildings. The question of ‘what is beauty anyway?’ inspired him to write his book ‘Beauty, Neuroscience & Architecture’ which then blossomed into a new Documentary, ‘Built Beautiful: A Love Story of Neuroscience and Architecture’.  

Whether you are a professional architect, designer, or a student studying to become one, this will challenge your perception of beauty (and wellness) in relation to architecture. And even if you are not in the profession, IDP promises that you will come away from this interview with a new insight into how we see our towns, neighborhoods and homes. You’ll learn just what beauty is and why it can make us feel good when we see it.


J. Davis Harte, PhD is an applied and theoretical designer, advisor and educator. Her career focus is on trauma-sensitive design in child-centered settings, merging the knowledge of trauma-informed practices with the latest on evidence-based design. The people who benefit from the spaces she informs are often misunderstood and marginalized.

Don Ruggles, AIA, NCARB, ICAA, ANFA, is president of Ruggles Mabe Studio, a boutique architecture and interior design firm based in Colorado. The firm is dedicated to the idea that beauty can improve the lives of its clients.

The film is predicated on his first book, “Beauty, Neuroscience & Architecture: Timeless Patterns & Their Impact on Our Well-Being,” which investigates how timeless forms and patterns in architecture and design affect our health and well-being.

~ Don Ruggles, AIA, Ruggles Mabe, Denver CO, @druggles

“Beauty is free. Why wouldn’t we use it?”    ~ Piero Ferrucci (in Beauty and the Soul)


“Built Beautiful, An Architecture & Neuroscience Love Story With Narration by Martha Stewart” suggests a new, urgent effort is needed to refocus the direction of design to include the quality of beauty as a fundamental, overarching theme in two of man’s most important fields — the built and artistic environments.

Upcoming Screenings

– Books:

• Beauty, Neuroscience & Architecture, Timeless Patterns & Their Impact on our Well-Being, by Don Ruggles investigates how timeless forms and patterns in architecture and design affect our health and well-being.

• Urban Experience and Design, Edited by Justin B. Hollander and Ann Sussman describes how unconscious responses to stimuli, outside our conscious awareness, direct our experience of the built environment and govern human behavior in our surroundings.

“Beauty is in the Brain of the Beholder~ Anjan Chatterjee

– References:

• Ann Sussman – HAPI Human Architecture and Planning Institute

• ANFA – Academy of Neuroscience For Architecture

• Anjan Chatterjee, The Astetic Brain: How We Evolved to Desire Beauty and Enjoy Art

Piero Ferrucci, Beauty and the Soul

Ary Goldberger

• Biophilia – The biophilia hypothesis suggests that humans possess an innate tendency to seek connections with nature and other forms of life. Edward O. Wilson introduced and popularized the hypothesis in his book, Biophilia. He defines biophilia as “the urge to affiliate with other forms of life”. – Wikipedia

14 Patterns of Biophilic Design- Terrapin

Fractal– A fractal is a pattern that the laws of nature repeat at different scales. Examples are everywhere in the forest. Trees are natural fractals, patterns that repeat smaller and smaller copies of themselves to create the biodiversity of a forest.

DHH Program at the BAC

• Concept of ‘Fight, Flight, or Freeze’

Sympathetic, Para-sympathetic & Homeostasis – “In fact homeostatic balance between sympathetic and   parasympathetic responses is important to our wellbeing and healthy nervous system” Don Ruggles

Mesolimbic Reward Pathway– The mesolimbic reward pathway is implicated in stress-related psychiatric disorders and is a potential target of plasticity underlying the stress resistance produced by repeated voluntary exercise.

• Dr. Kendalls ‘Pareidolia’: Definition – the tendency to perceive a specific, often meaningful image in a random or ambiguous visual pattern.


Designing for: Beauty and the Brain
Guests: Don Ruggles/ J. Davis Harte

(Music 1/ Show Intro)

Janet: In this series we will be discussing specific examples of design techniques that make a positive difference for people living with certain human conditions.

Carolyn: The more a designer understands the client and or the community the more effective and respectful the design will be.

Janet: Welcome to Inclusive Designers Podcast, I am your host, Janet Roche

Carolyn: and I am your moderator, Carolyn Robbins…

Janet: Carolyn, I am so excited for this show. I’m interviewing someone I am truly a fan of… Today’s guest is Don Ruggles— architect, designer, thinker, author, and now movie maker!

Carolyn: I’m looking forward to it too. I’m already up to speed, especially since you bought me his book!

Janet: I did. And?

Carolyn: Loved it, and the film too! And I can’t wait for him to share his thoughts on ‘Neuroscience and Design’ with all of our listeners.

