Several women have contributed substantially to the field of architecture – through design, innovation, writing, and education. The best way to learn what they do is to see them in action. Here is a list of the top 15 TED talks by such inspiring female architects.
1. Grace Kim- How cohousing can make us happier (and live longer)
Grace Kim is an architect and co-founding principal of Schemata Workshop, an award-winning architectural practice with a keen focus on building community and social equity. For architect Grace Kim, loneliness is a function of how socially connected we feel to the people around us and it’s often the result of the homes we live in. She shares an age-old antidote to isolation: cohousing, a way of living where people choose to share space with their neighbors, get to know them and look after them. Rethink your home and how you live in it with this eye-opening talk.
2. Jeanne Gang- Buildings that blend nature and city
Jeanne Gang is an American architect and the founder and leader of Studio Gang, an architecture and urban design practice with offices in Chicago, New York, and San Francisco. She studied architecture at the University of Illinois and Harvard Graduate School of Design and worked with OMA in Rotterdam before founding Studio Gang in 1997. In this engaging tour of her work, Gang invites us into buildings large and small, from a surprising local community center to a landmark Chicago skyscraper.
3. Rosa Sheng – Equity in Architecture
Rosa Sheng had been an architect at Bohlin Cywinski Jackson’s San Francisco office for nearly 20 years when she thought about leaving the field. While pregnant with her first child, she worked on several high-profile projects—among them the patented design for Apple’s retail stores. Sheng has become a leader in the deepening movement to achieve equity in a historically unequal field. She emphasizes that EQxD’s work—which she shares with architects Lilian Asperin, Julia Mandell, and Annelise Pitts—is collaborative and cumulative, rooted in feminist activism and building.
4. Sarah Murray – A Playful solution to the housing crisis
As an entrepreneur and a graduate of the prestigious Stanford LEAD program, Murray applies this powerful cocktail of skills and experience to present-day challenges. Murray created a computer game that allows home buyers to design a house and have it delivered to them in modular components that can be assembled on-site. Listen and Learn how her effort is putting would-be homeowners in control of the largest purchase of their lives — as well as cutting costs, protecting the environment, and helping provide homes for those in need.
5. Debora Mesa Molina- Stunning buildings made from raw, imperfect materials
Debora Mesa Molina @ Mobile Marketing AssociationDébora Mesa Molina makes space for experimentation in a highly regulated profession, designing and building architectures that ingeniously use overlooked materials and discover the beauty of the mundane. She is the principal architect of Ensamble Studio, a cross-functional team she leads with her partner Antón García-Abril, based in Madrid and Boston. Balancing imagination and reality, art, and science, their work innovates typologies, technologies, and methodologies to address issues as diverse as the construction of the landscape or the prefabrication of the house.
6. Neri Oxman – Design at the intersection of technology and biology
Oxman is an American-Israeli architect, designer, inventor, and professor based at the MIT Media Lab in Boston. The founding director of the Mediated Matter Group, she was awarded an International Fellowship to the RIBA last year. Her work marries the technological advances of computational design, synthetic biology, and digital fabrication (otherwise known as 3-D printing) to produce compostable structures, glass objects that vary their optical and structural properties, and garments made from a single piece of silk fabric. Here, she talks about her vision, translated into formidable new expressions of material and form.
7. Kate Orff – Reviving New York’s rivers — with oysters
Kate Orff is the Founding Principal of SCAPE. She focuses on retooling the practice of landscape architecture relative to the uncertainty of climate change and creating spaces to foster social life, which she has explored through publications, activism, research, and projects. Kate was awarded the prestigious MacArthur Foundation Fellowship in 2017–the first given in the field of landscape architecture. Here, she talks about why oysters are an agent of urban change. Bundled into beds and sunk into city rivers, oysters slurp up pollution and make legendarily dirty waters clean — thus driving even more innovation in “oyster-texture.” Orff shares her vision for an urban landscape that links nature and humanity for mutual benefit.
