What is an Interior Architecture Degree?

The focus of interior architecture is interior construction versus interior design. An example of the work of interior architects is the transformation of a centuries-old church into a residential building. The goal is to preserve the heritage exterior while creatively adapting the interior space.

This degree field has some things in common with interior design, but it has a wider and more scientific scope. While it may look at the aesthetic components of color and lighting, it also includes more functional, technical components, such as doors, windows, walls, and making an old building safe from environmental hazards. In short, interior architecture focuses on the actual architecture and construction of a building – and how all elements of the build impact interior spaces.

Students of interior architecture study the overall design process, architectural modes of production, research methods, drawing, digital imaging, construction specifications, building information modeling, building systems and codes, and lighting design.

Program Options

Bachelor’s Degree in Interior Architecture – Three to Four Year Duration
The typical focuses of a bachelor’s program in this field are development of three-dimensional thinking, the history and theory of architecture and design, the concept of social relationships in interior architecture, and comprehensive live design projects that explore space, light, and structure. Many programs incorporate a work placement experience between the final two years of undergraduate study. Some offer options for a year of study abroad.

Here is a snapshot of an interior architecture undergrad curriculum:

  • Design Process: Fundamentals and Skills – introduction to conceptual and creative processes in design production; thinking through drawing; two-dimensional and three-dimensional skills and manipulation of space; design and spatial elements, platonic solids (architecture can be described as the practice of combining and rearranging platonic solids to create an attractive and useable space), spatial composition, scale, and representation
  • Design Process: Application and Communication – visual narratives as the expression of stories through visual media; the architectural modes of production:
    installation – installation art is largely dependent on architecture for structure and for shape; installations rest on or hang from interior spaces, with wires anchored in drywall or with faux walls tied to more permanent structures; each work must be designed, constructed, and installed;
    insertion – refers to architecture that is defined by the dominance and constraints of the site, so much so that the architectural end result is entirely dependent on the nature and characteristic of the site and how the structure is inserted;
    intervention – is about honoring deteriorating buildings by intervening and reinventing them for contemporary contexts and usage, not by erasing signs of aging and damage but by reimagining original structures and highlighting the passage of time
  • Design Process: Society and the Environment – the interplay between tradition/heritage and contemporary life
  • Research Process I: Principles and Concepts – students are introduced to research methods by considering design as a form of inquiry; both qualitative and quantitative methods are examined
  • Design Process: Strategy and Concept – the focus is on insertion as a mode of production which considers issue, type, user/audience, theory/concept, and site/venue
  • Design Process: Space and Technology – consideration of the built environment as a cultural artefact; the integration of behavior, history, and technology in the insertion mode of production
  • Research Process II: Methods and Perspectives – the relationship between theory and practice, visual research methods
  • Interior Design Process: Strategy Brief – a self-directed program of design investigation which demonstrates interior architecture competencies
  • Interior Design Process: Concept and Design Development – implementation of a self-directed program of design investigation

Master’s Degree in Interior Architecture – Two Year Duration
Master’s programs in interior architecture prepare students to work in senior and management roles in the field. The project-intensive curriculum spans architectural design software and modeling, design analysis, human and spatial interaction, space planning, color and materials, construction documents, site observation, interior construction methods, building codes and regulations, fixtures, furnishings, and equipment. The culminating requirement of these programs is generally a comprehensive medium-scale design project, instead of a traditional master’s thesis.

The following is an overview of courses that make up the interior architecture graduate curriculum:

  • Fundamentals of Design Documentation – fundamentals of construction specifications and documents for interior architecture and design, including plans, elevations, and sections
  • Sketching and Perspective for Interior Environments – creating quick sketches and using perspective and composition to communicate design
  • Digital Imaging – using imaging software, improving digital techniques for color presentation, integrating various media, graphic design principles
  • The Art and Ideology of the 20th Century – the artistic movements, styles, and ideas of the 20th Century; modernism, art, and culture
  • Studio I – exploration of the design process through problem solving; sketching alternatives, applied research, and appropriate media for design communication
  • Building Information Modeling (BIM) – project-based introduction to building information modeling; using BIM to convey geometry, spatial relationships, geographic information, and quantities and properties of building components; maintaining project data within a single file, capable of seamlessly generating plans, sections, and elevations
  • Building Systems and Codes – structural, mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and acoustical building systems; building codes and zoning; hands-on experiencing developing construction plans
  • Studio II – project-based experience in spatial design, as it relates to form, function, and planning spatial design concepts; hand sketching, perspective drawing, and rendering
  • Material Use – selection, specification, and installation of both construction and finish materials
  • Professional practice for Interior Architects – business skills for the interior architect; professional ethics; fee generation, billing, and accounting; purchasing documentation
  • Lighting Design – project-based experience in lighting design; technical and aesthetic principles of lighting
  • Studio III / Final Project – a medium scale mixed use project from site analysis through to design documentation, with emphasis on design process, research, and sustainable design as they apply to the interior environment, including finish materials, daylighting (placing windows, skylights, other openings, and reflective surfaces to admit natural light), and indoor air quality