Janet: Agreed! His book, “Beauty, Neuroscience and Architecture – Timeless Patterns & Their Impact on our Well-being” is a must have for any designer and architect’s library. It’s beautifully done, it’s smart… AND, it has big glossy pictures!

Carolyn: And now the book has inspired a documentary too. It’s called: “Built Beautiful, An Architecture and Neuroscience Love Story”

Carolyn: – and it’s narrated by none other than

Carolyn & Janet: Martha Stewart!

Janet: It just makes sense that Martha Stewart would be interested in a topic of beauty and architecture. And what a topic it is. if you’re interested in architecture, are an architect, a lover of architecture, thinking of becoming a designer, or are a designer— this is going to either open your mind to the future of architectural design, or will challenge you as a designer as to what you thought you already knew.

Carolyn: We should also mention that we asked Dr J. Davis Harte to join us today to co-host this episode.

Janet: And now, I think we should let folks hear from Don Ruggles himself.

Carolyn: I think we should,

Janet: and he can explain the impact of architecture on our brains, biology and well-being, so much better than I can…

Carolyn: So, if you ever wondered why we think something is beautiful and what role the brain has to do with it, stay tuned.…

Janet: Here is our interview with Don Ruggles,

Carolyn: and it’s co-hosted by Janet and Dr J. Davis Harte…

(Music 2 – Interview)

Janet: Hi, and welcome to Inclusive Designers podcast. I’m your host, Janet Roche and we’ve got an exciting show for you today. We’re going to be interviewing Don Ruggles of Ruggles Mabe Studio in Colorado. He is also on the board of Human Architecture and Planning Institute, otherwise known as HAPI in Boston; and Building Beautiful Institute in Italy.

And today I also have a great surprise guest. We’ve got Davis Hart back again. For those of you who listen to the show, she’s going to be my cohost for this particular episode. And I’m very excited to have both of them on.

And the reason why we are interviewing Don Ruggles is because he came up with a wonderful book, which I highly I recommend, and it is called ‘Beautiful Neuroscience and Architecture’. And for those of you who like picture books, this is a great, beautiful book. It’s got a lot of beautiful pictures in it.

And as a result of this beautiful book, which I highly recommend you go get it Amazon, or your local bookstore I suppose, it inspired a beautiful and well-done film for architects, and architect students, and people who love architecture. It’s called ‘Built Beautiful’ and I’ve seen it three times and each time I get a little something more out of it. I am so excited to welcome Don, Don Ruggles. Thank you so much for showing up today.

Don: Oh, thank you. I’m really honored to be with you all. Thanks so much.

Janet: Thank you. I mean, as you well know, I love the book, and I’ve become a big fan so much so that I also got your chapter in the book that Ann Sussman and Justin Hollander wrote called ‘Urban Experience and Design’, and your chapter in this was great. It was called ‘Bonding with Beauty’, and you wrote that also with John Boak, did I pronounce that correct?

Don: Yes, that is correct.

Janet: Alright, I just wanted to show you how excited I am and I have done my homework. I might mess up a lot of names, but at the end of the day, you can tell your family I’m a big fan. So, but anyways, let’s jump right on in…

Maybe we should start with the book and move our way into the movie. How did this all start? Like, what was your impetus for writing the book?

Don: Well, this is a rather long story. I’ll try to shorten it the very best I can. In 2009 here in Denver, I was asked to give a talk for a fundraising project at Children’s Hospital. And I was given the topic of ‘Timeless Design’ and I was frankly having a hard time kind of putting together a successful concept for the talk. And my wife recommended that I look into the Academy of Neuroscience for Architecture as she had just heard an interview on National Public Radio with John Eberhart who was the head of what was then really a newly formed organization, the Academy of Neuroscience for Architecture.

So I did go to their website and what I found there was really quite remarkable. Well, I gave the talk and it was very well-received and part of the talk dealt with the notion of ‘what is beauty’ and how does it tie into timeless design? Well, the questions that I had during the question-and-answer period at the end of the talk were mostly centered on this idea of beauty.

So, that led to another talk at the University of Colorado College of Architecture and Planning. And similarly, I’ve got more questions about beauty than any other part of the talk. I thought well I should do some more research on this. So I did, and it led to another talk and another and another and more research and more talks.

Well, fast forward to, let’s see 2016, and I was asked to give a talk at the University of Oklahoma and they have a great publishing arm called the ‘University of Oklahoma Press’. And I managed to get a meeting with them. And I discussed this whole idea about beauty and how it affects architecture and possibly our health and well-being.

