Understanding Architecture, Interior Design, and Interior Architecture

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April 5, 2023
Robern Design Solutions

Design is an extensive field with numerous courses, programs, and degrees. The vastness of this field showcases its diversity and demonstrates that there is no single path to becoming a designer.

While the fields of architecture and interior design overlap in many ways, they are three distinct disciplines. In many cases, an interior architect, architect, and interior designer work together to create the aesthetic of a building, both inside and outside.  

Find Your Area of Focus

If you are pursuing a career in design, it’s important to understand the differences between these three disciplines so that you can choose the right one for you.  

Keep reading to learn their differences and similarities, and how you can prepare to enter these fields.

Architecture vs. Interior Architecture

The main focus of architecture is on the exterior of a structure, from building materials to functionality considerations.  

Interior architecture, meanwhile, as its name implies, pays close attention to the interior of a building.  

What Is Architecture?

Best defined as the “big picture” view of design, architecture focuses on the exterior structure of a building, playing a role in everything from engineering to material selection and safety issues. Architects may work on residential, industrial, and commercial buildings, as well as buildings designated for public use. In short, any building that you encounter had to be designed by a professional architect.  

Architects draw up plans for the design, determining the visual appearance of the exterior, as well as considering factors like sustainability, energy performance, regulations, and building permits. In some cases, architects assist with parts of the interior layout, such as cabinetry and elements related to the overall structure and stability of the building.  

What Is Interior Architecture?

Blending elements of interior design and architecture, interior architecture focuses on the structure of a space’s interior. Elements like the placement of doors and windows and ventilation are key to this discipline. While not always the case, interior architects often focus more on adaptable reuse, which involves redesigning the interior of an existing structure for a new, modern use, such as transforming an office building into apartments.

Like an architect, an interior architect must understand the art of design and science in architecture as it relates to structural considerations. However, an interior architect also takes on some interior design elements in their practice, such as lighting, lighted mirrors, textures, and colors within a space. They may even partner with an interior designer to create a cohesive result.

Architect Education and Training

To become a licensed architect, you can choose between a 5-year undergraduate degree in architecture or an a 2-3 year post-college master's program. In certain U.S. states, it's also possible to become licensed without a professional degree by apprenticing for a credentialed architect for several years.

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What Is Interior Design?

Out of these three disciplines, interior design is perhaps the one most people feel familiar with, thanks to the many design shows on TV. Interior designers focus on décor and the details of a room’s design, such as furniture, linen cabinets, flooring, and decorative aspects. They often work with contractors, painters, and other specialists to create their vision for a space.  

Interior designers should have a strong working knowledge of design styles and historic periods, color theory, and a sense of what pieces will create a cohesive design in a given space. When comparing interior design vs. interior architecture, the skills and abilities of both disciplines tend to overlap, but an interior designer’s focus is more on the visual aspects of design and the elements that bring a room together.  

An interior designer can work in residential spaces, as well as corporate buildings and structures for public use, like schools, hospitals, and cultural institutions.  

Interior Architecture vs. Interior Design

While interior architecture often bleeds over into interior design elements, interior architecture focuses on the structure and functionality of a building, as well as how details like windows, doors, storage, plumbing, and heating and cooling impact a space’s overall aesthetic and usage. Interior architects must understand the fundamentals of architecture as it relates to the interiors of buildings and how to adapt existing spaces for new uses.

The difference between interior design and interior architecture is Interior design’s emphasis on the visual sensibility of an interior, such as the color palette, artwork, and window treatments. Interior designers work to improve both the look and function of a room through things like furniture selection and placement, luxury brand selection, and material choices.  

Both disciplines require creative thinking and innovation, as well as the skill to visualize how a space can be transformed and improved, whether in choosing the best bathroom mirrors, as an interior designer might, or in determining the proper layout for a space, as an interior architect does.

Interior Design vs. Architecture

While interior design places an emphasis on the aesthetics inside a space, architecture focuses on the outside of a building. Architects develop plans for buildings, both residential and commercial, placing emphasis on structural stability, materials, and sustainability.  

Both require creative problem-solving and knowledge of styles and forms but apply these skills in very different ways. An interior designer may work in collaboration with an architect to determine how furniture, cabinetry, and other parts of a room are laid out, and how that layout may affect their design and use of textiles and artwork.

What’s Next for Your Design Career?

Design is a broad and diverse field that offers a variety of courses, programs, and degrees. Understanding the differences between the three main disciplines of design, architecture, interior architecture, and interior design, is crucial when pursuing a career.  

The ultimate goal of all three disciplines is to ensure that a building is both stylish and functional. To learn more about the exciting world of interior design and how it can be your path to a creative and fulfilling career, explore more of our interior design resources.

Header photo by Andy Dean

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