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International Interior Design Association

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Untapped Knowledge

By Michelle Bowles

The most successful professionals recognize that, whatever the task or project, it pays to tap into outside resources — in both likely and unlikely places. For interior designers, that means looking to architects for support and, in some cases, guidance on projects. Conversely, interior designers have much to teach architects in terms of the way they work. As our panel of leaders from IIDA and the American Institute of Architects (AIA) attest, designers and architects realize the time for turf battles has ceased, and now, more than ever, it’s all about collaboration.

Q: What sort of collaboration do you see among interior designers and architects today?

John Mack: There’s collaboration on many levels. For example, if we’re designing a large building project, it’s imperative that there be a very close collaboration among interior designers and architects — from the inception of the building, looking at it both from the outside in and the inside out.

Richard Logan: There has always been collaboration on interior projects, but the nature of the interaction has become more respectful and symbiotic as interior design education has become more professional and broader-based, and as licensing has become more prevalent. A few architectural firms still have “token” interior designers on staff for [furniture, fixtures and equipment], and a few interior design firms may have an architect on staff to stamp drawings, but that practice is declining.

Michael Broshar

Michael Broshar, AIA, is a Principal with INVISION Architecture | Planning | Interiors, a 35-person design firm focused on healthcare and education facilities with offices in Des Moines and Waterloo, Iowa. A practicing architect for 25 years, Broshar is Vice President on the Board of Directors for AIA, currently serving the second year of a two-year term. He chairs the AIA Board Knowledge Committee, with oversight of all AIA Knowledge initiatives.

Michael Broshar: There is considerably more collaboration than 10 years ago. There’s a better definition in terms of the practice of interior design today than there was 10 years ago. The increasing technical requirements of buildings and the products used within buildings have created the need for a closer collaborative relationship. It is very difficult for an architect to know everything he or she needs to know about building. It has become much more of a team process, simply because you need more people to understand all of the aspects of design and building today.

David Hanson: I’ve recently started collaborating much more with an architectural firm, and it’s becoming apparent that it’s a much better marketing tool when you can promote both aspects in the same package to the end user.

Logan: Collaboration is vitally important. No one group has all the skills and training necessary to create completely effective and integrated environments. Architectural training has traditionally focused minimally on materials, furnishings and colors. Interior training has not always focused on structure and building systems.

Q: Mike, you mentioned the interior design profession is more defined now than perhaps 10 years ago. What can architects teach interior designers about getting their profession better recognized by the public and regulated in legislature?

Broshar: In terms of legislature, there has been a series of divisive issues about recognition, which I have not particularly liked. Legislators aren’t especially interested in hearing architects and interior designers talk about recognition either.

Logan: Official recognition, even for architects, is perhaps not a century old. Interior designers have only begun the ardent process within the past few decades, and there is both impatience and competition that each group faces. Even architects face marginalization by quasi-professionals, since a large segment of the built environment is still not designed by architects. Both groups need to recognize their unique skills and contributions, and not participate in a turf war over practice recognition and legislation.

Broshar: AIA’s legislative positions over the past few years have evolved to be issues that are more beneficial for society. A major focus for us right now is the issue of sustainable design and global environmental change.
The opportunity for recognition of interior designers and architects by the public is enhanced when we are viewed as being supportive of positions that will enhance the quality of life for citizens.

David Hanson, IIDA, IDC, RID, established his Vancouver, B.C.-based firm, DH Designs, in 1996. His experience in commercial design has garnered his firm a client list that includes Air Canada, Accenture and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. He is the Vice President of Professional Development for IIDA, and has served on the boards of the National Council for Interior Design Qualification, the Interior Designers of Canada and the Interior Designers Institute of British Columbia.

Hanson: That’s where the interior design profession can learn from the architectural profession — going out there and getting involved in those kinds of things, and ultimately getting recognition because of that.

Mack: Those issues are extremely important, and it’s more than one profession can take on and achieve. We’re not just dealing with an entity or object like a building, but a community. And in order for designers to successfully tackle those issues, we need to work as a team.

Q: In terms of sustainability, what is the architectural community doing well that interior designers could learn?

Broshar: There are so many issues of sustainability and high-performance buildings on which we already are collaborating. Interior designers are well aware of the impact of materials selection and life-cycle costs. Both professions recognize the need to practice sustainability, but I’m not sure we’re all practicing it as we should be. There is a big push for sustainability within AIA this year. Our entire convention theme is about going beyond green through high-performance buildings and communities.

Mack: Interior designers are very well aware of materials and life-cycle costs, but if there’s one thing to learn from the architectural profession, it’s a better understanding of new technologies in sustainable building systems and what opportunities they present in shaping the interior environment. IIDA takes a strong stance that sustainability should be encouraged as an element of every design solution, not an add-on product. Our Sustainability Forum works to provide relevant continuing education programs in this important topic area.

Q: What can interior designers teach architects about evidence- or research-based design?

Mack: Interior designers and interior design departments at universities have been doing quite a bit of research in terms of quantifying the effects of design. What this does is reinforce those things that we as designers know are true, but don’t have the hard facts to prove. We’re bringing those facts to our clients and saying, “Yes, we can save your company ‘x’ number of dollars a year by doing this or that.” It brings a greater awareness, understanding and appreciation of our value.

