Architecture vs Interior Design: Which Profession Reigns Supreme?

Architecture and interior design have a lot in common, though a day in the life of the average architect looks very different from that of the average interior designer…

Architecture vs Interior Design

Architecture and interior design are two fields that often overlap and work closely together in the built environment. Both disciplines involve the creation and transformation of spaces, but they have distinct differences in their focus, scope of work, and design process.

…and so hence this article on Architecture vs Interior Design.

Architecture is the art and science of designing and constructing buildings and other physical structures. It involves the planning and development of sites, as well as the creation of functional and visually appealing spaces.

Architects are responsible for ensuring that buildings are structurally sound, meet building codes and regulations, and are functional for their intended use. Some famous architects include Frank Lloyd Wright, Le Corbusier, and Zaha Hadid.

Interior design, on the other hand, is the art and science of creating functional and aesthetically pleasing interior spaces. Interior designers are responsible for designing and decorating the interiors of buildings, including selecting materials, finishes, and furniture.

Architecture vs Interior Design

They focus on creating cohesive and visually appealing spaces that meet the needs of the people who will use them. Some famous interior designers include Kelly Wearstler, David Collins, and Nate Berkus.

Both architecture and interior design are important in their own right, and contribute to the functionality and aesthetic appeal of the spaces we live, work, and play in. In the following sections, we will explore the differences and overlap between these two fields in more detail.

First up is:

Architecture

Architecture is the art and science of designing and constructing buildings and other physical structures. It involves the planning and development of sites, as well as the creation of functional and visually appealing spaces. Architects are responsible for ensuring that buildings are structurally sound, meet building codes and regulations, and are functional for their intended use.

The scope of architecture is broad and includes everything from residential homes and commercial buildings to public spaces and infrastructure projects. Architects work on a wide range of projects, including designing new buildings, renovating or restoring existing structures, and developing master plans for large sites or communities.

Some of the key responsibilities of architects include:

  • Developing concept designs and detailed drawings for buildings and structures.
  • Managing the construction process to ensure that projects are completed on time and within budget.
  • Ensuring that buildings meet building codes and regulations.
  • Collaborating with engineers and other professionals to ensure the structural integrity and functionality of buildings.
  • Working with clients to understand their needs and preferences, and translating those into design solutions

There are many famous architects (both male and female) throughout history who have made significant contributions to the field. Some notable examples include:

  • Frank Lloyd Wright: An American architect known for his innovative designs and use of natural materials. Some of his famous works include the Guggenheim Museum in New York City and Fallingwater in Pennsylvania.
  • Le Corbusier: A Swiss-French architect known for his contributions to the modernist movement. Some of his famous works include the Unité d’Habitation in France and the National Museum of Western Art in Japan.
  • Zaha Hadid: An Iraqi-British architect known for her futuristic and sculptural designs. Some of her famous works include the Guangzhou Opera House in China and the London Olympic Aquatics Centre.

We have a two full articles on What Does an Architect Do? and Types of Architect.

Architecture vs Interior Design

How do I become an architect?

The route to becoming an architect varies from country to country, but a long (and expensive!) training period is unavoidable no matter where you qualify. In the UK, it takes a minimum of seven years: a three-year BA or BSc plus a year’s internship, followed by a two-year MA or MSc topped off with another year’s internship.

In the US, a combined Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in architecture (known as the B.Arch) will take you five years, supplemented by additional years of industry experience before applying for a license to practice; students can also opt for separate Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees, which take longer still.

For more detailed information, see our article How Much Does it Cost to Become an Architect?

Interior Design

Interior design is the art and science of creating functional and aesthetically pleasing interior spaces. Interior designers are responsible for designing and decorating the interiors of buildings, including selecting materials, finishes, and furniture.

They focus on creating cohesive and visually appealing spaces that meet the needs of the people who will use them.

The scope of interior design includes everything from residential homes and commercial buildings to public spaces and hospitality venues. Interior designers work on a wide range of projects, including designing new interiors, renovating or restoring existing spaces, and updating the decor of existing spaces.

Some of the key responsibilities of interior designers include:

  • Developing concept designs and detailed drawings for interiors.
  • Selecting materials, finishes, and furniture for interiors.
  • Working with clients to understand their needs and preferences, and translating those into design solutions.
  • Managing the construction process to ensure that projects are completed on time and within budget.
  • Ensuring that interiors meet safety and accessibility regulations.

