​Interior architecture or design? Advice from Johannesburg designers

Johannes van Graan Johannes van Graan
3D Visuals for various projects, CKW Lifestyle Associates PTY Ltd CKW Lifestyle Associates PTY Ltd
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We’ve all heard the term ‘interior architecture’ being used in conversation, but how does it compare to (and differ from) regular architecture, interior design, and interior decoration? How does one group of professionals’ skill sets differ from the others? And how do you know which to study if you want to work in the architectural / interior design industry and create beautiful bedroomskitchens, and living rooms

Let’s find out…

1. The evolution of design and architecture

Nowadays, many interior designers are becoming more involved with the architectural and technical aspects of interior design, and less with the decorative, soft furnishings side. Gone are the days when an interior designer, for instance, only picked out living room scatter cushions and bedroom curtains. 

And when it comes to education, many interior design courses have been renamed as interior architecture degrees to more accurately reflect what they cover. The popularity of these courses has improved significantly and has led to an increase of architecturally savvy designers. In turn, this has made it even more difficult to distinguish between architecture and interior design.

But to find out how interior architecture differs from architecture, interior design and interior decoration, let’s try and explain the differing roles and responsibilities of all of these professions.

2. What is interior architecture?

To break it down to its core, interior architecture is actually a subject and not a profession. Just like the title of ‘doctor’, the designation of architect is also protected and cannot be used by just anyone who hasn’t obtained the required qualifications and accreditation.

The term ‘interior architecture’ has come into use due to the increasing scope and responsibilities of interior designers in recent times. This is largely due to the improvements in design technology (CAD), plus the upgrading in interior design education. 

Therefore, a lot of degree courses now aim to teach students about the structural technical elements of buildings, which are further blurring the line between architecture and interior design.

3. What is interior architecture? (part 2)

When it comes to any two interior designers, their responsibilities may differ considerably. One might be more focused on décor, soft furnishings and small-scale projects, while the other is more concerned with larger projects involving technical-, artistic- and aesthetic skills. Out of these two, the latter is more likely to have studied interior architecture.

For the practice of interior architecture, designers are required to consider pretty much everything related to the building of an interior space that affects human habitation, including materials, finishes, electrical requirements, plumbing, lighting, ventilation, ergonomics, and intelligent use of space. During important stages of the construction process (from the initial planning phase to meetings highlighting the finishing touches), interior designers who have trained in interior architecture will usually be present and also have a say in the matter. 

Due to the changing needs of modern society, the role of the architecturally aware interior designer has become increasingly prominent. This is especially true in retail, where a building is often redesigned on the interior only, while the original exterior shell of the building remains unchanged. This kind of renovation project is the true realm of interior architecture.

To make it simpler to understand: interior design focuses more on the art of the building, and interior architecture is more concerned with the science.

4. What is interior decoration?

When it comes to interior decoration, the professional’s sole concern is the building’s aesthetics. That includes the colour palettes, furniture, décor, etc. Thus, an interior decorator is involved with the art side of design, and less with the science. That doesn’t require interior decorators to be as knowledgeable about the structural design of a building or the building regulations. 

That is why interior decorators are not usually involved from the beginning of a building’s project, or are required to have in-depth knowledge of technical elements such as CAD and structural design. However, they must be quite artistic and possess a fantastic eye for interior design trends.

In order to complete their job properly, all interior designers (even those trained as interior architects) must be skilled in the art of interior decoration.

5. Summary: The differences between interior architecture and interior design

• Interior architecture balances the art and science of the designing of an interior space, taking into account all elements of the build. However, a designer who trained in interior architecture can only call themselves such if they have acquired the correct professional accreditation from an architectural body.  

• Interior design is quite a broad term and takes into account all aspects of the planning and designing of interior spaces in the building environment.  

• The role of any two interior designers can differ greatly. 

• Interior decoration focuses solely on the ‘look’ of a space, including the soft furnishings, artwork and colour schemes. 

The more we know, the better. So, Let’s Cover The Basics Of Interior Design.

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