Richard Logan, AIA, LEED AP, has been with Gensler for 29 years in multiple offices, starting in Houston, then Los Angeles, Hong Kong, Washington, D.C., and Atlanta, where he currently is the Design Principal. His clients have included those in government, professional and corporate sectors, including World Bank and General Motors. He is past Co-chairman of Gensler’s firm-wide Design Steering Committee and is Chairman of the national AIA Interior Architecture Committee for 2007.

Logan: From my experience with educational curricula in both interiors and architectural programs, research is a more integral part of interiors education, especially within behavioral or human sciences programs. Architects could do well to be more proactive on doing research and making decisions based on facts.

Broshar: In March, AIA is hosting a research agenda summit focusing on research in architecture at the University of Washington [in Seattle]. We’re going to invite university researchers from across the country to help us better understand the research we need to be doing, relating to the entire built environment.

Research in architecture and interior design has tended to focus less on hard science and more on the human response, and there’s a need for balance. There’s a growing recognition of the need to understand scientifically why we make the decisions we make.

Q: What can interior designers teach architects in terms of flexible design?

Logan: Architects tend to think of buildings as permanent, timeless and “for the ages,” which can be a good thing. It is part of their training. Interior designers, by the nature of their focus and projects, tend to address trends — like in restaurants and retail — and commercial spaces, for which leases might be only 10 years and that will be dismantled and rebuilt.

John Mack, FIIDA, AIA, is a Senior Design Partner and Director of Interior Architecture at HLW LLP, an architecture, interior design, engineering and planning firm headquartered in New York. His work has won numerous awards, including the Business Week Architectural Record Award for SAP’s Global Marketing Headquarters. He has served as President of IIDA’s New York Chapter and currently serves on the International Board of IIDA as President-Elect.

Mack: Many of our clients don’t know how their businesses will change in five to 10 years, or in some cases even year to year. You have to build in a way for a company to expand, both in terms of growth and the infrastructure needed to support it. Flexibility, in all its permutations, is addressed as part of the interior designer’s programming process.

I don’t think we should look at buildings as permanent structures. There needs to be more thought given to the life of a building. On a recent design jury, we awarded a project that transformed a building for a big-box retailer into a religious center. Symbolism aside, it was well executed and a great example of new life for a very prevalent building type. I’m sure it was not part of that structure’s initial conception, but the concept of a building outgrowing its initial purpose should be addressed at inception.

Broshar: That brings in issues of sustainability. The city of Seattle is now requiring that parking structures built in urban centers be flat-decked. In the future, if they were not to be used as parking structures, you wouldn’t have to tear them down and rebuild; you could adapt that space and convert it into a building. Flexibility is critical. You have to have buildings that are adaptable and designed well, so that their life can be extended without huge costs.

Q: What’s the best forum for architects and interior designers to share all of this information?

Broshar: The greatest amount of learning we do is in practicing together. Our firm contains architects and interior designers, and we do better work because we have that collaboration. The architects push the interior designers and the interior designers push the architects to do better work. Because of the sharing of knowledge, there’s really a blurring of the line, and it creates more successful design solutions as a result. That collaboration is going to increase over time.

Mack: I would add industrial designers, landscape designers, graphic designers and engineers to those who contribute to the building process. Each brings his or her own expertise to the table.

Hanson: I can think of quite a few successful examples of firms starting out as engineering firms or architectural or interior design practices, and then offering all those services together as a package.

Mack: As an ongoing reminder of collaboration among design professionals, each year the New York Chapter of IIDA invites leaders from a variety of disciplines in design — lighting, textile, architecture and photography — to speak at its Pioneers of Design Series.

Q: Where does this collaboration start? In universities and colleges?

Logan: Some interior design programs are still housed in home economics or art schools, and opportunities for collaboration are severely limited. Yet at many progressive and outstanding universities — like Auburn University and the University of Cincinnati — programs are collaborating, sharing parts of the curricula or at least elective courses. But this sharing is not universal.

Broshar: Today, there’s an opportunity for students to begin working together in school. Students don’t necessarily come out of school only being exposed to their own discipline. That creates much better graduates.

When I was in school in the ’70s at Iowa State University, landscape architecture was in the agricultural school, interior design was in family and consumer sciences, and architecture was part of the engineering college. Shortly after I left Iowa State, they formed a new college of design, which now encompasses landscape architecture, urban planning, interior design, graphics, fine arts and architecture.

Architecture is even being coupled with medical schools in a couple of instances now. At the University of Washington, the architectural program has some collaborative efforts with the medical school, which could yield some very interesting changes. A big part of public health deals with how we’ve designed physical activity out of our environment — not locating stairs at the entrance to a building where people can actually use them or designing our subdivisions in patterns that don’t allow kids to walk to their friends’ houses.

Mack: The power of design is impacting many fields. You’re now seeing design classes being taught in business schools. The world is getting more complex, and design training teaches us how to synthesize complex issues. It’s really the process and the designers — and how they think and process those issues — that have impact and bring relevance to other businesses.