Buildings and Brains: Beyond the Box

Current brain research supports what architects and designers have long known–that we can construct spaces that relax, inspire, awaken, comfort or heal. Our built environments encourage creativity, keep us focused and alert, lead to relaxation and social intimacy, and play a role in treating medical disorders. Ceiling height affects brain function. Our brains also seem to be hard wired to avoid sharp angles and their danger. Interior colors affect our ability to remember words and details, and therefore task performance. We thought we would do some research of our own on the connections between buildings and brains, so we asked some Neenan employees, who design, build and inhabit spaces every waking moment of their lives, what buildings and aspects of buildings inspire them, and why. Here’s what we got!

Kittredge Building, Denver.

Reflecting Craftmanship – The Kittredge Building in Denver, Colorado, chosen by Tony Fiore, Preconstruction Manager. People and situations inspire me buildings just house people. I am most impressed by buildings that are made of stone or masonry because they reflect the craftsmanship of the people who built them. One example is The Kittredge building in downtown Denver, where the Paramount Theatre is located.

Chapel of St. Ignatius, Seattle

Enlightening Materials – Chapel of St. Ignatius, Seattle, Washington, chosen by Kathryn Kurtz, Senior Interior Designer. Materials (such as concrete, drywall, plaster and wood) are celebrated in their simplest form in this little chapel in Seattle, WA. Steven Holl unfolds an experience through the use of form, contrast, and light. The interior patterns that are created in plaster and revealed when washed with natural light are especially delightful. The interior of this chapel is awe provoking and calm. One is pulled through the space at a leisurely gate exploring all the little architectural treasures that Steven has created.”

Denver International Airport, Denver, CO.

Personal Accomplishment – Denver International Airport, Denver, Colorado – chosen by Jim Ferguson, General Superintendent. DIA is my favorite building because I spent two-and-a-half years working on it and grew up working on that job. It provided me with the overtime money to help me buy my first house, and gave me my first chance to manage a big project at a very hands-on level.

Notre Dame, Paris, France.

Transcending Time – Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris, France – chosen by Dawn Nelson, Contracts & Risk Management Assistant. To me, Notre Dame is an icon of timeless design and architecture. It was a collaborative effort of many people and their ideas over 100+ years, including several architects and numerous workers that showed up every day to work on a project that they may never see finished in their lifetime. They made an investment in something that would survive them to create a beautiful and useful structure for future generations to appreciate and enjoy.”


Constant Companion – Hotel Gellrt, Budapest, Hungary – chosen by Greg Bundy, Database Administrator. This historic Art Nouveau building was built in 1916 on the banks of the Danube River and at the foot of a rugged hillside. It was one of the first sights I saw when I first arrived in Budapest and has been my favorite ever since. And now that I live here, it’s just a few minutes’ walk from my home!

The White House, Washington D. C.

Iconic Cornerstone – The White House, Washington, DC – chosen by Mark Schneider, Project Manager. The White House is a cornerstone of American symbolism standing since the late 1700s and housing all American presidents since John Adams. Its architectural style represents early settlement in our country and its expansion since conception also represents a growing nation. To me, it is one of a few symbols predominately associated with this nation.

The Guiness Storehouse, Dublin, Ireland.

Source of Sustenance – The Guinness Storehouse, Dublin, Ireland – chosen by Mackenzie Daley, Marketing Manager. The juxtaposition of the old exterior (original brewhouse) with the modern interior (central core mimics an inverted pint glass) is striking as a tribute to the history and future of Guinness. The curvy glass naturally guides you through the brewing process with a waterfall and mini hops farm. Finally, the top is a 360 bar where you can sip a fresh Guinness (my favorite beer) and look at the panoramic view of Dublin.

Guggenheim Museum, New York, New York

Inspiring Work – Guggenheim Museum, New York City, New York – chosen by John James, Design Manager. My favorite building is the Guggenheim Museum in New York City by Frank Lloyd Wright. I first visited it in 1962 and it was instrumental in my decision to become an architect. It is gorgeous, inside and out; it is completely uncharacteristic of any other architecture in NYC; its atrium is as beautiful a space as can be found on the entire planet.


Structuring Wonder – Basilica of Our Lady of Peace of Yamoussoukro, Yamoussoukro , Cote dIvoire, West Africa – chosen by Jesse Johnston, Project Manager. It is an amazing structure. The courtyard holds over 750,000 people, 250,000 more than the population of the city in which it was built. It has nine active elevators installed in the internal columns of the main frame structure. It can seat 18,000 attendees inside. St. Peters Basilica can fit inside this one structure. It is also a magnificent undertaking for constructors. The logistics to build this with local and international help was a great undertaking.”

Which buildings inspire you and why? What features of theirs do you seek in your home and elsewhere? We would love to hear your thoughts!

Thanks for the photosJeffrey Beall, Sacred Destinations,Dreaming Tiger,Slices of Light,ex novo,OZinOH,Bill Glover, andCoryu.


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