Just like architecture, there have been and are many famous interior designers throughout history who have made significant contributions to the profession. Some notable examples include:

  • Kelly Wearstler: An American interior designer known for her luxurious and eclectic style. Some of her famous projects include the Viceroy Santa Monica hotel and the Sanctuary hotel in Palm Springs.
  • David Collins: A British interior designer known for his sophisticated and timeless style. Some of his famous projects include the Blue Bar at the Berkeley hotel in London and the Plaza Athénée in Paris.
  • Nate Berkus: An American interior designer and television host known for his classic and collected style. Some of his famous projects include the Ace Hotel in New York City and the Ritz-Carlton Residences in Chicago.

You can find more information about the role of an interior designer from your national industry supporting organization.

Architecture vs Interior Design

How do I become an interior designer?

The routes to becoming an interior designer are much more varied. Most interior designers have Bachelor’s- or Master’s-level qualifications in the subject, although this is not an essential requirement as it is in architecture. Other interior designers have lower-level qualifications such as diplomas or certificates but a wealth of practical experience.

In exceptional circumstances, young people may be able to find apprenticeships in interior design that allow them to study and work at the same time. And again depending on what country you live in, your national body if interior designers should be able to provide further information on this.

Differences between architecture vs interior design

The biggest difference between the two professions is an obvious one: architects are concerned with buildings themselves, and interior designers are concerned with what goes inside them. 

This is, of course, reflected in their training: architects learn how to construct buildings that won’t collapse, while interior designers learn how to maximize the functionality and appearance of indoor spaces.

While architecture and interior design both involve the creation and transformation of spaces, there are several key differences between the two fields. These include:

  • Educational and professional requirements: In order to become an architect, individuals typically need to complete a professional degree in architecture, which usually takes five to six years to complete. After completing their education, architects may choose to obtain licensure in order to practice professionally. In contrast, the educational requirements for interior designers are typically less rigorous. Some interior designers may have a bachelor’s degree in interior design or a related field, while others may enter the profession with a high school diploma and on-the-job training.
  • Focus and scope of work: Architects focus on the design and construction of buildings and other physical structures, including the planning and development of sites. They are responsible for ensuring that buildings are functional, safe, and meet building codes and regulations. Interior designers, on the other hand, focus on the design and decoration of the interiors of buildings. They are responsible for creating cohesive and visually appealing spaces that meet the needs of the people who will use them.
  • Design process and timeline: The design process and timeline for architecture and interior design projects can differ significantly. Architects typically work on larger, more complex projects that may take years to complete. They are involved in the design process from the early stages, and may work on a project for several years before it is completed. Interior designers, on the other hand, may work on smaller, shorter-term projects that are completed more quickly. They may also be brought in at a later stage of a project to help with the final touches and decor of a space.

Another, perhaps controversial, way to think about the difference between the two is that architects tend to do the “harder” technical work related to a building’s structure, while interior designers tend to do the “softer” work related to the psychology of user experience.

(This is certainly not to say that architecture is “harder” work in terms of difficulty; both jobs have unique challenges!)

In summary, while both architecture and interior design involve the creation and transformation of spaces, they have distinct differences in their focus, scope of work, and design process.

Architecture vs Interior Design

Overlap Between Architecture and Interior Design

While architecture and interior design are distinct fields with their own educational and professional requirements, there is often overlap between the two disciplines.

Architects and interior designers often work together on projects, with the architect responsible for the overall design and construction of the building, and the interior designer responsible for the design and decor of the interior spaces.

In many cases, the design of a building’s exterior and interior are closely linked, with the architect and interior designer working together to create a cohesive design that meets the needs of the building’s users.

The interior designer may be involved in the design process from the beginning, helping to select materials and finishes that complement the overall design of the building.

It is important for both architects and interior designers to consider both aesthetics and functionality when designing spaces. A building that is visually appealing but not functional will not meet the needs of its users, while a functional space that is not visually appealing will not be appealing to its users.

By working together, architects and interior designers can ensure that the spaces they create are both functional and aesthetically pleasing.

What is the role of interior design within architecture?

Modernist architects like Le Corburier or Frank Lloyd Wright liked to control every aspect of their buildings including the fittings, furniture, and decoration.

The majority of contemporary architects tend not to be so deeply involved with their buildings’ interiors, though there is certainly dialogue between architects and interior designers and more so now than in recent history, when the two fields were kept rather separate.

This new emphasis on interdisciplinary working allows expert knowledge and skills to be combined, producing higher-quality and more integrated products. 

It is also worth noting that the boundaries between disciplines are becoming blurred in the twenty-first century. Traditional interior design courses are changing, incorporating information on the structure of buildings that would previously have been confined to an architecture course.

Some people who have completed this kind of training refer to themselves as interior architects, rather than interior designers, and may undertake slightly different types of work. For more information on this, see the FAQs section below.

