Interior Design and Interior Architecture

PROFESSIONALINTERIORDESIGNER has stuck his nose into this issue before and it is not my intent to belabor the definitions, differences, distinctions, etc. again. For those of you that are interested in the many semantic, practical and existential differences I offer this AIA Interior Architecture Knowledge Community Podcast titled “Grow Your Practice- The Interiors Advantage

In this 23+/- minute discussion Timothy Hawk and Mary Burke (assumed R.A.’s and AIA members) talk about the differences between architectural practice and interior architecture practice. Both make good points in this regard. However, at about 13:33 they are asked to describe the difference between IA and ID. Again I have to say both were diplomatically erudite in their response particularly when they state that ID is a subset of IA- I am sure that will rankle a few ID’ers. Anyway based on my knowledge of the two fields this blurb represents the AIA party line.  Interesting stuff- any thoughts?

P.S. Okay I said I was not going into the definition of, or differences between, interior design and interior architecture but the one comment so far got me to thinking OUCH! So here I sit with a B.S. Degree in Architecture, an M.S. in Interior Design, 23+ years practice primarily within architecture firms, three of which were spent on one project as the “interior architect of record”, I now teach at a University that houses both an Interior Design Program and an Interior Architecture Program. Although not technically an “architect” I think I am qualified to offer an opinion, in fact I owe it to the many interior designers and architects that I have worked for and with throughout my career. So what is the difference?

First we have to acknowledge that for one to be an interior architect he/she has to be trained as an architect, must have passed the Architects Registration Examination and must be licensed as an architect in the state(s) in which he/she practices in order to call themself an “interior architect”. Beyond that little technicality and overlooking the fact that the AIA does not have an exterior architecture knowledge community (ahem)-  here is the rub;

 As an architect, interior architects think differently.

So in that regard the podcast was somewhat correct. Architects think differently so often they listen differently. I agree that for an architect to be successful at designing interior space they actually have to adjust their listening skills. Some have done this quite successfully (see Arthur Gensler) while others not so much.

Also architects look at buildings differently- they see the holistic picture whereas a traditional interior designer might miss key contextual cues because frankly they are not taught to consider the buildings feelings- only the users…sarcasm intended but 4 dimensional gestalt is a foreign concept to most ID’ers let’s be honest.

So I am good with the first 13 minutes of the discussion. Interior Design being a subset of interior architecture…..well my dog stops hunting at that point.

11 responses to “Interior Design and Interior Architecture”

  1. Sorry, didn’t even get as far as the 13 minute mark. Interior architecture is different because it requires the skill set of listening carefully to the client?? Isn’t that what architects are supposed to be doing as well? Interior architecture can sometimes inform the overall architecture? Really? This is somehow a revelation to an architecture firm?


  2. Yeah I had not thought about this from an exterior architects perspective. But then if an exterior architect does not listen well then he would probably not listen to this podcast. I hope you can muster the nerve to soldier on to the 13 minute mark- it’s good stuff. Thanks


  3. I bought a book recently titled Interior Architecture: From Brief to Build. It documents and walks though 30 international projects from “Brief to Build” and most are retail stores. Pretty cool and everything in it is like I have been taught in school with applying the design process. Why it isn’t titled Interior Design: From Brief to Build is a good question. Even the book information on amazon states this: “It features specially taken shots of production and construction processes, and details of fixtures, fittings, customized furnishings and decoration.” My God that is Interior Design!!!


  4. Thanks for the link Jason. I have not read the book- if the projects are truly ground up “builds” in which there is no distinction between interiors and architecture and the architects of record actually designed the interior spaces simultaneously then the projects may in fact highlight “interior architecture”, Now if we stretched the definition and the archs of record, or the client,hired an architecture firm/registered architects to design only the interiors and their was a concerted effort to create interior spaces that reinforced the architecture then again it would be “interior architecture”. I suspect as you say that the interiors were designed irregardless of the architectural context and devoid of holistic concept or parti, by retail interior specialist, and the permit docs were signed and sealed by an architect. This is not really “interior architecture” to the letter. I will try to find the book.


  5. If you are able to find it I would be interested to know your thoughts on it.


  6. A benefit of working on a campus with a large architecture/design collection- I got the book and note the following;
    This is an excellent book but………………..
    The author Jennifer Hudson is just that- an author albeit one with an in-depth knowledge of architecture and design. She uses the terms “design”, “interior architecture”, “interiors” and “architecture” seamlessly with no attempt to define the boundaries. She is also writing from a UK/Euro perspective where interior design is more akin to our interior decoration and interior architecture is more broadly and legally applied, to those who we would consider NCIDQ certified commercial ID’ers. She even went out of her way to state in the introduction that of the 30 firms featured…..”None are interior designers.” Hmmmm wonder what prompted that slight. Anyway there is a lot of true interior architecture here and also a lot of what we would call “commercial interior design” as well. Ultimately as Ms. Hudson posits there is a lot of great collaborative efforts amongst many allied design professionals. Of course there are the star designers such as Karim Rachid and Marcel Wanders who by force of great talent and self-promotion crossed over from product design to interior design- I am reluctant to call them interior architects. But I am a semantical freak. The use of sketches and process information is admirable. So yes I think the title is legit. I will use this book in my design studios. THANKS FOR THE TIP.


  7. Ha, glad I could help! I particularly like the first project in the book where they designed an eyewear store at the apex corner in a shopping mall. No doors no walls just a series of corridors which prompts people to take a shortcut through the store. I also thought that comment that none of were interior designers was rather rude to go out of her way to state. Maybe I’ll find her email and ask her why she is ignorant.


  8. August 1, 2011

    Dear ASID Members,

    It can be said that interior design is indeed a diverse profession. The style, shape and form of the built environment can be as different and unique as those who pass through the doors, and the variety of disciplines, practice type, size and educational background has always characterized the profession and practice. Diversity is in our design DNA.

    The ASID Board of Directors believes that embracing an ever-expanding diversity in the quickly changing interior design landscape has never been more important. As an example, when we talk to ASID emerging professionals, it becomes clear that many see their role in the design world differently. They consciously seek to converse and collaborate with designers from different backgrounds, with skills and areas of expertise beyond their own. We believe that ASID needs to move in this inclusive direction to remain a reflection of the broader interior design community.

    To that end, I would like to share with you three decisions the national board has passed to embrace the reality of the interior design community:

    1) Chapter presidency open to allied members
    We anticipate that beginning with the 2012 round of chapter elections, chapter president and president-elect status will be open to allied members who have completed the educational requirements to be able to sit for the NCIDQ exam or equivalent.

    2) Associate Membership category
    Beginning Jan. 1, 2012, ASID will accept designers who have a minimum of a college-level associate degree in any subject and six years of documented full time interior design work experience into our membership.

    3) Board of Directors opportunities for allied members
    We anticipate that beginning with the 2013 fiscal year, the ASID Board of Directors will be reduced from 11 to 9 members and the Board composition will be integrated with individuals who represent the broader spectrum of ASID practitioner membership.

    There is a place in ASID for all in the built environment who are daily inspired by the role interior design plays in improving the human experience. The strength of ASID is in our diversity, and I believe these individual changes will together only enhance this strength.


    Michael A. Thomas, FASID, CAPS
    President of ASID


  9. I’d say it’s more spin than spam.


  10. I find these discussions on architecture illuminating and insightful.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: