Saili Sawantt




interior architect, interior architect degree, Interior Architecture, Interior Architecture and Design Select, interior architecture courses, interior architecture degree, interior architecture program, Problem Solving, Transforming Spaces

Difference between an Architecture and an Interior Architecture degree


Saili Sawantt




interior architect, interior architect degree, Interior Architecture, Interior Architecture and Design Select, interior architecture courses, interior architecture degree, interior architecture program, Problem Solving, Transforming Spaces

“The essence of interior design will always be about people and how they live. It is about the realities of what makes for an attractive, civilized, meaningful environment, not about fashion or what’s in or what’s out. This is not an easy job.” – Albert Hadley

We’ve all noticed a stream of job applications in our searches that quote ‘Interior Architect required for a full-time position’, and that leaves us wondering, what exactly is the difference between an Architect and an Interior Architect.

Design is a vast field of study – and to encompass this, there is a diverse range of  design courses, programs and degrees. The diversity in the field is a testimonial that there is no one way to be a designer. While many industry insiders might suggest that a macro-level study is important; it is fairly tough to narrow down to your specific interest and potential. For example, if you are inclined towards being a workplace designer, comprehensive coursework of an Architectural degree will not suffice you with the precise knowledge required for that role.

Design legends like Es Devlin, Neri Oxman, Else Crawford, and many more, have extended their design expertise after first heading down the conventional mainstream path. But what if there could be a concentrated study for the area of your interest.

Through this article, we will explore the various nuances of Interior Architecture and Architecture, understand the difference, diversity and potential in both. While the term “Architecture” might be a commonality between both these phenomena, the real-time interpretation of this term is different. Architecture covers a vast range of topics while giving a peek into the enormity of each subject. On the contrary, Interior Architecture design focuses on design finesse and an upper hand on specific details in the fields of Interior and Architecture, therefore the name ‒ Interior Architecture. This, in turn, helps an individual in having an upper hand through a specific niche related role in the industry as a professional.

Why is Niche-ing down important?

While general know-how of the industry is a must, it is insufficient to provide a detailed study of professional challenges through it. Therefore when an individual gains niche-specific knowledge, they can easily devise viable design solutions. A targeted study from macro to micro can also help in gaining subject matter expertise.

In the new age, a streamline of niche-specific service providers is in demand. Even as a buyer, we prefer products that are niche-specific over a brand that caters to every commodity. We believe that a niche-specific product will be more detailed, value for money and worth the investment; this same principle goes for the construction industry.

What is an Architectural Degree?

An architectural degree addresses the macro-level requirements of the construction industry. Architecture explores ideas and methods of creating functional, efficient, aesthetic and structurally viable building solutions. The coursework of architectural education mainly explores the act of design that creates entire buildings from their foundations up as well as the surroundings that the building sits within.

Role of an Architect

Scope of Work: Responsible for the creation and construction of an entire building and or groups of buildings, along with the physical planning and design.

When are they approached: When a building or campus needs to be constructed from scratch or it needs structural changes; renovation or refurbishment.

What is their expertise: The expertise lies in designing and building a structure that abides by the building codes, rules and regulations while ensuring an efficient functional plan. Their scope of work focuses especially on the technical aspects like mechanical, electrical, plumbing and spatial functioning of a building as well as construction management.

Role and Responsibilities:

  • Reviewing the project needs by decoding the client brief
  • Planning and designing through discussions while proposing a budget
  • Studying building codes and regulations
  • Preparing detailed Architectural Drawings
  • Engaging with the construction agency and workers through on-site interactions

What is an Interior Architecture Degree?

While architecture deals with enclosure and envelopes of a structure, Interior Architecture courses deal with creating a balance between aesthetics and practicality; it also has an emphasis on functional and environmental design with an intuitive thought towards a human-centric approach. Creating design interpretation by studying human psychology also forms a pivotal part of the Interior Architecture degree. It has a streamlined macro to a micro approach which helps in forming holistic design solutions that are both; aesthetic and functional.

Due to this dynamicity, the training process also requires a specialized approach where in-depth and precise knowledge becomes a must.

Role of an Interior Architect

Scope of Work: Responsible for creating human-centric designs that are both aesthetic and functional while taking into account the environmental and external factors that affect them.

When are they approached: Interior Architects are approached in a broad range of projects such as hospitality, residential, commercial, institutional and much more. After the basic structure of a project is partially ready, the interior architects enter the picture.

What is their expertise: Their expertise includes design analysis, interior designing and execution, knowledge in building construction codes and environmental design.

Role and Responsibilities:

  • Collating and ideating a viable design brief with the clients and devising a budgetar
  • Spatial segregation of spaces as per the functional requirements and necessities.
  • Ideating structural changes or technical changes in the building envelope to suit the client briefs.
  • Conceptual and program based study while ideating the electrical, plumbing, ventilation, structural accents, interior designing, furnishings, and material palette.
  • Using computer-aided software and tools such as ACAD, Building Information Modelling, Rhino, SketchUp, etc.
  • Preparing architectural drawings and specifications to approve the building in the state and local building regulations.
  • Overseeing order, delivery, installation and execution of various services on-site.

