Having spent an extensive amount of time over the years with deans of both architecture and interior design schools, I can tell you that any survey of the skills of recent graduates will bring howls of protest.

Having spent an extensive amount of time over the years with deans of both architecture and interior design schools, I can tell you that any survey of the skills of recent graduates will bring howls of protest. What is most appropriately learned in the academy, what is most appropriately gained through apprenticeship and intern experience, and what characteristic behaviors, such as good communication, collaboration and interpersonal skills, may be better taught in early childhood?

The collegiate experience may seem long to the student, but to a faculty it is incredibly short, requiring difficult choices about what to teach and how to teach it to best prepare an aspiring architect or interior designer to enter the profession. Entry-level professionals will never be fully minted as they come out of the academy. The question is how to integrate what’s taught in school and what is learned through early professional experience and only a closer integration between practice and the academy can address this issue. So, practitioners—stop complaining about recent graduates and accept that you have a significant role in preparing them as a well-rounded professional. Start collaborating with young professionals and the schools from which they graduate to design your continuing education and intern programs to guide these bright, eager and motivated budding practitioners into the profession as you’d like to see it practiced!

The difficulty of integrating architects and interior designers into a unified professional team constitutes an even more pressing area of concern, begging the question—does the lack of respect for each other begin in the academy or is it learned in practice? Having spent the better part of my career trying to overcome predispositions among architects that interior designers were decorators or fabric pickers and an equally strong bias among interior designers that architects were macho creeps who were exterior decorators without the foggiest notion about how people will really use the buildings they create, I can tell you that these biases run deep, reinforced at every step of a professional’s development, including the academy and practice experience. The bias is further reinforced by the professional societies who continue in a turf war about who can do what, slinging mud as, state by state, interior designers seek recognition as legitimate professionals.

Let there be no doubt, the interior design profession has come a long way toward establishing a stronger and more rigorous curriculum and better testing procedures. But it still has a way to go to merit the respect of both architects and the consuming public on a consistent basis. At the same time, many architects, driven largely by the nature of practice in the ‘80s and ‘90s where design meant the shell of a building for which the use would change on an on-going basis to be designed by others, have lost touch with the way places are used, relegating themselves to the role of urban sculptors.
More than ever, the need to base design on the uses of the places we make demands a full integration of architecture and interiors. Both professions would do well to reach out to one another, starting in the academy, to set design direction on human physiological and emotional responses combined with strong business and technical rigor. Neither is doing very well in clients’ eyes in these categories and each needs the others support and collaboration to bring the design professions to the stature we seek.
—Ed Friedrichs

Friedrichs is the former president and CEO of Gensler. He and his wife, Pat, have recently formed Friedrichs Group, a consulting
practice in San Francisco.