What does an interior architect do?

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What is an Interior Architect?

Interior architecture is often confused with architecture, interior design, and interior decoration. In simple terms, it is a combination of interior design and architecture, a blend of art and science and of the technical and the aesthetic.

While the architect is concerned with designing the framework of a building and consulting on its construction, the interior architect reimagines the interior space of an existing structure and looks to reconstruct and reshape it to optimize its functionality for human occupancy.

This reimagination can involve anything from minor updates such as the repositioning of doors or walls, to gutting the interior to a bare-bones space with the intention of a full redesign or conversion of one type of space into another. The potential scope of their work, therefore, means that interior architects are expected to understand a building’s structure and have fundamental knowledge of plumbing and electrical systems and environmental design, as well as building safety codes and regulations.

It might be said that interior architects work at the intersection of architecture, conservation, and design, looking to understand buildings from the inside out and taking an innovative approach to their reuse, restoration, adaptation, and transformation.

What does an Interior Architect do?

An interior architect sitting at her desk and looking at drawings.

Perhaps the best way to begin answering this question is to draw a distinction between what an interior designer does and what an interior architect does. There are some similarities. Both practitioners have a thorough understanding of the elements and principles of design, spatial planning, and design development. They both create spaces that encourage human interaction. However, largely due to advances in design technology and design education, the role of the interior architect has become broader. In short, structural manipulation is what separates interior architecture from interior design. It plays no part in the work of the interior designer. It is central to the work of the interior architect.

Interior designers are concerned primarily with interior finishes. Interior architects stand out in technical areas such as plumbing and electrical, lighting, ventilation, and ergonomics, and they pay a lot more attention to construction detailing. They are comfortable making technical selections of products and materials, drawing on their builder’s knowledge and approach.

Interior architects are first and foremost architects. They generally do everything architects do – except they start with a building envelope. If necessary, they can restructure everything within this pre-existing shell. Their responsibilities can range from building reorganization to complete refurbishment. Their projects span the interiors of living spaces, offices, medical facilities, cafés, bars, clubs, restaurants, spas, shops, and more.

Here is a snapshot of tasks carried out by interior architects:

  • Meet with clients to determine their requirements and preferences for spaces
  • Typically focus on refurbishing existing interior spaces or specialize in designing new interior spaces
  • Assess the environment around the space, study the natural light, and evaluate the feasibility of potential plans
  • Sketch preliminary ideas manually before using computer-aided design and drafting (CADD) and building information modeling (BIM) applications to create scaled plans for the interior space, which reflect aesthetic aspects of the design along with structural elements
  • Create project plans that include cost estimates and proposed timelines
  • Seek out contractors to carry out their projects, which may involve drafting agreements and hiring temporary team members
  • Research and test building materials and construction methods to confirm that they adhere to existing codes and regulations
  • Visit construction sites to oversee progress
  • Supervise contractors and manage scheduling

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What is the workplace of an Interior Architect like?

Interior architects split their time between an office environment and construction sites. Their workday involves meeting with clients, architects, interior designers, and construction engineers to discuss and coordinate projects; as well as working on a computer creating detailed plans for interior spaces and developing budgets and timelines.

At construction sites, interior architects liaise with the construction teams bringing their designs to life and ensure that projects are completed on time, within budget, and to quality specifications. When visiting construction sites, the wearing of protective gear, such as steel toe boots and hard hats, is mandatory.

Most interior architects work on a full-time basis, but their hours may vary from day to day. They may be required to work in the evenings or on weekends to accommodate client needs and construction crew schedules. They may also need to put in some overtime to meet project deadlines.