Well, when I left that meeting, I had a commitment from OU Press to back my book. So then I thought, ‘Oh gosh, I’ve got to go write a book’. And my wife has written a number of books in special education. So I knew what that process was like. And basically, I locked myself in my home office for two years doing research and working on a book. And I had graphic designers and editors and proofreaders and, you know, a team of people that supported me. So it wasn’t just a singular effort. But, after a couple of years we had a book that was in print and we issued it for sale.

Well, as part of the book promotion, that led to my giving a talk in Denver. And at the end of that talk somebody from Rocky Mountain Public Broadcasting came up to me and said, ‘we love this idea. We think that you should make a movie of this, and if you do, we’ll put it on Rocky Mountain PBS’. And that led to a long-extended effort to create a movie which I guess we’ll talk more about today. So that, in as short as I can make this story, there it is— a small idea that turned into a rather large concept now that is starting to have an impact internationally.

Janet: Right. And we were just talking about how it’s really been embraced overseas, and maybe not so much here, which we, maybe we could at some point address, but I think overall, this concept of beauty really resonated with a lot of people. I know it obviously did with me, it did with Davis and it did even my co-producer Carolyn. So it really struck me. And, and what’s interesting to me is I’m now looking at buildings differently, which I think is a real testament to the hard work that you have done.

So when you went into this process, you looked into the neuroscience and I thought it was interesting. You talk a lot about the fact that we’re sort of innately looking at faces and that’s that somehow shaped your narrative. Do you want to talk a little bit about that?

Don: Well, most, most definitely the facial pattern is one of a series of patterns that humans are born with, it’s literally part of our genetic programming, that there are certain patterns that we seek throughout our life. And when we talk about beauty, there’s really two kinds of beauty. There’s the innate, genetically programmed patterns that I just referenced. And then also there’s the sense of beauty that you acquire as you experience the world, as you tune your brain to modify how you see the world around you to fit with your own personal preferences. So you may have, you know, preference for your grandmother’s knitted blanket and it’s beautiful to you, but not to anybody else. That’s acquired beauty. But innate beauty would be more something like recognizing the importance of facial patterns or fractals, which are patterns in nature, or what Anjan Chatterjee refers to as natural kinds, which are patterns that come from the natural environment, or geometry from the human body.

And all those patterns— facial pattern, natural kinds, fractals and human body geometry— we evolved with over millions of years. So, you know, it’s literally, we’re born and it’s imbued in our DNA. And that’s really significant because what you can start to realize from that is that these patterns are constant throughout mankind or humankind rather. And the old phrase that… “beauty is in the eye of beholder”.  And I think what neuroscience has found is in fact, “beauty is in the brain of the beholder” and our brains are more similar than they are different. Thus, beauty becomes a common reaction that all human beings share.

And that’s Anjan Chatterjee, who is a famous neuroscientist here in the United States. That’s a quote from Anjan. So, it’s fascinating to realize that we all hold these common values about what beauty might be. And when you realize that, then there are other results from that, that you realize that it’s a common, physical reaction that we have, and it’s pretty amazing. The philosopher and neuro psychologist, Pierro Ferruchi, who’s from Italy obviously by the name, he’s quoted as saying, “Beauty is free. Why wouldn’t we use it?” And that’s an important statement because there are many, many benefits from a beauty reaction and maybe today we’ll have time to get into some of those as it’s really, really fascinating.

Janet: Yeah. I, I do want to ask you and it was one of my questions was, how important do you think fractals are? I teach biophilia and we kind of touch on them. Should I be maybe a little more focused on them in terms of biophilia and design and the built environment?

Don: Well, a fractal is a repeating pattern at basically every scale. So you look at a pattern in a plant, and if you have a microscope and you look at, you know, a certain portion of the plant up close, and then you blow that up at successively larger scales and you’ll find repeating patterns. And that’s really the essence of a fractal and it can continue to grow, irregardless of what the scale is.

So what Ari Goldberger has theorized and he’s a research scientist and professor at Harvard is that fractals allow the human brain to zoom in on something very small and then zoom back out at a larger scale. So that in and out of changing of scales, it’s actually good for our brain. It’s exercising your brain and creating new neurological pathways that are really important for the health and well-being of your brain. And so, Dr. Goldberger has theorized that this is actually a really important neurological benefit. And fractals are happening in trees and in grasses and in flowers and rocks. I know that sounds strange, but…

Janet: It’s true… and isn’t it like the arguably the most complex fractal is the brain itself, but there’s something to that. Am I correct, or am I completely off base?

Don: Well, the billions of connections in our brains probably could not have happened without a fractalized arrangement. It’s in the small space that we have within our cranium, it’s theorized that all of the billions of connections that are there just simply could not have happened without a fractalized concept or how our brains evolved. (Janet: Right) So it’s actually quite important.

