Architecture that’s built to heal | Michael Murphy

Architecture that’s built to heal | Michael Murphy

Every weekend for as long
as I can remember, my father would get up on a Saturday, put on a worn sweatshirt and he’d scrape away at the squeaky old wheel
of a house that we lived in. I wouldn’t even call it restoration; it was a ritual, catharsis. He would spend all year
scraping paint with this old heat gun and a spackle knife, and then he would repaint
where he scraped, only to begin again the following year. Scraping and re-scraping,
painting and repainting: the work of an old house
is never meant to be done. The day my father turned 52,
I got a phone call. My mother was on the line to tell me that doctors had found
a lump in his stomach — terminal cancer, she told me, and he had been given
only three weeks to live. I immediately moved home
to Poughkeepsie, New York, to sit with my father on death watch, not knowing what the next days
would bring us. To keep myself distracted, I rolled up my sleeves, and I went about finishing
what he could now no longer complete — the restoration of our old home. When that looming three-week deadline came and then went, he was still alive. And at three months, he joined me. We gutted and repainted the interior. At six months, the old windows
were refinished, and at 18 months, the rotted porch was finally replaced. And there was my father, standing with me outside,
admiring a day’s work, hair on his head, fully in remission, when he turned to me and he said, “You know, Michael, this house saved my life.” So the following year, I decided
to go to architecture school. (Laughter) But there, I learned
something different about buildings. Recognition seemed to come to those who prioritized
novel and sculptural forms, like ribbons, or … pickles? (Laughter) And I think this
is supposed to be a snail. Something about this bothered me. Why was it that the best architects,
the greatest architecture — all beautiful and visionary
and innovative — is also so rare, and seems to serve so very few? And more to the point: With all of this creative talent,
what more could we do? Just as I was about to start
my final exams, I decided to take a break
from an all-nighter and go to a lecture by Dr. Paul Farmer, a leading health activist
for the global poor. I was surprised to hear a doctor
talking about architecture. Buildings are making
people sicker, he said, and for the poorest in the world, this is causing epidemic-level problems. In this hospital in South Africa, patients that came in
with, say, a broken leg, to wait in this unventilated hallway, walked out with a multidrug-resistant
strand of tuberculosis. Simple designs for infection control
had not been thought about, and people had died because of it. “Where are the architects?” Paul said. If hospitals are making people sicker, where are the architects and designers to help us build and design
hospitals that allow us to heal? That following summer, I was in the back of a Land Rover
with a few classmates, bumping over the mountainous
hillside of Rwanda. For the next year, I’d be living in Butaro
in this old guesthouse, which was a jail after the genocide. I was there to design and build
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 exterior? If mechanical systems rarely work, what if we could design a hospital
that could breathe through natural ventilation, and meanwhile reduce
its environmental footprint? And what about the patients’ experience? Evidence shows
that a simple view of nature can radically improve health outcomes, So why couldn’t we design a hospital where every patient
had a window with a view? Simple, site-specific designs
can make a hospital that heals. Designing it is one thing; getting it built, we learned,
is quite another. We worked with Bruce Nizeye, a brilliant engineer, and he thought about
construction differently than I had been taught in school. When we had to excavate
this enormous hilltop and a bulldozer was expensive
and hard to get to site, Bruce suggested doing it by hand, using a method in Rwanda called “Ubudehe,” which means “community works
for the community.” Hundreds of people came
with shovels and hoes, and we excavated that hill in half the time and half
the cost of that bulldozer. Instead of importing furniture,
Bruce started a guild, and he brought in
master carpenters to train others in how to make furniture by hand. And on this job site, 15 years after the Rwandan genocide, Bruce insisted that we bring on
labor from all backgrounds, and that half of them be women. Bruce was using
the process of building to heal, not just for those who were sick, but for the entire community as a whole. We call this the locally fabricated
way of building, or “lo-fab,” and it has four pillars: hire locally, source regionally, train where you can and most importantly, think about every design decision
as an opportunity to invest in the dignity
of the places where you serve. Think of it like the local food movement, but for architecture. And we’re convinced
that this way of building can be replicated across the world, and change the way we talk about
and evaluate architecture. Using the lo-fab way of building, even aesthetic decisions
can be designed to impact people’s lives. In Butaro, we chose to use
a local volcanic stone found in abundance within the area, but often considered
a nuisance by farmers, and piled on the side of the road. We worked with these masons
to cut these stones and form them into the walls
of the hospital. And when they began on this corner and wrapped around the entire hospital, they were so good at putting
these stones together, they asked us if they could take down
the original wall and rebuild it. And you see what is possible. It’s beautiful. And the beauty, to me, comes from the fact that I know
that hands cut these stones, and they formed them into this thick wall, made only in this place
with rocks from this soil. When you go outside today
and you look at your built world, ask not only: “What is the environmental footprint?” —
an important question — but what if we also asked, “What is the human handprint
