Interior Design Education: The Pains of Teaching an Ill-Defined Field

Judging from the various professorial responses to your interview with Shashi Caan (“Why Shashi Caan Is Overhauling Interior Education”), the subject touched a nerve in the old-school Academy. I teach at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago (along with Professors Nereim and Reynders, who have also commented on this issue); it is a place where the fuzzy logic of “fluid boundaries” prevails. As a result, anything goes, but nothing goes very far in our studios.

I have painful first-hand experience of the difficulties imposed by a vaguely defined field of study (“Interior Architecture”). The unfocused quality of so many of our students’ projects is of small wonder when even the faculty cannot agree on the subject matter.

Despite what Professor Kernighan may say, Shashi Caan is absolutely right in that there are no “serious research-based or masters-level” graduate programs in Interior Design. And if Professor Reynders knows of a “progressive curriculum model,” then I wish he would share it with the rest of us. Sadly too many of our graduate programs have become little more than finishing schools for a growing body of international students: studying abroad ensures them a lucrative position on their return to their own newly globalized markets.

The professors’ territorial defense is telling: Shashi’s proposal is “disingenuous” (Kernighan), guilty of “rank protectionism” (Nereim), and “formalistic” (Reynders). These comments divert our attention from her basic premise: Interior Design owes more to the developing fields of design for interaction, design for experience, and design for spatial affects than it does to Architecture (capital A). It’s time for the professors to follow Shashi’s lead or get out of the way.

Robert M. McAnulty
Department of Architecture, Interior Architecture, and Designed Objects
The School of the Art Institute of Chicago
Chicago, Illinois

Categories: Design Education, Uncategorized