Interior Architecture also involves collaborating with various surveyors, contractors, vendors, clients, etc. to create a design from scratch. They are even responsible to revamp the entire program of an existing building. For example – an old office building block can be completely revamped and re-adapted to be used as an apartment block. The shell remains intact in which the internal meaning and concept of the entire space can be changed, therefore making it a complex profession that thrives on specialization.

Why is it important to understand the difference between Architecture and Interior Architecture Degrees?

There is a detailed difference between an architectural degree and an Interior Architecture Degree, both are versatile in their places, and both serve a greater purpose. They can provide a wide arena of job opportunities in their individual directions. While both of these degrees have their own merits, it is important to know which one you are inclined to. Overall, an individual’s design inclination defines their sustenance in the industry.

Therefore, it is important to have a niche-based study to adapt to the construction industry at a faster pace. Understanding the difference between an Architecture and interior architecture Degree is thus, important.

Pursuing an Architecture Degree

Before pursuing an architectural degree it is necessary to know the study involved in the coursework ‒ what are the challenges; the merits as well as demerits, let’s look at a few of them:

  • Wider Horizon and Versatility- Architectural degree provides wider know-how of the industry. Although, it can be tough coursework to encompass the entire industry in one go. This makes the courses less detailed and more holistic.
  • Diverse options for Specialization – After the preliminary coursework of 5 years, Architects can go along and explore various specialization options like Sustainable building, Environmental Planning, Landscape Architecture, Advanced Building technology, Interior Architecture, Interior Designing, etc.
  • Time-consuming – On average the architectural coursework takes 5 years to complete without any specialization.
  • Knowledge of external design tools and computation – As architecture deals with all aspects of a building, the coursework includes software like Rhino 3D, Grasshopper 3D, Revit Architecture, etc which are majorly used in the technical industry.
  • Macro to Macro – Architecture deals with a macro environment that addresses building design on an external level. It creates a holistic solution for building design, however, individuals inclined towards the macro-to-micro aspect will not benefit from this approach.
  • Lack of detail-oriented study –Since design has vast applications, it is crucial to niche down through individual expertise. Architectural coursework has an emphasis on a macro level take on design. The detailed design aspects of furniture or interior finishes are related to Interior Architecture. Architectural coursework has multiple subjects exploring theory, practicality, services, working drawings, etc. It also has many project briefs from hospitality, commercial, residential, workspaces, healthcare, urban design to the master plan. With a vast portion,It is because of this vast scope it lacks a niche-specific study related to the micro eye from a macro perspective.
  • Long Project Timelines – Building construction is a slow process; the approvals, signatures, NOC’s and various other regulatory facets lead to several delays and redesigning. This process makes the design timeline extend from 2 – 15 years and sometimes even more.
  • Real Estate Slow Down and Architecture – The real estate industry and mega architectural projects have seen a temporal decline since the slow down of the real estate sector, the pandemic has also added to this situation; newer architectural projects have been put on hold for now. Further, many architectural projects have been caught up in approvals or revenue delays elongating the building cycle from the usual timeframes.
  • Exploring new roles – architectural degree, other than the field of architecture itself, you can explore roles such as that of a project manager, design manager, BIM expert, etc./li>
  • Urbanization and Architecture – An excess of urbanization has led to lesser demand for architects in the major metropolitan cities (such as Bengaluru, Mumbai, New Delhi and Chennai) due to a growing shortage of greenfield sites. The growing number of architects in comparison to the industry demand has been a reason for the current lower employment opportunities. On the contrary, many developing cities and states are actively looking for designers to create their cityscapes. This has made architecture a region-specific profession.
  • Considered for the 1% – Architecture as a profession is still considered to be addressing the elite or 1% of the urban population, this low percentage, therefore, creates a lack of opportunities for architects to find a sufficient number of projects to design.
  • Return on Investment (ROI) –Pursuing an architectural degree requires higher funds and time investment. Recently, due to the adverse industry condition, the Return on Investment (ROI) for architecture has considerably dropped.n>

Pursuing an Interior Architecture Degree

Interior Architecture deals with precise coursework that emphasizes specialization within the profession, let’s look at the perks, challenges within this degree.

  • Focused coursework – The coursework has a holistic yet detailed emphasis on human-centred design while taking into account the technical aspect like services, structural, and mechanical.
  • Micro to Macro – Studying design from a micro-level upwards allows an upper hand in creating a subject matter expertise for each individual to pursue this coursework. The micro to the macro study of the design envelope and structuring moves towards an in-depth understanding of the various aspects of habitable space to create viable design solutions.
  • Niche-based curriculum – Rather than studying every aspect of design partially, Interior Architecture provides a niche-specific study while maintaining a holistic take on design interpretations. In the new age, niche-based services are high on demand, therefore, Interior Architecture coursework favours this aspect in professional practice as well. The coursework also helps in positioning individuals as subject matter experts creating a high demand in the field.
  • Provides Entrepreneurial Direction – The degree coursework provides real-time projects and internship experiences through firms, studios, site works, etc which can help students in gaining an entrepreneurial insight into the industry from stage one itself. An on-site curriculum provides an equal balance between theory and practical knowledge.
  • Interior Architects Can Undertake Turnkey Projects – One of the important differences between Interior Architects and Architects is related to the construction of projects. Architects, according to the Architects Act, cannot undertake the construction of their projects. Interior Architects have no such legal restrictions, this opens up many more opportunities and a much wider scope of work in this field.

