The 8 Most Inspiring TED Talks for Architects and Designers


TED's mission statement says, "We believe passionately in the power of ideas to change attitudes, lives and ultimately, the world. So we're building here a clearinghouse that offers free knowledge and inspiration from the world's most inspired thinkers, and also a community of curious souls to engage with ideas and each other.

Since June 2006 the talks have been offered for free viewing online, under an Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs

Creative Commons license, through  As of April 2014, over 1,700 talks are freely available on the website.

Here are our top eight most inspirational TED talks for architects or for anyone with a passion for the built environment industry.
1. Frank Gehry – “My Days as a Young Rebel”, 1990

Frank Gehry is one of the world's most influential architects, his innovative work with landmark sites like the Walt Disney Concert Hall and the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao are evidence enough. His collaboration with artists shows his extended vision away from his comfort zone – to designing watches, teapots and a line of jewellery.

Why you should listen –

Taking us on a trip down memory lane, architect Frank Gehry reveals his early work before he was an industry name. From his house in Venice Beach to the American Center in Paris that was under construction at the time, Frank solidifies his reputation as a legend of architecture.
 2. Liz Diller – “The Blur Building and Other Tech-Empowered Architecture”, 2007

Liz Diller’s brainy take on the essence of buildings are refreshing and rebellious. Her firm, Diller, Scofidio & Renfro – take brainy building and art installations that seem to outshine the regularity of their co-designers. From a mid-lake rotunda made of fog to a gallery that destroys itself with a robotic drill, Liz’s talent is obvious.

Why you should listen –

Liz Diller presents some of her most offbeat work, from theatre and design to master planning. In the context of architecture as a special effects machine, Liz challenges the supposed conventions of space. Her firms continuous search for an “architecture of nothingness” aims to produce moments and places that will remain in our memory, forcing deeper thought.
3. David Byrne – “How Architecture Helped Music Evolve”, 2010

Since the break-up of Talking Heads in 1991, David Byrne has made a sustainable career as a solo artist, working in film and music and becoming an active supporter of cycling. Known for his intellectualism, Byrne has given numerous lectures on variable topics – from Carl Jung to the ways in which venue and context shape artistic creation.

Why you should listen –

The talk explains how architectural factors weigh in to the production of music and performance. He explains that different kinds of music are made for different spaces. With a witty rapport, he traces the history of music between Mozart, Scott Joplin, and punk, and observes their relationship against both the acoustics of the rooms in which they were played and the media players that were in use. 
 4. Joshua Prince-Ramus – “Building A Theater That Remakes Itself”, 2009

The face of contemporary culture, Joshua Prince-Ramus is currently best known as the architect of the Seattle Central Library. Prince-Ramus was the founding partner of OMA New York – the American affiliate of the office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA) in the Netherlands – and served as its Principal until he renamed the firm REX in 2006.

Why you should listen –

Prince-Ramus explains the concept of challenging boundaries of design through re-engineering of the process and reaping the benefits. He talks through his re-creation of the local Wyly Theater as a giant “theatrical machine” that reconfigures itself at the touch of a button.
 5. Rachel Armstrong – “Architecture That Repairs Itself”, 2009

Applied scientist Rachel Armstrong, uses advanced technology to design sustainable and eco-friendly solutions for the built and natural environment. Her research raises questions about the sustainable development of the built environment. She creates innovating resolutions while addressing environmental challenges on an academic level including carbon capture and recycling, smart ‘living’ materials and sustainable design.

Why you should listen? –

Looking for a sustainable architectural future, Armstrong explains in the talk her eco-friendly solutions. Armstrong and her team at the Bartlett School of Architecture are working with scientists to find new materials that can be grown: with the aim of creating energy-efficient materials creating themselves through natural processes, rather than imposing mankind’s will on natural materials. She describes plans of growing a new limestone foundation for Venice, “carefully crafted around the wooden piles.”
6. Cameron Sinclair – “My Wish: A Call for Open-Source Architecture”, 2006

Cameron Sinclair trained as an architect before joining Kate Stohr to found Architecture for Humanity, a non-profit that assists architects in applying their skills in humanitarian efforts. With a budget of $700 and a website in 1999, AFH has grown into an international hub for humanitarian design, solving housing problems with innovative solutions around the world. 

Why you should listen –

Sinclair discusses his work as the founder of AFH, while addressing that architects need to be involved in making a change, by making open-source design proposals. This new way of thinking has inspired innovative ideas in places as diverse as Kosovo, Sub-Saharan Africa and post-Katrina Mississippi. Sinclair urges that sustainability is a way of surviving and thriving with minimal expense, not just a responsible way of designing.
7. Thomas Heatherwick – “Building the Seed Cathedral”, 2011 

Founder of Heatherwick Studio in 1994, Thomas Heatherwick aimed “to bring architecture, design and sculpture together within a single practice.” The team including architects, landscape architects, designers and engineers work within a combined studio where concept development, prototyping, detailing and small-scale fabrication take place. With high profile works of public art, the studio also spans across commercial and residential building projects.

Why you should listen –

Heatherwick touches on growing up alienated by large buildings lacking the materiality and soul of smaller-scale design. He discusses his most famous work, the Seed Cathedral. Completed in 2010 for the Shanghai World Expo, the British Government asked for a design that would be able to stand out – but maintain elegance. The pavilion was inspired by the Expo’s “future cities” theme – and the movie Jurassic Park.
 8. Paola Antonelli – “Design and the Elastic Mind”, 2007

A force to be reckoned with, Paola Antonelli stepped back from practicing architecture in order to focus on writing about design, teaching and curating gallery exhibitions. In the design world since 1994, she is senior curator of the Modern Art Museum in New York, and the first ever director of research and development for the museum.

Why you should listen –

While not directly speaking of architecture, Antonelli raises valid points for the profession. She explains how designers are elastic, moving through various fields of knowledge. She goes on to explain how other areas like fields of science; stimulate designers to incorporate new technology into innovative designs. “Designers are quite fantastic,” she quips.

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