Degrees Similar to Interior Architecture

Architectural Engineering
Degree programs in architectural engineering combine architecture and engineering. Their goal is to produce engineers with technical skills in all aspects of building design and construction. Courses, therefore, cover subjects like architectural drawing and design, building construction, lighting and acoustics, energy systems, and fire safety.

A degree in architecture will appeal to individuals who have an interest in and appreciation for both the sciences and the arts. This is because architecture is itself the art and science of designing and engineering structures and buildings. It is a field with a foundation in creativity, technology, and social and cultural trends.

Environmental Design
Degree programs in environmental design are focused on the interrelated variables that impact our natural environment and the built structures that we add to it. The curriculum explores the four elements that drive environmental design. The first is architecture –buildings and other structures. The second is landscape – parks, gardens, courtyards, public squares, and recreational spaces. The third is interiors – spaces inside buildings. The fourth is environmental graphics – signage and information boards, exhibitions, public installations and interactive experiences, and identity and placemaking (creating a sense of place).

Historic Preservation and Conservation
The focus of degree programs in historic preservation and conservation is the restoration of historic buildings and spaces. The curriculum spans architectural history, real estate development, building codes, and heritage building bylaws.

Interior Design
Design degree programs in interior design teach students how to apply both technical/scientific and creative/artistic solutions to produce functional and attractive spaces within a building.

Landscape Architecture
Landscape architecture students learn how to apply both the creative and technical skills of architecture to plan outdoor spaces and landscapes, such as parks, gardens, playgrounds, residential areas, and college campuses. The curriculum includes computer-aided design (CAD) and courses specific to landscape architecture, such as horticulture, hydrology, geology, environmental design, and landscape design.

Real Estate Development
Degree programs in real estate development provide students with the tools needed to oversee the building of new buildings and the rebuilding or conversion of existing ones. Subjects of study in the field include real estate, historic preservation, finance, urban planning, and public policy.

Skills You’ll Learn

Students of interior architecture gain a considerable set of soft skills that are very transferable to any field of work:

  • Attention to detail
  • Budgeting
  • Communication / Relationship-building / Teamwork
  • Creativity / Imagination
  • Drawing / Computer-aided design and drafting (CADD)
  • Organization
  • Presentation
  • Problem-solving / Design thinking
  • Project management
  • Spatial Reasoning / Visualization

What Can You Do with an Interior Architecture Degree?

The majority of interior architects are employed by architectural, engineering, and construction firms. Some work independently on a freelance/contractual basis. While many do not specialize, others focus on a particular segment of interior architecture such as residential, commercial, corporate, healthcare, hospitality, or education.

Depending on their specific responsibilities, interior architects may hold different titles. Here are some of the most common:

AutoCAD / BIM (Building Information Modeling) Designer
In this role, interior architects program and create construction documents to represent design intent. These documents articulate plans, sections, details, elevations, and schedules/timelines.

FF & E (Furniture, Fixtures, and Equipment) Designer
These interior architects focus on selecting, material sourcing, and providing specifications for furniture, fixtures, and equipment. This role is closest to that of an interior designer.

Job Captain
This is the title held by interior architects who are responsible for coordinating the entire design process. The work involves collaborating with project managers, fabricators, contractors, and regulatory bodies.

Project Designer
This role combines the responsibilities of the FF & E Designer and the AutoCAD/BIM Designer.

Visualization Specialist
The visualization specialist uses hand renderings, sketches, and 3D renderings to present design ideas and concepts.


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