“I don’t want to undress architecture. I want to enrich it and add layers to it. Like in a Gothic cathedral, where the ornament and the structure ally.”
Cecil Balmond, Architect
The designation ‘Architect’ and ‘Interior Designer’ are acceptably interchanged as both are descriptive of professionals engaged in the act of designing spaces. To the public, the distinction between the two is ambiguous at best – Architecture is the erection of the exterior form and Interior Design is the adornment of a bare shell to transform it into a liveable space. The two disciplines may have an undeniable overlap but are distinguished by their specialized design focus. The science, engineering and technical expertise required for the construction of a building is the principal concern of Architecture. Likewise, the ergonomics required for comfortable habitation, furnishing, and lighting design fall under the scope of interior design.
Historically, the line between architecture and interior design has been blurred by the undertaking of both by a singular entity. The renowned British Architect John Nash (1752-1835) is accredited for many grand designed staterooms within Buckingham Palace that are still preserved and in use. Inspired by Nash, Robert Adam popularized the neo-classical style interiors across residences in London. This is the earliest known form of interior design by Art Historians in Britain.
These specialized undertakings have been long guarded within the boundaries of their respective scope of design as well as their professional fraternity and licensure organizations. Outside of the myriad rules and regulations that define the positions of an Architect versus an Interior Designer, the convergence of the two has brought to us the ‘Interior Architects’. It is a result of interior designers taking an active interest in the architectural aspect of design. It opens up a possibility that gives a professional the best of both worlds without having to choose a definitive identity.
The integration of the exterior and interior of a building allows for the development of a harmonious visual language. Louis Kahn’s Exeter Library is built in a brick exterior to match with its context. The brick flows seamlessly into its interior spaces and is complemented by the wood, stone, and exposed concrete. The structure frame and openings were designed to soak in natural light to create a sense of warmth and comfort within the library. The structure, proportions, and material are choreographed to respond to each other as well as the interior program and exterior context. In Kahn’s own words, it’s ‘the thoughtful making of spaces.’
There exists a common goal across these disciplines to come up with optimal design solutions while pushing the boundaries of space, form, and material exploration. Designed thinking is not limited to the confines of formal education but extends beyond it into various creative arenas. Even though architects and interior designers are perfectly capable of executing the entirety of design projects, the process of collaboration allows newer ideas and perspectives to emerge from their areas of expertise. Collaboration is a necessary part of the design process as the successful completion of a project depends upon the cohesive efforts of multiple agencies. This association between the two is also being driven by clients and builders that want to engage individuals with complementary styles and approaches to discover unique outcomes in design.
Architects and designers across history have also made a mark within subsets such as product and furniture design. Everyday objects such as chairs have been interpreted into newer forms inspired by their unique design sensibilities.
Frank Gehry’s Wiggle Chair (1972) was originally a rendition of the rocking chair in an ode to the architect’s love for the curved form famously recognized in the Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao. Gehry experimented with many industrial materials such as plywood and corrugated metal before arriving at cardboard used in layers to build the chair.
The Bacharach Swivel Chair by Jonathan Adler is among the many renowned pieces of furniture designed by the New York-based potter and designer. The luxurious armchair set atop a stainless-steel swivel base is an icon of opulence in contemporary times, indicated by the endless replications it has witnessed globally.
Design not only owes us beautification but also the ability to change the way a person inhabits space in the world. Architect Denise Scott Brown said ‘Architecture can’t force people to connect, it can only plan the crossing points, remove barriers, and make the meeting places useful and attractive.’ It becomes a tool to facilitate effective change and respond to shifts in the culture of our society, politics, and economics. The interior design and architecture communities are equal stakeholders in the process of this evolving imagination of how we occupy space and what we leave behind as an addition to our built histories.