of those who made it?” We started a new practice
based around these questions, and we tested it around the world. Like in Haiti, where we asked if a new hospital
could help end the epidemic of cholera. In this 100-bed hospital, we designed a simple strategy to clean contaminated medical waste
before it enters the water table, and our partners at Les Centres GHESKIO are already saving lives because of it. Or Malawi: we asked if a birthing center
could radically reduce maternal and infant mortality. Malawi has one of the highest rates
of maternal and infant death in the world. Using a simple strategy
to be replicated nationally, we designed a birthing center that would attract women
and their attendants to come to the hospital earlier
and therefore have safer births. Or in the Congo, where we asked if an educational center
could also be used to protect endangered wildlife. Poaching for ivory and bushmeat is leading to global epidemic,
disease transfer and war. In one of the hardest-to-reach
places in the world, we used the mud and the dirt
and the wood around us to construct a center that would show us ways to protect
and conserve our rich biodiversity. Even here in the US, we were asked to rethink the largest university for the deaf
and hard of hearing in the world. The deaf community, through sign language, shows us the power
of visual communication. We designed a campus
that would awaken the ways in which we as humans all communicate, both verbally and nonverbally. And even in Poughkeepsie, my hometown, we thought about old
industrial infrastructure. We wondered: Could we use arts and culture
and design to revitalize this city and other Rust Belt cities
across our nation, and turn them into centers
for innovation and growth? In each of these projects,
we asked a simple question: What more can architecture do? And by asking that question, we were forced to consider
how we could create jobs, how we could source regionally and how we could invest
in the dignity of the communities in which we serve. I have learned that architecture can be
a transformative engine for change. About a year ago, I read an article about a tireless and intrepid
civil rights leader named Bryan Stevenson. (Applause) And Bryan had a bold architectural vision. He and his team had been documenting the over 4,000 lynchings
of African-Americans that have happened in the American South. And they had a plan to mark every county
where these lynchings occurred, and build a national memorial
to the victims of lynching in Montgomery, Alabama. Countries like Germany and South Africa and, of course, Rwanda, have found it necessary to build memorials to reflect on the atrocities
of their past, in order to heal their national psyche. We have yet to do this
in the United States. So I sent a cold email
to [email protected]: “Dear Bryan,” it said, “I think your building project is maybe the most important
project we could do in America and could change the way
we think about racial injustice. By any chance, do you know who will design it?” (Laughter) Surprisingly, shockingly, Bryan got right back to me, and invited me down to meet
with his team and talk to them. Needless to say,
I canceled all my meetings and I jumped on a plane
to Montgomery, Alabama. When I got there, Bryan and his team picked me up,
and we walked around the city. And they took the time to point out the many markers that have
been placed all over the city to the history of the Confederacy, and the very few that mark
the history of slavery. And then he walked me to a hill. It overlooked the whole city. He pointed out the river
and the train tracks where the largest domestic
slave-trading port in America had once prospered. And then to the Capitol rotunda, where George Wallace
had stood on its steps and proclaimed, “Segregation forever.” And then to the very hill below us. He said, “Here we will build
a new memorial that will change the identity
of this city and of this nation.” Our two teams have worked
together over the last year to design this memorial. The memorial will take us on a journey through a classical,
almost familiar building type, like the Parthenon
or the colonnade at the Vatican. But as we enter, the ground drops below us
and our perception shifts, where we realize that these columns
evoke the lynchings, which happened in the public square. And as we continue, we begin to understand the vast number of those who have yet to be put to rest. Their names will be engraved
on the markers that hang above us. And just outside will be a field
of identical columns. But these are temporary columns,
waiting in purgatory, to be placed in the very counties
where these lynchings occurred. Over the next few years, this site will bear witness, as each of these markers is claimed and visibly placed in those counties. Our nation will begin to heal
from over a century of silence. When we think about
how it should be built, we were reminded of Ubudehe, the building process
we learned about in Rwanda. We wondered if we could fill
those very columns with the soil from the sites
of where these killings occurred. Brian and his team have begun
collecting that soil and preserving it in individual jars with family members, community
leaders and descendants. The act of collecting soil itself has lead to a type of spiritual healing. It’s an act of restorative justice. As one EJI team member noted in the collection of the soil
from where Will McBride was lynched, “If Will McBride left one drop of sweat, one drop of blood, one hair follicle — I pray that I dug it up, and that his whole body
would be at peace.” We plan to break ground
on this memorial later this year, and it will be a place to finally speak
of the unspeakable acts that have scarred this nation. (Applause) When my father told me
that day that this house — our house — had saved his life, what I didn’t know was that he was referring
to a much deeper relationship between architecture and ourselves. Buildings are not simply
expressive sculptures. They make visible our personal
and our collective aspirations as a society. Great architecture can give us hope. Great architecture can heal. Thank you very much. (Applause)


