What is architecture? How can it help in solving the problems of today? What can architecture give us as individuals and communities? These are some of the questions answered by Alice Kimm in her 2015 TED Talk – What architecture can do for you (if you take the time to ask). Alice Kimm is a 1999 Fulbright scholar, an associate professor at USC, and a fellow of the American Institute of Architects (AIA).  To add to her already studded belt, she is also the co-founder of John Friedman Alice Kimm Architects (JFAK), a renowned LA-based firm known for its design of innovative and catalytic environments. Their firm incorporates developing technologies to realize a sustainable and artful output that is marked by spatial fluidity, quality of light, and cultural impact.  

TED talk for Architects: What architecture can do for you | Alice Kimm | TEDxFulbrightSantaMonica - Sheet1
Alice Kimm_©TEDxTalks

What is Architecture

One of the most subjective questions that differs from person to person is what one perceives as architecture. For some it may be structures like the Pantheon, which are historical architectural marvels, or the Bird’s Nest Olympic stadium in Beijing, a massive civic monument showing the strength and intensity of people, but for others, it may just be a neighborhood park or a riverfront plaza or small pockets within the city that evoke special emotions for them. Something that particularly stands out in this TED talk is the way Alice Kimm talks about architecture. She is almost poetic in her appreciation for it and there is a reverent quality to her words. She puts it simply by saying “Architecture is a space that we inhabit that helps us communicate”. Finding places or architecture that elicits strong emotions in us is not easy, sometimes it happens by accident but most of the time these structures are created by architects using specialized skill sets centered on the concept of space performance.

TED talk for Architects: What architecture can do for you | Alice Kimm | TEDxFulbrightSantaMonica - Sheet2
Occulus in Pantheon_©John Morton

Responsibilities of Architecture 

“I know that we architects are an idealistic and thus aggravating bunch but we are also cynical and realistic and that is a good thing because we accept the condition that we find our world in today and we choose to work with it.” – Alice Kimm, Ted Talk 2015

In the current climatic conditions and environmental decay, with forest fires, droughts, and dangerously high temperatures, there is a serious concern if humanity could even survive the millennium. In addition to this, we have pandemics, unstable governments, soaring prices, and extreme poverty to battle. The human race has dug this hole for itself, no doubt about it. Each year we get closer to the point of no return but the world is still too busy with territorial wars and petty squabbling. Alice Kimm circling this makes a good point that there is no running away from this situation. To conserve our planet and bring back some stability, humans are the only ones who can use tools specific to us to slow down if not reverse the damage. Architecture is one of those tools. Buildings consume 30% of energy globally. By fixing what we can architecturally and wanting to leave a safer world for the generations to come, innovation and sustainability are a must in any and all designs we architects uptake.

Alice Kimm brings up Masdar city which was a net zero city supposed to produce more energy than it consumes which in 2015 was all the hype along with high-performance architecture emulated from nature. But the common reality of the majority of the population is an economically constructed environment with places like Masdar city not even on their horizons. And so, all projects, regardless of their shape, size and budget have the potential for great impact. 

She goes on to discuss multiple projects done at her firm that were entrusted to them by their clients. They have done residences which are small, sustainable, and serene with the soul of it lying in the relationship between indoor and outdoor spaces. She talks about architecture that establishes identities and connects people in so many ways, like the cultural monument they made in Korea town. Architecture is needed to accelerate the progress of humanity’s survival. But more than that, architecture gives meaning and happiness to our lives with its creativity, inspiration, and beauty. 

Koreatown gateway_©JFAK

In the end, does Architecture express our humanity, or does humanity seek expression in architecture? As an architecture student or a professional, this talk will make you realize or at least reaffirm that we have a larger responsibility towards our communities, environment, and our future generations. Alice Kimm makes you think and rethink the power architecture has to transform the quality of life. The best part of the talk is that while it targets the architectural community, it speaks to everyone. Alice Kimm asserts the need for people to ask for the best from their environment, for when they ask, the architects will rise to the challenge to provide them with something transcendent and beyond their imaginations. 

  1. TEDx Talks, 2015. What architecture can do for you | Alice Kimm | TEDxFulbrightSantaMonica.Available at: <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3dCd2onzB6k> [Accessed 10 May 2022].

Rishima is a fifth year architecture student currently interning in Pune. She is an avid reader and occasionally blurts out coherent thoughts. She believes creating an equitable space for all and providing a uniform experience regardless of gender, sexual preferences, age, abilities, class and caste is the responsibility of each architect.

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