Architectural Blatherations

American Architects take on Interior Designers

top rule

The Good Oil

Here we discuss why American architects hate their brethren in interior design.

We've had some correspondence from interior designers about this page. They attack us for our supposed castigation of their profession.

No offence you dimwits, but this page is a defence of your occupation, not an attack. Try reading it again when you are sober. See Ms Carol Deane's loopy email for a typical idiotic criticism. Much as we would love to love the occupation of interior design, all the correspondence we receive about this page seems to be sent by drunk interior designers emailing us at 3 am, whacking us for things we never said. Why they are invariably women, we don't know.

To even up the score, we invite intoxicated male interior designers to email us, but only after at least two hours have passed midnight. To compete with your female colleagues, you need to get really, really out of it.

NCARB takes up the cudgels

NCARB, one of the most important bodies in American architecture, has stated its opposition to American interior designers having more protection under state licensing laws (I explain exactly who NCARB is on this page ). Its Resolution 00-1 states:

...inasmuch as the licensing of interior designers may not protect the health, safety and welfare of the public in the built environment, the NCARB opposes the enactment of additional interior licensing laws... (June 2000 newsletter)

NCARB is, of course, doing this 'solely with the protection of the public health, safety and welfare in mind'. Very right and proper, too. It is especially solicitous of building workers:

How will an 'interior designer' [quotes his] who knows nothing about post-tensioned slabs, know that putting an electrical outlet in the wrong place could get the electrician who drilled the slab, killed? (Statement by the President of NCARB, May 2000 newsletter)

In this newsletter, NCARB has launched a pretty fierce attack on the whole occupation of interior design:

The great majority of their 'practitioners' [quotes his] are simply decorators who consider rigorous standards excessive and beyond their grasp... Architects are educated, trained and examined... Interior designers are not. If interior design is anything, it is a sub-specialty of architecture.(May 2000 newsletter)

NCARB knows the interior designer's place:

In our view, those engaged in decorating should give up the quest for licensure... and become licensed architects.(May 2000 newsletter)

For reasons that elude us, NCARB is suspicious of the interior designers funding sources. In a bizarrely paranoid paragraph, NCARB's President asks:

Who is funding the lobbying for these proposed acts? We don't know yet. However, they have put a lot of money into the effort... Representatives of the interior design industry admitted that they have spent more than $5,000,000 in recent years 'fighting architects' to obtain licensing.(May 2000 newsletter).

Good grief! After much detective work, NCARB has discovered that representatives of the interior design industry are paying money to support interior designers. The devious bastards! There will be blood in the streets next. And that does sound like a lot of money, doesn't it? And all spent on persecuting architects. We can't have that!

This is, of course, the usual NCARB cock-up.

Where is the AIA?

You may be wondering where the American Institute of Architects (AIA) is in all this. Keeping very, very quiet; it turns out. American architects are clearly worried about this issue, but the last article we can find on the AIA's website is dated November 1999. Several years later, we find the issue has been turned over to NCARB to take to the barricades.

Why is this? Because it allows the architects to run a holier-than-thou campaign. If the AIA was in charge of this attack, it would lay architects open to the charge of mere turf-protection, of trying to stifle competitors. That won't win any friends. With NCARB leading the charge, the architects can get away with this sort of attack on the interior designer's own organisation, NCIDQ (National Council on Interior Design Qualifications):

NCARB serves the public; NCIDQ serves interior designers... NCARB's funding comes solely from NCARB services and dues. We do not rely on manufacturers, suppliers or professional societies... We are independent... On the other hand, NCIDQ is funded and run by organisations...whose mission is to serve interior designers... At the end of the day, they bow to the will of the furniture manufacturers and finish suppliers...

What utter crap. This the worst sort of mealy-mouthed hypocrisy. All the organisations running American architecture (NCARB, AIA, NAB, AIAS, ACSA) are, of course, deeply intertwined, with much overlap of membership. They certainly do not have to go to any effort to communicate with each other. All five organisations have their headquarters in the one building: 1735 New York Ave NW in Washington. 'Suppose it saves on rent. So the same people who, one day, wear their AIA hats to champion the cause of the architecture profession, simply replace them the next day with their NCARB hats, and then claim they are now the veriest defenders of the people.

Protecting the public or themselves?

All the professions excel at claiming that all they want is to protect the public. Its amazing how often this noble aim so exactly coincides with the profession's own interests; and how, magically, what they say is for the public good also turns out to be excellent for maintaining professional incomes.

The architects must, of course, defend their vested interests; and one of those is to protect themselves from competitors. Over the past century architects have found themselves competing with a whole host of new specialities who are staking out claims on what architects consider to be their territory. Architects have conceded on some of these: structural engineering is the best example. With others, like the interior designers, they have not been so willing to roll over and lay down.

NCARB claims the public must be protected. But most architects and their firms are employed by corporations, often very large corporations. They are quite capable of protecting their own interests, and those of the people using their buildings. Indeed, they have a host of people especially employed for this very task: lawyers. The person most in need of protection is the individual of modest means having some work done on their own home. Yet, if you examine NCARB's own model legislation, this is the very class of person who is given no protection at all: NCARB suggests that this sort of work does not require a registered architect.