  1. Ben Glass says:

    pretty inspiring

  2. ابو عبدالله الجهني says:


  3. Krangz says:

    Thank you, Michael Murphy, for making me not just think about architecture, but feel about it.

    It's been years since somebody made me consider again "spaces that people care about."

  4. Akbar Raza Syed says:


  5. Gerdronex says:

    A great speech turning into propaganda at the end, so typical.

  6. milodudeful says:

    wow just wow…

  7. leadfoot9x says:

    How much do you want to bet that scraping the paint was what gave his dad cancer in the first place?

  8. Fintan111 says:

    Michael Murphy. Wasn't expecting that accent from that name lol

  9. isabelle Masado says:

    this is brilliant. the concept that struck me most, was the idea of building in a way that honors the dignity of those we SERVE. because in order to do this, we have to recognize that people are experts of their own experience, and we cannot truly help without listening to them. thank you so so much for this talk

  10. WooKash says:

    So I'm other words the guy you worked with was a young black panther

  11. leadfoot9x says:

    I'll be content with the fact that this video at least mentioned engineers and their role in building design. The public doesn't seem to be very cognizant of the difference between architects and engineers, so much so that the 9/11 "truthers" claim "architects" among their "experts who say the twin towers were demolished by the government," not structural engineers.

    Frank Lloyd Wright was a pioneer who did much to forward his field, but, being a pioneer, he screwed up a lot. It is thought that his most iconic work, Fallingwater, might've outright collapsed had construction crews actually followed his designs to the letter. Instead it just needed to be repaired constantly and was a functional failure like so many of his other buildings. Also, I hear he hated kitchens.

    Perhaps we need to do a better job of marrying the two fields.

  12. boyinjuly says:


  13. isabelle Masado says:

    I also wanted to add that you brought me to tears, the moment you began discussing the architectural project for the lynchings in America. it really drove the point home, of architecture through healing. I haven't seen it yet, but I felt such warmth and validation as you discussed the process. thank you so much

  14. Robert Sawdon says:

    And here I thought he was gonna talk about buildings which repair themselves

  15. Bye says:

    wow tmartn really shaped up

  16. marko marko says:

    He spits at 9:38

  17. Quack Js. says:

    TED is becoming all about new age hippie bullshit and SJW circle jerk.

  18. Ddriver Ddriver says:

    dumbest fkn title ever

  19. OpiatedBliss says:

    his mom is Mama Murphy lol

  20. bartsshorts says:

    hes not very manly is he

  21. pumpuppthevolume says:

    well this is not about building that self repair

  22. chas ames says:

    Profound. Powerful.
    If America could have a Architect Laureate, I know who would have my blessing.
    He should do a TED Talk every 5 years.

  23. maria teresa Vergara says:

    I thought it was just architecture. It realy made me cry.

  24. Pac Oo says:

    Why don't they make a memorial to the 800+ thousand people brought to America as slaves? Lynching is a form of punishment, not an act by crazy mob and 4k is a pitiful number to be crying about. How about the natives, will they get any attention or is this just another sign of the "blackening"?

  25. qwaqwa1960 says:

    Maybe he could try to remember where he's speaking when saying stuff like "this nation". Even good 'muricans are effin' brainwashed.

  26. tzengtm says:

    9:38 the spit take lol

  27. Marten Dekker says:

    This memorial has no soul. It's all straight sides, sharp corners, squares.
    I think the intent is first rate, & I think a great memorial needs to be far more artistic, have much more beauty somehow.

  28. Manhwa Fan says:

    Finally, one of those TED content worth listening to. These are getting rarer these days.

