The Gaps Between Interior Design and Architecture

Henry Hildebrandt
“ ‘Imaginary’ universes are so much more beautiful than this
stupidly constructed ‘real’ one,” wrote English mathematician
G. H. Hardy, more than 60 years ago.
Hardy was acknowledging the messy business of figuring out the complexity of the world we think we know and live in with the world we don’t fully understand; a world of abstraction involved with the interrelationships of particle theory as the smallest component and seemingly ordered system of the cosmos. The dilemma of modern physics and the more disputed concepts of contemporary metaphysics in explaining our world is, in many ways, similar to the confusion between the terms interior design and interior architecture. Both imply the act of designing within either a building or a space and have been adopted to differentiate unique foci of work of the interior environment. But the free use of the terms and the casual interchangeability of them by both professionals and academics establish a confused state that creates ambivalence in the conceptual framework of this specialized design focus. This is a between and in-between situation producing a disparity of clearly defined roles and services for the comprehensive design of an interior environment; a complexity of space, human experiences, and comfort.
A critical need in both architecture and interior design is to realize that their roles, methodologies, and service expectations are continually evolving within a shifting social, economic, and political culture. As such, a professional stature develops within a dynamic state of examination and critical re-examination related to a professional culture, economic system, and contemporary social value system. This specialized status of professionalism is buttressed by an intellectual rigor and continual evaluation of its theory and process. Equally important is the fundamental requirement of ongoing examination to facilitate interrelated participants in a setting conducive to sharing and clarifying current issues that impact all design related professions and professionals dedicated to the environments that exist within and around the building shell and the particular architectural condition.
Traditionally, the disciplines of architecture and interior design view themselves as distinctive and singular; being both boundary-tied by professional legislation as well as seeing themselves as offering specialized service roles. This is reinforced by a protective “turf mentality” advanced and guarded by their respective professional and licensure organizations. While the line between services appears simplistically clear to the public—architecture is about mostly the outside of buildings, interior design directs itself to the inside—the complexity of an in-between ‘interior architecture’ obscures this view. What should be clear (and is to a small number of professionals, academics, and journalists) is there is a new set of circumstances in contemporary society that demands a shift in thinking: new problems require new approaches for creative solutions.
If we understand that the goal of design is to make our world better, disciplinary boundaries melt away and territorial squabbling dissolves. What emerges is a common core of design knowledge and a design methodology of problem solving geared toward analytical (problem definition) and outcome processes (problem solving) connected to human and environmental needs. This core is layered with communication skills sets that are both particular to individual design disciplines and shared between them. This common language provides for the transfer of abstract conceptual thought (and symbolic content) to a practical and applied language understood by practitioners and /or by the public on several levels. Legitimacy for each discipline is then validated on understanding of the broader parameters and the specific use-needs to be served. Architecture, interior architecture and interior design are now subsets together with graphic, industrial, landscape design, and so on—of an activity focused to solving problems for individuals and their collective societies to house, enhance, and prepare for a better future.
But the need for clarity on what differentiates interior design from interior architecture is a critical question to avoid confusion and misrepresentation in professional roles and academic curricula structures. Most importantly, this issue needs to be grounded in a forum to bring moral legitimacy to these design activities in separating their use from a serious, well guided use linked to finding optimal design solutions from a consumer marketing objective removed from the actual concept or service to be purchased.

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