Architecture vs interior design salary

Those outside of the profession often think architects are better paid than they are! Some surveys have revealed that architects feel somewhat dissatisfied with their pay, though others paint a more positive picture.

Salaries vary depending on a number of factors including region, seniority and job title, but average pay for a UK architect is between £40,000 and £50,000. In the US, the average salary is comparable at around $70,000, but again this varies considerably (an architect in the state of Utah, for example, makes just 62% of what an architect makes in New York). For more detailed information, see our separate articles on British and American architectural salaries:

A Guide to UK Architectural Salaries

A Guide to US Architectural Salaries

How does this compare to interior designers? In the US, indeed.com calculates the average interior designer’s salary to be $60,975, while payscale.com reckons it’s just under $50,000. In the UK, jakconsultancy.com suggests they are paid between £18,000 (for a graduate at the bottom of the scale) and £80,000 (for a lead designer at the top); recruiter indeed.co.uk puts the average salary at £35,791.

In short, interior designers earn less than architects over their careers – but this is not really surprising, considering the heavy responsibility that falls on architects to make sure their buildings stay standing, and the stricter entry qualifications that are needed to practise.

Given that someone can work as an interior designer without a degree, whereas architects have long and mandatory periods of training, the pay gap is actually quite small.

Architecture vs Interior Design

FAQs about architecture vs interior Design

Is architect better than interior designer?

It is not accurate to say that one profession is inherently better than the other. Both architecture and interior design are important and valuable fields that contribute to the built environment in different ways.

Architects are responsible for the design and construction of buildings and other physical structures, while interior designers focus on the design and decoration of the interiors of buildings. Both professions require a combination of creativity, technical skills, and problem-solving abilities.

It is important to note that the work of an architect and an interior designer may be equally challenging and rewarding, depending on the specific project and the individual’s strengths and interests.

It is ultimately up to the individual to decide which profession is the best fit for them based on their skills, interests, and goals. In general, both professions require a strong passion for design and a desire to create functional and aesthetically pleasing spaces.

As mentioned above, architects tend to have higher status and earn slightly more money, but probably not enough to justify the initial expenditure on training unless you’ve a passion for building, and nothing else.

Most people also consider interior design an excellent, even rather glamorous, career; it’s the comparison with architecture that tends to devalue it. 

What pays more architect or interior designer?

It is difficult to make a generalization about which profession pays more, as the salaries of architects and interior designers can vary widely based on a number of factors such as location, level of experience, size and type of firm, and the specific project or client.

In general, architects tend to earn higher salaries than interior designers, particularly at the beginning of their careers. According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual wage for architects was $80,750 in 2020.

However, the top 10% of architects earned more than $124,520 per year, while the bottom 10% earned less than $50,840.

Interior designers generally earn lower salaries than architects, although their salaries can also vary widely based on the factors mentioned above. According to the BLS, the median annual wage for interior designers was $58,580 in 2020. The top 10% of interior designers earned more than $93,970 per year, while the bottom 10% earned less than $32,230.

It is important to note that salary is just one factor to consider when deciding which profession is the best fit for an individual. Other factors such as job satisfaction, opportunities for advancement, and the individual’s skills and interests should also be taken into account.

Architecture vs Interior Design

Can interior designers work as architects?

It is possible for interior designers to work as architects, although it may require additional education and training. Architects typically have a professional degree in architecture and are licensed to practice in their jurisdiction. In contrast, the educational requirements for interior designers are typically less rigorous and do not typically include licensure.

If an interior designer wishes to become an architect, they may need to complete a professional degree in architecture and meet the licensure requirements in their jurisdiction. This may involve completing a five- to six-year program at an accredited architecture school and passing the Architect Registration Exam (ARE).

It is important to note that the work of an architect and an interior designer is different, and the skills and knowledge required for each profession may differ. An interior designer who wishes to become an architect may need to acquire additional technical skills and knowledge in order to practice as an architect.

In summary, while it is possible for interior designers to work as architects, it may require additional education and training, and a willingness to acquire new skills and knowledge.

Is interior architecture easier than architecture?

It is not accurate to say that one profession is inherently easier than the other. Both architecture and interior design are challenging and rewarding fields that require a combination of creativity, technical skills, and problem-solving abilities.

The work of an architect involves designing and constructing buildings and other physical structures, which requires a strong understanding of engineering principles, building codes and regulations, and the construction process. Architects are responsible for ensuring that the buildings they design are functional, safe, and meet the needs of their users.

Interior design involves the design and decoration of the interiors of buildings. Interior designers are responsible for creating cohesive and visually appealing spaces that meet the needs of the people who will use them. This requires a strong understanding of design principles, materials and finishes, and the needs and preferences of the people who will use the space.

