Today’s TED talk is located at the junction between architecture and society. It is a question of race and building. Could the design of a building help heal racial wounds that go back centuries? Michael Murphy thinks so. In his 2016 lecture, he tells a fascinating story of how working on a house helped save his father’s life, and how that led Michael to a career in architecture that has made a profound difference on lives around the world.


Watch the video and decide whether the statements below are TRUE or FALSE. (Answers are below.)


  1. The speaker enrolled at architecture school because of an experience with his dad.
  2. Bruce Nizeye confirmed the speaker’s views about architecture.
  3. In Butaro, they used a rare kind of stone.
  4. Malawi has a very high instance of infant mortality.
  5. The United States has not built a memorial to atrocities in its own past.
  6. One team has worked on building the memorial.

Now go back to 3:32 and listen to fill the gaps. Use no more than three words.

That following summer, I was in the back of a Land Rover with a few classmates, bumping over the _____1______ of Rwanda. For the next year, I’d be living in Butaro in this old ____2____,which was a jail after the genocide. I was there to _____3______  a new type of hospital with Dr. Farmer and his team. If hallways are making patients sicker, what if we could design a hospital that flips the hallways on the outside, and makes people walk in the ____4____? If mechanical systems rarely work, what if we could design a hospital that could breathe through _____5_____,and meanwhile reduce its environmental footprint?


Architecture is a topic that does sometimes come up in the IELTS exam. It can appear in any section, including the writing test. Here’s a question from task 2:

Some believe buildings should be built in a way that serves their purpose rather than just look beautiful. Others, however, say buildings should represent art too. Discuss both views and give your own opinion.

Do you need an extensive knowledge of technical vocabulary to answer this question? No, of course not! The IELTS writing will only require general knowledge and non-specialist vocabulary. You should be able to answer this question with limited reference to the features of a building.

Here’s my sample answer:

Opinions are divided on the extent to which architects should focus on functionality or aesthetics. While some people believe that buildings should be primarily designed to fulfill a specific purpose, others believe that they should do more than this and become a form of art. This essay will argue that buildings ought to be visually appealing as well as functional.

Clearly, buildings must be designed for a purpose. Whether they are residential, commercial, or industrial, every building is built to do something useful. It could be argued that this is the only purpose for a building, and that anything else is wasteful or extravagant. It seems absurd from this perspective that money is wasted on beautifying a factory in an industrial zone, or a silo on a remote farm.

However, most buildings are located in or around urban centers and as people have to view them every day, it seems important that they do more than simply serve a purpose. Instead, buildings can positively change the landscape. Ugly grey apartment blocks or old brick factories may create an oppressive atmosphere, while creative and playful architecture may boost people’s spirits. All around the world, urban planners have sought to bring vibrancy and charm to cities with innovative designs, and the effect can improve morale, encouraging civic pride and even strengthening the economy.

In conclusion, although architecture should of course take into consideration the function of a building first and foremost, it is also important to view building design as an opportunity to enhance people’s lives and create a better environment.


T/F questions

  1. T
  2. F – he thought differently and changed the speaker’s views
  3. F – it was an abundant local resource
  4. T
  5. T
  6. F – two teams have worked on it

Gap Fill

  1. mountainous hillside
  2. guesthouse
  3. design and build
  4. exterior
  5. natural ventilation