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Architects are adept at structural problem-solving and creative design for both exterior and interior building design. Interior architecture focuses on the functionality of a space. This form of architecture is often confused with interior design, which focuses more on aesthetics. Here are the differences between these two career paths.

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What Is Interior Architecture?

Interior architecture focuses on the interior and its functionality for human occupancy. Interior architecture blends art and science to create, restore, or readapt the inside of various buildings, like homes, offices, or other interior spaces. This type of architecture also involves converting one type of space into another (also called adaptive re-use), like turning the indoor space of an old office building into livable housing.

What Does an Interior Architect Do?

Interior architects are usually involved in the building or rebuilding of interior environments, often changing the actual structure of the dwelling. They have to take building structure and building codes into account to create a safe and habitable living space (like proper plumbing and electrical system setup), and will incorporate architectural design analysis into all of their projects. Interior architects may also include sustainable design options into their creations, like “green” developments featuring alternative heating and lighting systems.

How to Become an Interior Architect

Attending a school of architecture can lead to a wide array of career opportunities, like real estate development, landscape architecture, set design, urban planning, or industrial design. To become a licensed interior architect, you’ll need to:

  • Find out your local architecture board’s requirements. The first step on your path to starting a career as an interior architect is to find out and complete the specifications established by your local architectural board.
  • Get a degree. Most architecture boards in the United States require prospective architects to complete an undergraduate program to obtain your Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) in interior architecture (or equivalent professional degree program certified by the National Architectural Accrediting Board). It’s critical to choose a school that has been approved by the Council for Interior Design Accreditation (CIDA). This accreditation guarantees that the education you receive in your interior architecture program meets industry-recognized standards.
  • Pass a licensing exam. To become a practicing architect, you’ll need to successfully pass the Architect Registration Examination, which was developed by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB).

What Is the Difference Between Interior Architecture and Interior Design?

While there is plenty of overlap between the roles of interior architect and interior designer, there are also some differences between the two professions:

  • Interior architects deal with structural renovations. The interior architect will usually design the whole structure of an interior and get involved on a more technical level in their design process. They work with builders, contractors, and technicians to facilitate the rebuilding or renovation of an existing structure.
  • You need a license to be an architect. The major difference between interior architecture and interior design is that all architects must have a license to call themselves architects, and to practice architecture.
  • Interior design is more about aesthetics. Interior design is a profession that focuses on architecture and space planning, creating cohesive and aesthetically pleasing designs for home interior and businesses within a built environment or existing structures. However, the interior design profession has evolved throughout the years as more designers have taken on these technical aspects of addressing architectural structures within their designs. Learn more about interior design basics in our guide here.
  • There are different qualifications. To become an official interior designer (rather than an interior decorator), certain states may require licensure or Council for Interior Design Accreditation (CIDA) certification. The National Council for Interior Design Qualification (NCIDQ) is a three-part exam that offers the highest level of certification for interior designers, and can help boost your chances of having a successful interior design practice or design firm.