Janet: Yeah.  Well…

Davis: Oh…

Janet: Go ahead, I was just going to say, we’re going to let Davis see if she wants to jump in here…

Davis: Thanks, Janet. Yeah, I, there’s just, I just adore just sitting and listening to Don speak about it because it is something you’ve been speaking and thinking deeply about for, you know, 11 years now. So that’s gives you some amount of, you know, it’s always the expert who’s asking the questions, you don’t necessarily have to have the answers. But, as the Director of the Design for Human Health program at the Boston Architectural College, I’m always very interested in how we can demonstrate the importance of connecting health and well-being to architecture. And then further from that, how this understanding of our shared neuroscience of our brains and bodies. How does that relate?

Don: …that question is to me?

Davis: Yes Don. (laughs)

Don: How is health and well-being connected with neuroscience? That’s a deep subject. I would say, human beings seek pleasure or survival. And those are really the two categories that as our nervous system collects information at 11-million bits of information per second, it’s far more than we can consciously process. So the first thing that has to happen is that as those bits of information are coming in, they’re filtered and it’s, they’re put into two different buckets, if you will, ‘survival’ and ‘pleasure’.

Now, the survival bucket is quite a bit larger than the pleasure bucket. They’re both important, but because the brain’s looking out for your survival. Ann Sussman describes our brains as the greatest alarm system ever invented by man. So anyway, survival is the strongest input. So survival and pleasure are linked with two really important feelings that we have and that’s ‘approach’ and ‘avoid’.

So you are willing to approach a pleasurable situation and you want to avoid a survival situation. Well that applies to architecture. So if you’re perceiving a pattern that creates an avoid reaction, then you’re not likely to embrace it and, or approach it. And if you’re perceiving a pattern that generates a pleasure pattern, then you’ll feel free to approach it. Now, we’re talking about our autonomic nervous system here, which is dealing with basically below consciousness level, subliminal, if you will.

And most of this separation that I talk about, the inputs going to survival or pleasure buckets, that autonomic nervous system is splitting a very important chain of neurological inputs. And it’s known as parasympathetic, which is pleasurable; and sympathetic, which is not so pleasurable, more on the survival side.

And there’s some really important health qualities attached to sympathetic inputs and parasympathetic inputs. So, if on the sympathetic side, it’s stress inducing, it’s protecting you and it’s raising your heart rate and putting cortisol and adrenaline into your system. And that’s part of the survival reactions known as ‘fight or flight’, no doubt you’d heard of that. Parasympathetic is about rest and relaxation. So that lowers your heart rate and has a number of really positive health benefits to us, including lowering your stress component.

So, parasympathetic is really about feeling well, and sympathetic is about survival and essentially a stress reaction. Well stress, as you know, is not good for us. And what we’re starting to understand is that some architectural forms create a sympathetic reaction and some architectural forms create a parasympathetic reaction. And there’s growing, growing body of research that is looking into this. And this is a game changer for architecture.

Davis: Absolutely. In the book you have, this is a quote you’ve written… “a sense of awe, beauty and wonderment can be achieved appealing to the sympathetic. The sympathetic event has an important place in health and psyche yet it needs to be supported by the parasympathetic as well. In fact, homeostatic balance between sympathetic and parasympathetic responses is important to our well-being and healthy nervous system.”

And I just want to applaud you for having that in your book, because if one did not have a little bit of a sense of stress and cortisol in the morning, we would choose to not rise out of bed. So that’s an important consideration. I think you have some thoughts to share with us about that.

Don: Thanks for bringing that up. So, stress in short bursts are actually good for us. It makes us stronger.  And it prepares us for battle when, if and when we need that to be, you know, our reaction that should be close at hand, so that that’s important, but it has to be in short burst, and then parasympathetic is more extended.

And the homeostatic balance is the short burst of stress versus the elongated, rest and relaxation. So short burst of, of survival and longer burst of just rest and relaxation. And, you know, that’s important for interior designers to be cognizant of, because if you’re designing a room that’s all about just rest and relaxation, calm colors, and calm furniture, then it’s likely to be boring.

And please, you know, note, I don’t want any designers to take offense to that, (Janet: you don’t want any emails) but if you were to add a red painting in or a colorful vase, anything that, you know, that sparks curiosity and a little bit of uniqueness and interest, that is starting to create the balance.

And scientists think that the balance needs to be about one-seventh. So one-seventh, you know, stress, excitement, interest, uniqueness versus six-sevenths of calmness and serenity and understandable patterns. And that’s, interestingly enough, why you often see like fashion shows and famous old buildings, and then really colorful, unique fashions because the two create a really great homeostatic balance. Uniqueness and colorful versus really calm restful, kind of understandable geometry as a background. That’s a good recipe for interior designers, by the way.

