History of the Interior Architecture Knowledge Community

By Aphrodite Knoop, Editor-Writer

The perception of interiors practice has changed over the past 30 years, reflecting the evolution of the profession of architecture as a whole. In a recent interview, William L. Pulgram, FAIA, first chair of the Interior Architecture Committee, shed light on changing attitudes and the evolution of interiors and architectural practice that led to the creation of the AIA Interiors PIA.

During the 1960s, Pulgram, who was running an interiors practice (Associated Space Design, then a subsidiary of Finch Alexander Rothschild and Pascal), was already developing his own contract documents for the firm’s projects. Rothschild, a partner with Finch Alexander, was a heavy hitter on the AIA Documents Committee and was pushing the AIA to develop the appropriate documents for interiors work.

Pulgram said that he started out as a ‘regular architect,’ but circumstances within Finch Alexander propelled him into interiors. However, at that time, interiors work was looked down upon. Pulgram said, ‘In those days, interiors were just something architects didn’t do. It was beneath them.’

Initially, Pulgram held serious reservations about getting involved with interiors because he ‘didn’t want to be a decorator.’ His view changed as his firm saw that their buildings were not being handled holistically to include interior spatial design that would result in comprehensive architectural design solutions.

‘The interiors of our buildings were not being developed in a manner that would complete architectural design intent,’ Pulgram said. ‘To achieve holistic design, we needed to do it ourselves.’ Thus, Finch Alexander formed the interiors aspect of their practice, which, in 1963, became an independent entity.

In 1972, Pulgram was appointed chair of the task force for the AIA Documents Committee with the purpose of developing much needed interiors contract documents. At that time, not many architects were involved with interiors, and the task force was a joint committee comprised of members from The American Institute of Architects (AIA) and The American Society of Interior Designers (ASID).

For three years, the task force worked to develop various contract documents for use by AIA members and, with some modification, by ASID members. The task force underwent several organizational transformations. Finally, minus ASID participation, a full-fledged AIA committee was established in 1975. Five years and several name changes later, it finally became the Interiors Committee.

Within two years of its inception as a full-fledged committee, Interiors expanded beyond developing contract documents and began to address other aspects of an interiors practice. It also began publishing information on such issues as starting a new practice, the differences between an interiors and an architecture practice, client relationships, and obtaining new work.

As the committee?s functions expanded, so too did its membership. Pulgram said that in the early days, the committee had an average of 50 members; today that number has soared to 1500.

It is evident, Pulgram said, that economics have driven the success and growth of interiors practice and of the committee. Interiors work has become a viable and much sought after aspect of architectural practice, and often, it provides an avenue to new work during lean periods when architecture-only firms are scrambling for jobs.

Pulgram added that, unlike 30 years ago, he no longer considers it necessary to create an interiors practice that is separate from a primary architecture practice. Architects have moved beyond the point where they are ‘just architects’ and are more open to expanding their scope of practice.

There is a recognized need to create interiors that relate to the overall organization of a building. Interiors specialists, Pulgram said, want to be part of the planning process from the very beginning for seamless design. The goal, ultimately, is to build good buildings that provide good environments.

Pulgram opined that titles of the individual participant on the design team are irrelevant as long as that person produces quality work that satisfies client needs. He said, ‘we need to be cognizant of each design team member’s strength and give them the opportunity to contribute in a holistic design attitude. We need more collaborative efforts.’