The challenges of interior architecture today
Interior architecture emerged as a specific discipline during the post-war ages. For example, the setting up of educational programs in interior design during these years is characteristic of the professionalization process of the discipline, which may be traced throughout the industrialized West. Particularly during the post-war building boom in Europe, specialization was needed in order to treat interior spaces with the same commitment as exteriors. At that time, several other sub disciplines of architecture emerged including urbanism and historic preservation of monuments and sites.
Initially, during 1950s and 60s Belgian Flanders, the discipline of interior architecture mainly focused on the design of the private sphere of the home, the domestic interior, as its initial Dutch name makes clear: binnenhuiskunst – literally meaning “domestic interior art.” Unlike what the name suggests, that discipline had nothing to do with art in the strict sense of the word. Instead, it corresponded more closely with what we now understand as interior architecture, but limited to the domestic interior. In 1995, along with the reorganization of higher education in Belgium, “domestic” would be dropped from the title as the profession did not limit itself to domestic spaces, but dealt with public interiors as well, a change that had to be recorded in the title. A similar evolution occurred in other countries as well.
Before the Great War, interior architecture was part of architecture, it was perceived as a Gesamtkunstwerk, a comprehensive work of art that draws on all art forms, from architecture to interior decoration, furniture design, paintings, sculpture, tapestry, and so forth. Influenced by the modernist paradigm, interior architecture mainly inscribed itself into the modernist ideology, proclaiming sincerity, austerity, honesty, functionalism, prefabrication and rationality. It has lost many of its connections with the (traditional) arts and crafts.
A big challenge for interior architecture is to free itself from its modernist roots and to re-connect with the other arts and crafts again. Not bothered by the aesthetic paradigms of modernism or any particular stylistic conventions, interior architects should deal with interiors in an unconventional way. In my opinion, they need to rediscover techniques that were frequently used in (interior) architecture before the twentieth century, such as illusionistic painting and the “narrativizing” of rooms, but in a modern version.
Secondly, interior architecture is a fluid field, situated between designing disciplines, the arts, humanities, social sciences and exact sciences. It comprises for example aspects of architecture, urbanism, environmental psychology, anthropology, product design, furniture design and aesthetics. It focuses on the relation, or at least interaction, between the user and its direct environment. Designing interiors is a multifaceted, layered, even interdisciplinary process. One has to deal with architectural environments as well as objects, with spaces as well as more ephemeral backdrops. The challenge consists of connecting all these aspects together, including the virtual space of the social media.
Thirdly, interior architects should include the social aspects that are very central in the discipline of urbanism. How do interiors contribute to the formation of a community? How can interior spaces be inclusive? How can they invite a diversity of users? How can they shelter the growing super diversity of our society? How can they become meeting places where people from diverse groups and different backgrounds have the possibility to meet each other? Socially vulnerable people as well as well-to-do-people, men as well as women, children, youngsters as well as seniors, people from diverse ethnical backgrounds, etcetera, may encounter there. Specifically, the so-called ‘public interior’ is an interesting field for interior architects to further explore. Indeed, meeting places in the contemporary city environment are increasingly less limited to the traditional streets and squares, but are situated indoors or in the perimeter of a building block for example. An ever-greater number of buildings possess conditions that allow them to be claimed as internal public spaces, including libraries, shopping malls, hospitals, galleries and wash bars. These kinds of design assignments invite the discipline of interior architecture, a field that once focused almost exclusively on the design of private spaces, to extend its scope to the relational conditions between the interior and the exterior.
Fourthly, living and the domestic remains an important and core task of interior design. Because of a historic connection of the discipline to the private interior, which had been tainted by links with femininity, domesticity and amateurism, there came a certain taboo on the domestic home as a field of interest for interior architects. However, a thorough understanding of the home, not only as a dwelling typology but also as a place of appropriation and inhabitation, is crucial both in the conception of domestic interiors and in the design of public or semi-public spaces. One of the frequently used strategies in the retail sector, for example, comprises of the creation of a cosy, domestic interior. These domestic atmospheres in shops have to ensure that their clients feel at ease, which has to result in higher sales.
Eventually, a challenge for the discipline of interior architecture consists in developing an academic language to discuss interiors and the way they are experienced in a sophisticated manner. While architecture has a very long tradition in discussing its creations in terms of terminology as well as critical reflection – dating back to the writings of Vitruvius – interior architecture has not. Only recently, some academic publication were published. As interior architecture is very related to the body, its senses, the psychology of its users, a specific language should be developed to describe and evaluate its characteristics. For example, the notion of ‘atmosphere’ is very crucial in understanding and designing interiors, but it is very hard to define, let alone to evaluate it. There is still much to be done in this field. Theories and insights from theatre, performance and media studies as well as installation art could be particularly supportive in this respect, as they deal with how to create a certain ambient, a certain atmosphere in a particular scene.
In sum, interior architecture should, starting from its own expertise, reconnect itself again with certain aesthetics, disciplines and traditions. The development of a discursive approach can support this process.
 Hay, F. (2007). Interior Architecture, proceedings Thinking inside the box, Interiors Forum Scotland (1-2nd March), 1.
 The term evolved from the Dutch binnenhuiskunst [art of the domestic interior] to binnenhuisontwerpen [domestic interior design], then to binnenhuisarchitectuur [domestic interior architecture], and finally to the current interieurarchitectuur [interior architecture].
 “The interior cannot be equated solely with the domestic,” see: Lees-Maffei, G. (2008) Introduction: Professionalization as a Focus in Interior Design History, Journal of Design History, Vol. 21, No. pp. 1, 1-18, 3.
 De Vos, E.; Somers, I. & Eeckhout B. (2015), “Three Profiles of Interior Professionals in Postwar Belgium”, Journal of Interior Design, 40, no. 2, 37-57
 Klingenberg, E.S. (2005). Interspace. In: Design Competence. Oslo: KHIO Faculty of Design (December), 5-24.
 Poot T., Van Acker M., De Vos E., The Public Interior. The meeting place for the urban and the interior, forthcoming in the next IDEA journal.
 Such as, among others, Brooker, G. & Weinthal L. (2013), The handbook of Interior Architecture and Design, London, New Delhi, New York, Sydney: Bloomsbury(2013); Weinthal L. (2011), Toward a New Interior. An Anthology of Interior Design Theory, New York: Princeton Architectural Press or Edwards C. (2011), Interior Design, a Critical Introduction, Oxford, New York: Berg.