Janet: Right, I think people get a little surprised with the 14-patterns of biophilia from Terrapin, I believe it is. They talk about having areas to explore and areas to, to have refuge, but also areas for excitement and wonder. And it’s something that you wouldn’t expect because you think to yourself, like a nice garden, for example, you know, just has some flowers and it looks pretty right. But at the end of the day, It’s more so than that.

I just want to remind everybody that a lot of the information will be on our website,, and also, it is all in the movie and I, again, I want everybody to kind of watch it. But that whole idea of parasympathetic and sympathetic is an interesting juxtaposition. And I like the idea of homeostasis, but you’ve also talked a lot about the three-by-three. Maybe you can talk a little bit about what that is and what that means. And again, it’s also in the movie and on our website.

Don: So, one of the patterns that humankind is born looking for and Sigmund Freud you know theorized that when a baby is born, it has to find a face to survive. Literally the child without the care of another human being is not going to survive. And scientists have found that there’s a pattern that’s made up of three dark spots, two eyes and a mouth surrounded by a dark area, which would be the hairline and the outline of a chin.

And so a child is, has a very rudimentary sense of vision when firstborn, very fuzzy, if you will. And so they’re looking for this pattern of two eyes on top and a darker spot on bottom. And scientists have shown that babies will lock in on that pattern as soon as they see it. But they’ve tried and they’ve taken note cards with the three dots and turned it upside down and the child will not even engage with it.

So there’s a genetic basis for this understanding that children are looking for this pattern. Well, if you take that pattern and you overlay a grid on it, it’s actually a three-by-three grid. And one of the important development things that happens with a child, not only is they’re looking for that facial pattern, but they’re also trying to engage in empathy. So all of the kicking and smiling and you know, the general back and forth that happens between mother and child is a really important part of the child’s development. And the child has to have that. And so this too is part of the genetic code.

So the empathy that happens between child and mother, and it goes on for day after day, week after week, for years, is setting up a response in the child that is positive. When they see the mother and they end up being fed and they’re laughing, and it’s just a general uplifting sense of life, that sensibility stays with us for the rest of our lives.

And when we see the pattern, which is a three-by-three pattern, when we see that in building facades and elevations, then we empathically transfer the sense of feeling good into the building elevation. And that’s why we call it beautiful, because it’s triggering the mesolimbic reward pathway in our midbrain that releases the feel-good hormones. And so we automatically feel good, same as when the child was engaged with the mother or the father, but automatically releases these hormones. It’s a feel-good hormone. Then that can result in the statement, ‘It’s beautiful’. So ‘it’s beautiful’ is actually often a physical response to seeing a pattern in a building elevation.

And if you look at some of our most acclaimed and honored buildings worldwide— so the ‘Forbidden City’ in China, famous temples in Japan, pyramids in Central America, the Pantheon, the Parthenon, St Peter’s, St John’s, I mean, over and over, the US Capitol, the White House— I mean all of these are revered and protected buildings, and the reason they are is because they’re made up of the same pattern.

Andrea Palladio was famous for using this pattern and his buildings are some of the most revered ever built. So the point here is, is that this three-by-three pattern is actually a fundamental reaction that all human beings have, and it results from being raised by your parents and the reactions that we learn when we’re being nurtured.

Janet: Right. Well, I don’t know if Davis has any questions for you, but this is a good segue into the movie, but Davis, do you have any questions you want to piggyback on some of that?

Davis: Yes. I have always many enthusiastic thoughts around this topic. It’s so, so fun to speak about, but I do want to understand and learn how the process of taking your thoughts and ideas, putting them in a book and transforming it into a movie. And how this, how this is a message that you’re optimistic that the general public will be able to pick up and understand. Maybe we can just start it there from a more broad points for the movie.

Don: When I first found the Academy of Neuroscience and I started reading the scientific papers, I thought, well this is amazing information, but it’s probably too dense for an architect to, you know, spend hours trying to sort through it. So I tried to write the book in a manner that was readable. In fact, the book is laid out with pictures so that an architect can just look at the pictures and the graphics and pretty much understand the message. And the famous saying is ‘architects look at books, they don’t read them’. And I’m an architect, so I can verify that that’s true. (Janet: laughs).

Anyway, so we tried to bring the same sensibility to the movie, that there are important aspects here in the movie that we’re trying to convey to the general public. And it’s not just a movie for architects. Really it’s for everybody. Because the simple matter is, the way you arrange pictures on a wall around a fireplace can make a difference in how you feel, whether you feel a sense of, ‘I don’t really understand this’ to ‘this feels really good and I understand it’. And so, if we thought, if we could bring some of that to the general public, it actually, you know, might help some people out. And particularly with COVID now, and everybody’s spending so much time in their homes, if we could give them the vehicle to, you know, rearrange their furniture that might feel more comfortable.

