Overcoming the challenge between interior design and architecture

Sharon Jutla, Associate and head of interior design, RMJM.

Having worked in the UAE and elsewhere for 16 years, I have found that there is a frequent conflict between interior designers and architects. Despite the importance of collaboration with architects on a project, it is always a challenge to create a united vision. I am quite sure other interior designers also have faced this problem on a day to day basis.

Often architects don’t understand the role and scope of the interior designer, viewing them as a glorified interior decorator, or an intruder with strange ideas of Byzantine frivolity to their serious design aims – sadly true in some cases, particularly so in Dubai. While architects and interior designers share many skills, such as space planning and an interest in materials, architects need to be more concerned with a wider picture, such as massing with urban form and external appearance, while interior designers are concerned with the experience at the individual’s level. The interior designer’s concerns may be unwelcome in the early stages of a project when the architect is grapping with the client’s brief, the constraints of the Affection Plan, structural and MEP complexities, traffic and fire requirements among others.

Another area of conflict arises when clients require a very tight delivery schedule for both architecture and interior design. The interior designer can consider the design thematically, but needs the architectural layouts before creating their deliverables – drawings, visualisations, and sample boards which need time to be well thought through to be convincing. A four week programme for concept design may just allow the architect to finish their layouts at midnight before the deadline date, but the interior designer is left with sand running through their fingers.


Clients and project managers need to recognise the reality of the ID work in the project design workflow – ID runs half a work stage behind architecture but will catch up by the detailed design and tender document stage when they unite. This gives both disciplines room to breathe. The details and material interfaces will have more thought and care if the interior designer has time to develop their work at an earlier stage.

RMJM’s book Inside Out/Outside In expounds the idea that a building design should, more or less, reveal its internal purpose, and reflect the external context within. The dialogue between the exterior and the interior, the sense of movement in and out, forms and the palette of materials, should form a cohesive whole if a project is to be truly successful. This means interior designers and architects working together to create a seamless interface, recognising and respecting the differences in levels of concern.

RMJM promotes the development of rigorous and insightful interior concepts during the architect’s schematic design work stage. We then align our final deliverables for procurement activities. We believe this should be a model for the industry.

Sharon Jutla, Associate and head of interior design, RMJM.

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