Typically clients prefer a “single window” service, the Interior Architect meets this requirement easily. Unlike an Architect, an Interior Architect is therefore in a much better position to take on design and build projects, which are also referred to as Turnkey projects.

  • Fees of an Interior Architect – Even in the case of an Interior Architect who does not undertake Turnkey projects, the fees of an interiors project usually work out to be higher than that of an architectural project. This is because an interior project, which deals with the design of furniture, finishings, HVAC, Plumbing, Electrical, Lighting etc, usually works out to be a higher square foot cost of construction than that of the building envelope itself – which is what the architect’s fees are calculated against. Hence the fees quoted by an Interior Architect is very often higher than those quoted by an architect. 
  • Shorter project timelines – Coupled with the higher fees, Interior Architecture projects, unlike Architectural projects, have a shorter time span that can range from 3 months to 1 year on average. This helps in quantifying more opportunities in a lesser time span, all of which would attract higher receipt of fees than the purely architectural ones
  • Better Return on Investment (ROI) – The 4-year coursework with a booming interior market provides a good Return on Investment (ROI) for the industry professionals. It is a lucrative profession that is envisioned to grow rapidly in the next 10 years.
  • Unique Design Typologies – After the pandemic, every design module is going through revolutionary changes; in residential design, Interior Architects are considering workspace as a vital part after observing the Work from Home culture. Similarly, in commercial design, the changing needs are demanding a revamp in the circulation of the spatial design.

This provides the Interior Architects to explore new facets in the design language, making this the right place to be in 2021!

  • Provides placements and guidance – Interior architecture courses provide on-campus placements and guidance related to their professional journey after their coursework. This helps in giving the students a kick start in the industry as Interior Architects.
  • Small Spaces, Large Cities – Urbanization has led to a compromise on available space in the cities. This has made our residences compact in room sizes. There is a growing need for intuitive, smart and multi-use design solutions which can be easily implemented. These aspects are creating a continued demand for Interior Architects, especially in cosmopolitan cities.
  • Not just for the 1% – In the new age, Interior Architectural services go beyond the elite 1% of the urban population, even the middle-income group seeks an Interior Architect to design their spaces.
  • Opportunities after Interior Architecture Degree – While Interior Architects deal with the inner core through an intuitive knowledge of the outer core, they can explore a wide range of unique career opportunities like Set design, Stage Design, Production Design, Product and Workspace design or a career in interior design.
  • A booming market of Interior Awaits! After the COVID- 19 pandemic,  home and business owners are rethinking the ways to accommodate the “new normal”. This has led to a streamline of projects that are centric towards Interior Architecture – from residential to commercial, from hospitality to workplaces, from re-adaptive designs to re-innovation, the market has an endless demand of niche-specific Interior Architects!

Which career path Architecture or Interior Architecture is the right one for you?

After analysing all the above factors, you must have devised a tentative solution to choose between the Architecture and Interior Architecture degrees. The choice, however, is relative to your individual potential, interests and goals. This should also align with the current scenario in the construction industry.

Due to the pandemic architectural project timelines have exceeded with a lesser demand for new talent. Whereas, the demand to re-think architectural spaces has created a huge demand for Interior Architects.

The choice between both these options, therefore, depends on the demand of the market and your individual interests.

Can an Architect be an Interior Architect?

After pursuing a 5-year architecture interior design course, if you feel that specialized expertise in the Interior Architecture market is what you need, then you can pursue upskilling programmes or coursework usually at a Master’s level. Several courses in design are offered today in both the traditional offline and in the online mode.

These courses are centric towards designing while enabling new identities to the existing spaces; forming an intersection between architecture, interior design and experience design. Rigorous coursework can help you in developing analytical thinking to be critically creative in the field.

Summing Up the Article

Your degree defines your career path, it is important to be intuitive and well-researched while entering this realm. Design is a versatile field but to be relevant it is necessary to position yourself as a subject matter expert through specialized coursework.

Both the courses, Architecture and Interior Architecture Degree, though related, have their own set of advantages, challenges, merits and demerits but choosing them as per your inclination and market demand is important. Interior Architecture is a lucrative profession with a technical aspect, Architecture is a broad study of the building envelope; both these facets are equally important in making thought-provoking structures. If you are highly creative with a technical inclination, you should opt for Interior Architecture. Architecture might have lived long but the rapidly growing Interior Architecture profession comes with a higher demand for designers.