Interior Design Shouldn’t Be an Exclusive Field of Knowledge

I’d like to applaud some of the approaches to teaching interior design that were mentioned by Shashi Caan in her recent interview [“Why Shashi Caan Is Overhauling Interior Education”]. I’d also like to raise serious issue with some of her other thoughts.

First, I think she is going down the right track when she proposes that students study interior design in full-scale, virtual 3-D projections. Interior design differs from architecture in its concentration on full-size details, and in the sense of immersion we get when we experience real interiors. Parts of today’s aviation construction industry, which are also poorly served by the last century’s architectural drafting conventions, have already adopted this approach to great effect by using goggles and immersive projections.

Also, because experience rather than form is paramount in interior design, using graphic storyboarding and film-editing techniques to describe the function of an interior design makes perfect sense. Interior design programs that have a strong art and technology faculty as neighbors will move more quickly in the right direction.

On the other hand, I think Caan is off-track when she tries to capture a well-delineated body of knowledge and call it the exclusive territory of interior design. Most significant design opportunities require us to regularly cross the imaginary borders around [different bodies] of knowledge…[and use] techniques gleaned from a broad variety of academic disciplines, including anthropology and social psychology. These techniques of research and analysis are still best deployed in the comprehensive design studio, which is still the best place to attempt a design synthesis that approaches maturity. And even then we might want to circle back to include the development of taste and a strong individual sensibility.

[…] There is no intellectually defensible way to completely separate the study of interiors from that of the architecture that surrounds them. Interior architecture exists as a field of study and work because of this fact. Anyone who has ever strolled through the Gallerie Vivienne, after Percier and Fontaine, will immediately understand that there are concrete fields of endeavor such as interior architecture, and even interior urbanism, especially in today’s super-large buildings.

[…] These intellectual endeavors and their built progeny have existed for centuries, and they pre-date and put the lie to the recent mincing legislation [such as New York’s Interior Design Title Act] that some states have passed in a misguided attempt to cordon off the allowable application of design knowledge into the world. Under the guise of protecting the public, this legislation is actually a rank attempt at trade protectionism. In today’s climate of deregulated competition, it is no wonder that Governor Pataki will not fall back into a trade protectionist posture.

[…] The history of innovation in the United States is at risk because of this restrictive legislation that is being pushed through less-than-alert state legislatures by well-funded, self-serving lobbying organizations. Remember that Thomas Edison crossed between the supposedly separate fields of acoustics and electricity because his sensibility and innate curiosity lead him to. Consider the actress Hedy Lamarr’s contribution to the invention of the frequency-hopping technology so prevalent in radio communications today: she did that because she could, not because she was allowed a particular boundary of legislated expertise.

All of design, including interior design and interior architecture, will ultimately follow these examples out into the global light of free enterprise.

Yours truly,

Anders Nereim, Chairman
Department of Architecture, Interior Architecture, and Designed Objects
School of the Art Institute of Chicago
Chicago, Illinois

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