And I’ll tell you a story, I took some people through a house we had designed and I gave them a copy of my book. They went back to their condo and rearranged all their furniture and they said “this place has never felt so good. And thank you so much for letting us understand why we needed to do this and, and why it feels so good.” So this is not, you know, too difficult to understand once you embrace the general concepts. So we tried to make the movie so it would appeal to a broad audience and actually maybe give them some clues as to what they could do with their home interior or even their home exterior.

Janet: Right. But even if, how they looked in their built environment and also their office spaces, Right? And then also, their towns and their cities, or, you know, their neighborhoods, and they can also realize why they’re attracted to certain buildings. I think that’s a very kind of simple and almost fundamental concept. So you’re starting to understand the world around you. I actually wrote down at some point that this is a movie, not for just architects and architects’ students, but it’s for everybody to understand a little bit more.

And to your point, we were already spending 90% of our time indoors anyways. And then now like with COVID, if we can make our own home environment a little bit more beautiful, it just does us well. Which kind of brings into some of the questions that you had asked us to think about as well. And so, right off the top is what are the importance for connecting health and well-being to architecture. So, what, do you want to jump into that?

Don: Well, I, this is about health and well-being. And you know, I didn’t set out to write about health and well-being. But what I did realize was that- I was president of the Institute of Classical Architecture and Art, Rocky Mountain chapter for nine years. I’ve also been on the board of advisors for the University of Colorado, College of Architecture and Planning for about that same period. And Colorado is primarily a modernist school, and ICA is very much a traditionalist-based organization.

And I would listen to the arguments at one board meeting from the traditionalist, and I would listen to the counter arguments from the modernist at the university. And I thought, well, this is really just a war of words. And what could the possible common ground be here. And I realized that it was health and well-being, that both groups definitely were concerned with the health and well-being of their clients. And so that comes down to a fundamental of, if you use certain patterns, you can create a health and well-being reaction. And if you don’t, you’re likely to create a stress reaction, which is not helpful.

And it doesn’t matter whether it’s contemporary or traditional. If you use the right patterns in the right way, you’re going to generate that reaction. And I think that’s the fundamental message here. It’s not about style. It’s about using the patterns that generate these reactions. And that’s a game changer. And I didn’t invent all this, so it’s not all attributed to me. There are many groups around the country and in Europe that are looking into this,

Janet: I have to jump in there. You did coin a phrase though. Did you not? Neuro archi…

Don: -chitectology,

Janet: -ology, yes.

Don: Yes. That’s trying to weave together of course, architecture and biology and psychology and neuroscience into, you know, one kind of fundamental umbrella idea that we can use concepts from all of those disciplines to help inform the decisions that we’re going to make as architects and designers that hopefully support our client’s health and well-being,

Davis: Well, you’re a very effective messenger because you are able to demonstrate the nuance. It’s simple. It’s something that anybody can sort of pick up these ideas and say, ‘Oh, sure, this makes sense, you know, I’m going towards pleasure and I’m avoiding things that threaten my survival’. Yet, there’s this other, how you define beauty as having a bit of the acquired, the cultural and the experience.

So each set of patterns is something that any designer or architect could learn about and understand and recognize and say, ‘we already know this, we’re already doing this’, but what maybe isn’t happening is the reverting to a code and sticking to the let’s just follow the bare minimum here. Well, in reality, we need to have that ability to understand and read and know our clientele and the future users of the space to make sure that we’re prioritizing the patterns or prioritizing the layers in that sort of a way. So, is that something that prompts any thoughts in you that you want to expand on Don?

Don: Well, so what we’ve found in our practice, and we primarily do residential work, so we get a lot of feedback from our clients, is that we have strong moments of centering and symmetry, and then we’ll let it relax some. And so you might see the centered idea and then you go around a corner and, as you’re going around the corner, it’s not centered, an asymmetric design, and then you come upon another centered moment and then, you know, the same sequence happens again, and again, and again. So it’s, present the centered idea and then relax, and then represent it and relax.

So, we found that that creates the curiosity that is such an important component. Davis, you mentioned that a minute ago, curiosity and awe. So curiosity is a very important component to our lives. So you don’t want everything to be the same. Not every wall should be centered and a three-by-three pattern. But if you can have a strong three by three pattern on every wall in every room, then I think you’d go a long way towards creating a sense of relaxation and comprehension by your clients.

