Concerns aired by Royal College of Art alumni over the status of interior design at their alma mater have prompted an interesting response within the industry.
Sarah Harkins’ comment paints a picture of personal angst at being caught up in a perceived shift towards architecture in the mid-1990s. But others have expressed wider beliefs that the RCA may be missing an opportunity to develop a discipline that has the potential to fly, to address social as well as cultural and commercial issues.
The author of the draft letter to RCA rector Professor Sir Christopher Frayling that fell into Design Week’s hands cites the preponderance of refurbishment over new-build in the country as a market for interiors, not least in the £20bn schools programme planned by the Government.
Then there are ‘environments’, including interiors for transport, cultural and other clients, which demand a blend of architectural and interiors skills – the one renowned for spatial awareness, the other for injecting humanity into the space. Virgin Atlantic’s DW Award-winning Clubhouse at London Heathrow, designed by architect Softroom, falls into this category.
But surely a mix of both attributes is desirable in most building projects – or in exhibition and retail design. Users of the space can’t see where one profession started and the other stopped. Nor should they.
Frayling has assured us that interiors students are still admitted to the RCA’s Architecture course and that they receive the same teaching as students with an architectural background – the equivalent of a Part 2 in Architecture. As long as this continues and the numbers are balanced, does it really matter what the course is called?
Indeed, the situation allows the RCA to develop a model for others to follow at MA level, with architects and interior designers gaining mutual respect and understanding from an early stage in their careers. Breaking down barriers in this way is surely a good thing.