In both cases, the specific challenges and demands of a project will depend on its size, complexity, and location, as well as the individual’s skills and experience. It is not accurate to say that one profession is easier than the other, as both require a strong passion for design and a desire to create functional and aesthetically pleasing spaces.

What is the difference between an interior designer and interior architect?

Interior architecture is a subject of study that has emerged only recently. Someone who describes themselves as an “interior architect” is unfortunately not an architect; they have not gone through the training required to practice architecture, so are barred from using the name.

But interior architects are not the same as interior designers, either, since they are engaged with the structure of buildings as well as with their aesthetics. We could say an interior architect is a mix between an architect and an interior designer. 

Architecture vs Interior Design

What exactly does an interior architect do?

Interior architects have their fingers in more pies than interior designers. Conceptualizing an interior is of course the main part of the both jobs, but interior architects are usually involved throughout the whole building design (or renovation) process.

Interior designers tend to be called in towards the end. Interior architects need a greater understanding of buildings’ structures and how different materials work. They will probably need to use CAD software. And they will need to stay up to date with building regulations at local and national levels, to make sure the designs they propose will meet them. 

Does interior design fall under the umbrella of “architecture”?

Yes and no. Interior design will be covered on any architecture course, and it’s perfectly feasible for a qualified architect to work as an interior designer without any (or much) additional certification.

The skills required for the two jobs overlap in a number of areas. However, many interior designers would likely suggest that since they graduated in their subject alone, one module of an architecture degree cannot hope to provide a thorough understanding of the field.

Someone who has spent three years studying interior design will naturally have a deeper understanding of it than someone who studied architecture for seven.  

Can I work as an architect and as an interior designer?

In theory, as long as you’ve qualified as an architect, the answer is yes. This is especially true if you work for yourself.

However, without an additional qualification in interior design, you’d need to produce a solid portfolio to convince clients that you’re as confident working inside a room as you are on a whole building. In practice, combining the two careers is likely to be quite complicated, unless you work for a highly flexible firm that lets you forge your own path. But it’s certainly not impossible.

Unfortunately, if you’re an interior designer hoping to branch out into architecture, your only option is to go back to the beginning and get qualified as an architect – although see our FAQs below, which discuss the hybrid job of interior architect.

Should I study architecture or interior design?

That’s a decision only you can make. On a practical level, architects are likely to earn more overall, but when offset against all those years of study and internships, the difference is not that significant.

If you suspect you might like to do both jobs, it’s sensible to follow the architecture route because adding interior design to your portfolio later is always an option. The reverse is not.

The best way to choose is probably to follow your interests, skills and priorities. If you’ve always hated math’s and physics, it’s possible to be a competent architect but you’re likely to experience a good deal of frustration, too.

If you know you’re a born creative, you might save yourself a lot of heartache by training as an interior designer rather than an architect; the unfortunate truth is that architects spend a lot more time hunched over a laptop, perfecting technical drawings, than they do coming up with novel ideas. 

There’s also the issue of status. It would be pointless to deny that architects are held in higher social esteem than interior designers, most likely because interior design has historically been associated with domesticity and “women’s work”. Thankfully this is changing fast, but it’s unrealistic to think the stereotype is dead and buried. 

Architecture vs Interior Design

Summary

In conclusion, architecture and interior design are two fields that involve the creation and transformation of spaces in the built environment. While they have some overlap in their focus and scope of work, they have distinct differences in their educational and professional requirements, focus and scope of work, and design process.

Architecture is the art and science of designing and constructing buildings and other physical structures, while interior design is the art and science of creating functional and aesthetically pleasing interior spaces.

Architects are responsible for ensuring that buildings are functional, safe, and meet building codes and regulations, while interior designers are responsible for creating cohesive and visually appealing spaces that meet the needs of the people who will use them.

Both architecture and interior design are important in the built environment, as they contribute to the functionality and aesthetic appeal of the spaces we live, work, and play in.

By considering both aesthetics and functionality, architects and interior designers can create functional and aesthetically pleasing built environments that meet the needs of their users.

They are both well-paid careers with good future prospects, since people will always need safe and comfortable buildings! It takes more work to break into architecture, which is reflected (although not dramatically) in average salaries; it is also much easier for a qualified architect to work as an interior designer then vice versa.

Interior designers, on the other hand, generally have more scope to work creatively and see their visions become reality, even at less senior levels.

Which career you choose will depend largely on the passions that drive you, and how you prefer to spend your days – but both architecture and interior design are respected, and more importantly enjoyable, ways to spend a working life.

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