Because again, as a baby, we’re desperate to find that pattern when we’re born. And if we don’t, it’s panic, because we’re not going to survive. Well that emotion stays with us forever. And that’s where the stress reaction starts to come in. We’re looking for this three-by-three pattern every day, all day long, it’s facial pattern. And it’s not just acquiring a facial pattern from a person walking down the sidewalk. But when we look at buildings too, the portion of your brain that processes facial patterns is also the same portion of the brain that processes facades. And that’s an incredible realization. And Dr. Kendalls at Colombia, Nobel prize winning neuroscientist, has talked a lot about Pareidolia, which is, if we don’t find the pattern, then we might fill it in, because we’re so desperate to try to acquire the pattern. So, anyway, that’s… I don’t remember what the question is now, but…

Janet: (laughs)

Davis: I tend to ask open-ended questions. So, I’ll turn it over to Janet for something…

Janet: it’s all good – So, and now I know I have shared this story with you. Your wonderful producer/director Mariel, she did a lot of filming with your film in my old stomping ground which was Brooklyn Heights. And one of the buildings that she actually said was beautiful is right near where one of the buildings as a kid we would avoid. And I don’t know why that was. You know, I never understood why. And we would cross the street because there was the lovely building that she actually showed. And so, it kind of goes back to your point that these things are just innate within us. And it’s not something that you can maybe even put your finger on. But I think that this film will really kind of help to explain that to people, which I think will be a game changer.

Don: Great. Fantastic. So what would be uncomfortable is an architectural pattern, a building an elevation, that is so unusual that it was causing an avoidance reaction. And you know, in the movie I say something like, everybody probably has buildings that they like to go out of their way not to encounter. Conversely, I think everybody has buildings that they in fact go out of their way to encounter. And that has to do with this subliminal approach and avoidance reaction. And it’s just so, you know, subtle that… there’s a building here in Denver that my wife and I used to go to and we finally had just said, ‘you know, I don’t feel like going there anymore’. Well, that’s the avoidance reaction. There’s something in that building that is making us feel uncomfortable. And everybody has that. You just acknowledge it, that that’s probably a sympathetic reaction that you’re having to a pattern that you don’t understand, or you’re looking for a pattern that you can’t find.

Janet: Right, so, we’ve talked a little bit about who should be watching this movie and why, but can we do a little more of a deeper dig into that because I think that that’s important. One of the things the take-away pieces is how important neuroscience is and this movie explains all that. But how do we as designers learn from that, but not get distracted by that? I know there was a lot of discussion about that towards the end of the movie but is there a way to be able to be innovative, creative, and deal with neuroscience. Can you expand a little bit on that?

Don: Well, yes, I will. Neuroscience is a new tool for us to help still make creative inventive decisions. And the important thing here is to realize that some architectural spaces may create stress. It’s an evolving topic and neuroscience is a tool it’s not the end all be all. And I think Dr. Chatterjee and the movie states that very clearly. It’s still a decision to be made by the architect or the designer.

Davis: Thanks for mentioning that Don about neuroscience being a new or evolving tool that can be tapped into and used as a means to generate and remodel spaces and places for people to have a way to facilitate their health and well-being. I mean, that’s, this is one of the big takeaways from the movie ‘Built Beautiful’, and from the work you’ve been doing.

You know, if a person isn’t using all of their available attention, attentional focus to search out and make meaning of the space that they’re in, then they can attend more to their own internal state, how they’re feeling, the person that they’re with, how they’re doing and find a more of a harmonious experience in that space. However, conversely, if they’re in a space that’s demanding a lot of interpretation and their senses are very busy trying to make sense of ‘up and down’ and ‘left and right’ and ‘where to go’ and what have you, then it will immediately trigger that ‘fight or flight’ mode that many are chronically stuck in anyway. And so the window of tolerance can be expanded by the space that we have.

So I don’t necessarily have a question from what I’m saying. I’m just kind of countering what you said with more, you know, approval and evidence, and meaning of why this needs to get into peoples, into everybody’s understanding. So, fantastic.

Janet: We’re just such a big believer of this movie. Again, I’ve seen it three times. I’ve read your book. I’ve read, you know, the, the other chapters that you’ve had like I said, in Ann Sussman’s book as well. And I liked what you said at the end of the movie was the idea of that neuroscience of architecture, right? Not neuroscience and architecture. And I thought that that was a really important and powerful moment because it’s part of the game changer that you’re a part of this emerging field and it is also, it’s things that we’re still learning, but it’s such an important part. I mean, again, you know, just looking at building facades and how people react to them. it’s really amazing.

Don: Well, I, I must say, it is just an emerging field of interest here and recently I, in just the past two weeks, I’ve been in touch with groups from Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Canada, Johns Hopkins University, ANFA, Kansas State University, Oklahoma University and Colorado University. I mean, and everybody is talking about this. So this is a course correction. I’m not the head of this, there are many, many people that are working very hard on it.