  29. Tiavor Kuroma says:

    It doesn't seem to help SouthAfrica to have those places. everything is getting worse there.
    I somehow hate monuments, but I see the need for a place to remember the past to not repeat it.
    Why the emphasis on having 50% women working there? just BS

  30. Nicole Ramos says:

    amazing perspective on how archictecture could help people, in my opinion that was one of the best TED videos

  31. Smol Bunny Cat says:

    Knowing my siblings are most likely planning to be architects and interior designers, I think this video is the push that makes me want to join them now.

  32. Rachel K says:

    Wow. Great talk.

  33. Kupa Alistair says:

    This reminded me of the delicacy I once saw in architecture and how it is this delicate nature that holds and preserves, that represents. A truly evocative and inspiring speech!

  34. Rachel K says:

    Stupid ads are so goddamn loud!!

  35. Aundrea Allen says:

    I fell in love with this talk. It resonated with my soul. Architecture can be a pathway to healing.

  36. ik04 says:

    Wow. Best TED ever.

  37. Leonidas GGG says:


  38. Kevin E says:

    Brilliant, of course. So logical. So simple yet, for our modern times, so complicated to get back to this simplicity. We need to apply this to more things. Energy immediately comes to mind.

  39. Linford Dias says:

    great talk michael u doing a great job the memorial for those hats off

  40. mrninninnin says:

    The Title Should Say "Architecture The Government Destroys Starting From Birth So It Can Reinstall THEIR Architecture".

  41. Ilham Blossom says:

    Great thought and super beneficial for architects worldwide. A mission that i'm looking for, I must say. Organic architecture that works well with nature. Love this quote " Architecture can be a transformative engine for change".
    Great talk micheal!

  42. AmericPet says:

    Yes. 🙂 We can make this happen. We can heal all sorts of things, our local economies, our environment and our faith in each other.

  43. lglp3 says:

    i want to marry him lol

  44. Vaudesir says:

    rocket @ 9:37

  45. charles ventura says:

    upadhyay ? what?

  46. Hector L. Campos says:

    This HAS to be of the most moving & inspiring talks I have seen in a while – it gets right to the essence of what being human, no matter what station in one’s life, or position in society is all about – a call in service of others. I hope he and his colleagues continue this healing architecture journey and succeed every step of the way; generations to come will be grateful – thank you! | LCA

  47. Jacqueline Mari says:

    Designing a memorial to the 4,000 black men and women lynched, hung from trees like poison fruit in the United States to begin the healing process. – black lives matter – This is the America I know.

  48. meta1gear4 says:

    It's been so long since someone came again with the intent of bringing about true meaning to architecture. This lad will be one to look out for in the coming years.

  49. GraceDcastle says:

    This made me regret not following my dream studying architecture 😢

  50. Shania Javier says:

    It really makes me cry. I'm an architecture student and so many people are telling me that studying architecture is useless.. Thank you so much for making me/us realize that we are not just an architect but we heal the world..

  51. Anni Thanh says:

    excellent speech

  52. 無色透明 says:


  53. Jacqueline Mari says:

    Michael Murphy I have watched your presentation several times. I found it to be fascinating and uplifting. As a social justice attorney I practised my profession, knowing it would or could not the heal wounds of our society inflicted on the poorpoor peoplebut in the belief that I could, case by case, ameliorate some of the damage, they suffered when

  54. Amanda Cuckhold says:

    This is beautiful. ❤😢

  55. JejuLee says:

    Awesome. Take a look at the Walls of Jejudo. Same idea, done over 100s of years on hundreds of square miles, and of a range of qualities, as most times it was just a farmer and his wife. Some of the recent creations are as precise as those presented here…

  56. Michael Murray says:

    This guy is so full of himself. Nice project he's working on but he is infatuated with himself.

  57. Sunshine Osorno says:


  58. Jake Moore says:

    Great stuff! 👍

  59. Hugo S says:

    I am so very impressed. I see the need for healing.

  60. Linz5667 says:

    This video literally made me cry. Amazing video

  61. Archibald Andrew Douglas says:

    Adx … "WonderFul Presentation" … "GooD"job ..x

  62. Amazin' Ayv says:

    almost like ancient masonry! add the rituals.

  63. Amazin' Ayv says:

    this needs to be redesigned!

  64. Amazin' Ayv says:

    this is not restorative justice.!

  65. JJ García Rühland says:

    Thanks for sharing.. a story with true meaning!!

  66. Mark Anthony Del Prado says:


  67. EyesOfTheLion 11 says:

    I see liberal bullshit has entered architecture as well

  68. petlahk says:

    I didn't know a video about architecture could nearly move me to tears.