8. Jo Gilles – The effect of masculine & feminine principles in architecture
Australian Architect Jo Gillies has a passion for revealing the hidden meaning behind a design. She illustrates how the built environment reflects masculine and feminine energies, and why a balance is so important to us all. Jo’s inspiration mostly was from being a mother and experiencing the changing needs of our built environment; whilst other times it was mixing sacred geometry, golden ratios, and ancient wisdom with a social and environmental conscience. Working as a female Architect in what was seen as largely male-dominated, she combines her blend of unique design principles with a more sustainably spiritual orientation.
9. Anna Heringer- The warmth and wisdom of mud buildings
Anna Heringer (born 13 October 1977 in Rosenheim) is a German architect. A proponent of sustainable architecture, she has designed several notable buildings including the METI Handmade School in Rudrapur, Bangladesh. Through her projects, Heringer has sought to give local craftsmen and the local community confidence in their use of traditional building methods, preparing them for the future. She also strives to maintain ecological balance, avoiding the detrimental effects of modern architectural methods.
10. Liz Ogbu- Why I’m an architect that designs for social impact, not buildings
Liz Ogbu is an architect who does not design buildings but designs opportunities for impact. She carries out this vocation assuming three different roles: As an expert citizen with trained skills who teams up with citizen expert who knows what it is to live in that community; as a storyteller who transforms and reconfigures space providing dignity to those who inhabit these places – they are “seen, heard and valued”; and as a translator who takes things she has heard and combines them into something tangible. Ogbu has won many honors for her work, including the 2009 Holcim Global Innovation Prize. She is an Aspen Ideas Scholar and a member of Public Interest Design’s Top 100.
11. Aziza Chaouni -How I brought a river, and my city, back to life
Civil engineer and architect Aziza Chaouni, practice methods to integrate architecture and landscape to build and develop a sustainable dialogue between her projects, the environment, and local communities in the Middle East. Born and raised in Fez, Morocco, Chaouni has long found herself fascinated with the Fez River, which winds through the city’s ancient Medina. Once considered the city’s soul, sending water to both public and private fountains, in the 1950s, the stream started to become a toxic sewer because of overcrowding, over-development, and pollution. Chaouni proposed the Fez River Project to uncover the river, restore its riverbanks, and create pedestrian pathways. Her vision: to reclaim these areas as public spaces and reconnect them to the rest of the city.
12. Alison Killing – What happens when a city runs out of room for its dead
Through beautiful design, appropriate planning, and increased infection control, architects have met the challenge to help the medical and scientific community extend our lifetimes. Alison gives a short snapshot of how humanity has changed in handling the dead and dying and offers an eye-opening economic and social perspective on an overlooked feature of our towns and cities: the cemetery. She asks her viewers to think about the spaces people die in today versus how people died during Brunelleschi’s time when he designed Le Hospital. She explains a “really great” piece of architecture can provide a patient with comfort, dignity and beauty.
13. Smruti Jukur Johari – What if the poor were part of city planning?
Urban planner Smruti Jukur Johari works with poor city dwellers to uncover their persistent problems — and then applies herself relentlessly to co-invent novel solutions. Almost a billion people worldwide live in informal communities and slums, often without basic infrastructures like clean water, toilets, or adequate roads. Smruti breaks down myths about these communities and shares examples of simple, common-sense solutions that arise when governments and architects work together with the residents — instead of around them. She became an urban planner to explore solutions that architects in isolation could not provide.
14. Kotchakorn Voraakhom – How to transform sinking cities into landscapes that fight floods
She is the founder and chief executive at the Land process, a landscape architecture firm in Bangkok. She has been named one of Thailand’s best architects, one who is fostering social change. In Bangkok, Voraakhom and her team have turned an invaluable commercial property in the heart of the city into Chulalongkorn Centenary Park, a flood-proof, water-retention public green space. In this inspiring talk, she explains the calling for more climate change solutions that connect cities back to nature.