Janet: I have to interrupt, the movie though breaks it down in bite size pieces that is so, again, it’s not just for architects, it’s not, not for the architects that have been out in the field for 20, 40 years. It’s not just for the students. I mean, this is also for people to understand. I would argue that this is a groundbreaking movie within our field.

Don: Well, I’ve had comments to that effect that,

Janet: oh, so I’m not original on my thoughts, okay, thank you, Don. (laughs).

Don: I’ve had comments that have said, they think, you know, and I’m being modest about this, but people have said that it was really important, so we’re glad to be part of the movement.

Janet: Yeah. We think it’s really important and we really appreciate you stopping by today and giving us your time. And I implore all of my Inclusive Designer Podcast listeners and architects and architect students, and people who love architecture, and if you just want to walk around in your neighborhood and understand it a little bit better to really think about looking out for the movie, an incredible movie. The actual title for the movie is ‘Built Beautiful: An Architecture and Neuroscience Love Story’, that is the full name of the movie. I think that that kind of sums it up right there.

Also again, the book is ‘Beauty, Neuroscience and Architecture, Timeless Patterns and Their Impact on Our Well-Being’. And again, all of this information and a lot of it, we put it on our website, and we’ll have links to Don. So you can get in touch with Don or Davis and, and even how to buy the book. Don, thank you so much for being here.

We wish you continued success with the movie. We really, all of us here and, I’m maybe speak a little bit for Davis, we really appreciate the work that you’ve done. Again, I think that this as groundbreaking work. And I’m so excited that you agreed to be here today and to share your information and share your knowledge with, I would argue, the rest of the world.

Don: Thank you. It’s been an honor.

Janet: Oh, thank you. Davis, you want to throw a, throw a goodbye?

Davis: Sure thing. Well, thank you so much for, you know, we’re all picking up this message from wherever it came from and we’re finding each other and we’re creating a really strong interdisciplinary team of people who are out to have more heartfelt spaces, spaces that feel better, you know, for people who can understand themselves more and more. So it’s a real honor and a privilege to be here and to speak about the film ‘Built Beautiful’. We’re big fans. Thank you so much. Thanks Don.

Don: Thank you.

Music / Show Outro:

Janet: I suspect that Don Ruggles will be one of those architects that will make a name for himself, not only for his beautiful architectural work, but for his role in bringing this really important research to light.

Carolyn: And we just learned that the old saying that ‘beauty is in the EYE of the beholder’ should really be… that ‘beauty is in the BRAIN of the beholder’.

Janet: Right? Especially as we unlock more and more mysteries about our brains and how we see beauty. And although we think that it’s subjective, it really isn’t, as there are some basic innate patterns that we all seek. I dare you not to try to find faces in almost every building you encounter. As a designer, I knew this to be a concept, but I’m now seeing faces everywhere, and it’s pretty exciting.

Carolyn: I agree, I’m doing it too, and it’s pretty incredible. Don pointed out that “There are probably buildings that you go out of your way to avoid, and others you go out of your way to see.”

Janet: He also said, “architecture has ramifications on our health, and we need to understand- what are the forms, ideas, repetitive patterns that support proper health and well-being.”

You know this is an important topic for anyone even remotely touching this profession. It highlights the emerging relationship between the built environment and human psychology. If you have a passion for design and how and why we think some things are beautiful, keep an eye out for the documentary. And for more immediate gratification, check out his book.

Carolyn: The movie also touched upon some other new concepts like using Virtual and Augmented Reality to provide new insights, methods, and information to enrich the design process.

Janet: And also, how neuroscience is being used in designing for people with eating disorders or dementia… it’s fascinating. The movie really captures it and helps us to understand the importance of this kind of work.

Carolyn: We should really think about doing episodes on these two new areas of research.

Janet: That’s a great idea, and… I might have been thinking the same thing. Meanwhile, I‘m telling everyone who is listening, you’ve got to go find this movie and check out his book.

Carolyn: We will of course have links to Don, the book, the movie, Davis, and a few other things that were mentioned along the way during this discussion… they’ll all be on our website at:…

Janet: That’s:…

Carolyn: We also want to thank you, our podcast listeners, for listening. And now, in case you didn’t know, along with all the regular places you get your podcasts, you can also find us on YouTube. Just go to YouTube and look up Inclusive Designers Podcast. And of course, if you like what you hear, feel free to go to our website and hit that Patreon Button, or to the link for our new GoFundMe Page.

Janet: And don’t forget our motto, as we like to say here on Inclusive Designers Podcast: ’Stay Well…and Stay Well Informed’. See you next time. And thank you as always for stopping by.

Carolyn: Yes, thanks again.

(Music up)

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