  69. grant koniski says:


  70. Vinay Seth says:

    I loved the idea of the memorial to the lynched. What I love is how sensibly it's been visualized. I've seen videos of people criticizing the 'Black Lives Matter' movement in the US- and this has included African Americans as well- and I agree with what they disagree with. What troubles them is the sentimentality with which the protests are held. This building, on the other hand, has been designed such that it is able to evoke a set of horrific acts- public lynchings- but has conveyed them in an abstract language. This abstraction, instead of muddying the waters and rendering the subject alienable, has actually ended up lending the subject a quiet dignity.

  71. Tanish Jena says:


  72. Navid Rahi says:

    well, it's obvious that all good things have sense of healing. you right Michael. Architects must build something that can be as joyful as nature itself. But you see as I mentioned above all good things have sense of healing. Music can be healing, Paintings can be healing, harmony in an object can be healing, voice of a person can be healing as your voice was so inspiring, healing and … and the thing that can turn someone into
    that level is definitely loving what we do. And thanks a lot for the amazing speech.

  73. Ali Güzel says:

    Everyone wants to be architect should watch these TED Speeches:

  74. nick lozano says:

    Powerful we should all do our part to make the world our home a better place!

  75. aaron tungcab says:

    salute sire

  76. Sam Richardson says:


  77. UroborosJayThink says:

    Outstanding, Here in Bogotá – Colombia there is a similar project "Centro de Memoria, Paz y Reconciliación" and was built with little portions of earth of every region affected by the war, this kind of projects are real architecture, what Michael says and his work around the world is amazing and heartwarming, i learn so so much, thank you

  78. CHRIST IS RISEN! says:

    Greetings, Michael. My name is Michael as well BTW, I just wanted to Thank you for your Support by Subscribing to my Channel. Please lift me and My Mother up in Prayer unto the Lord Specifically for our Health. Again, Thanks and Amen.

  79. Vanny Murillo says:

    Beautiful. Thank you.

  80. cj Lamont says:

    I have some contributions to add to this. Contact me at [email protected] if you'd like to hear them.

  81. Alexandra Omoye Okoh says:

    Wow that's is exactly what I do. I love this thank you


    Great Talk! You might want to check out my new series WHAT ARCHITECTURE SCHOOL DOES NOT TEACH YOU @whatarchschooldoesnotteachyou here on YouTube, Instagram and Twitter! It's my Architecture journey of stories and lessons (un)learnt through which I aim to empower architects, architecture students and creatives to seek their truth! We are moving towards a new Architectural consciousness which means it is crucial to raise (self)awareness within the industry! Come join the community and subscribe, there is so much I have to share with you!

  83. mark lewis says:

    our built environment might allow us to have a permanent culture after all

  84. R says:

    In my opinion, this should be one of the most viewed design talks. So inspirational and eye opening to some uncommonly used ways you can use design.

  85. judy j says:

    I agree on everything you've said EXEPT when you made fun of the first three buildings. That was unprofessional because every building has its purpose. Those were landmarks not hospitals, and the pictures you chose weren't the best of them, so you really did not justify them. Great talk but some respect wouldn't have hurt!

  86. Thriving Star Health says:

    Thank you for this video !

  87. Thriving Star Health says:

    One of the best talks . Hat off !

  88. Titus Lhomi says:

    it really change the way of my thinking as an architect!!! thank you soo much

  89. Hare Historiography says:

    Thank you!

  90. Bipu Ray says:

    Michael Murphy u have a great heart

  91. Sebastian Francks says:

    Michael, this was an incredibly powerful talk that moved my whole body and soul to tears. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for sharing. I am in no doubt that you will have a profound impact on your country and its healing process. You made me so inspired to start with my own architectural projects that Ive been thinking about for years, and by watching your video it created the thought of possibly studying architecture. Thank you so much for sharing your story and knowledge, for your passion and for your love for the people. I will be cheering for you always

  92.   says:

    for the first time in a long time i felt goosebumps in listening to an architecture ted talk

  93. UNOSO carawheel says:

    This is my thesis… Same with my thesis 5 years ago

  94. murrrmur says:

    As an architect, this is underwhelming. He talks about it like he’s the only one who thinks about experiential architecture vs sculptural.

    Easy to impress a room full of non-architects and present yourself like you’re the only one thinking of these ideas.

    I came here to find something new because I’m working on a medical center, but all of this is just generic stuff students learn in school.

  95. Susen Mole' says:

    hello– I work in Nepal- at a hospital– would you help us build and make a healing garden?? [email protected]

  96. swissgunner says:

    … a wonderful sermon from a social justice evangelist architect …

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