Sam Diephuis

Annie Chu, FAIA, is a self-described champion of interior architecture. As a founding principal of Chu+Gooding Architects in Los Angeles and a professor at Woodbury University, she leads both her practice and her students with the guiding principle that—despite the mindset of many “traditionally trained” architects—interiors are so much more than just a collection of materials, finishes, and furniture. “Statistics from the Environmental Protection Agency say we spend more than 90% of our day indoors,” she says, “so why would architects not think seriously about these spaces?” Since the COVID-19 pandemic caused firms across the country to reevaluate existing projects, Chu says that as of now, all five of her firm’s construction sites are open.

I gravitated to architecture when I entered Rouen Cathedral in 1979. I felt the immense heft and volume of the stone-hewed interior; it planted a seed. In 2014, at my first visit to La Tourette, I walked into the chapel, sat down, and wept; the interior experience was searingly profound. Perhaps those of us who entered architecture because we feel spaces, as compared to those who approach it from primarily an intellectual place, will be drawn to interiors.

If you asked architects, “Can you design an interior?” most of them would say, “Sure!” I believe most architects, through a lack of knowledge of the discipline, have a deep-seated misunderstanding of what interior really is. I don’t know if they can grasp the broad and deep knowledge necessary to craft an interior experience that resonates with the intimate scale of being human.

Architecture is a centuries-old discipline—it has had multiple lifetimes to develop theory and canon—whereas interior design is only a century-old university degree. We are still developing nomenclature for discourse. Consider the copious disciplines that interior design engages: structure, materials, mechanical, electrical, plumbing, acoustics, lighting, well-being, sustainability, psychology, transportation design, biology, chemistry, color, and much more. If one thinks color is easy, consider Picasso’s quote at the end of his life that he still did not know color. I’d call interiors a fathomless and promiscuous discipline: synthesizing an abundance of needs and expertise to deliver layers and systems for the most scrutinized and impactful 90% of your day.

I’d like to see the academy retool design studios to expose students to broader areas associated with architecture. Since half of our students don’t end up in traditional practice, why are we only teaching to the test? The traditional role of the architect needs to evolve, making space for interdisciplinary diversity and rejecting traditional labels of male/female for architecture/interior. It is time to recommit to the noble mission of architecture as art-plus-service by advancing the design of the continuum of spatial experiences. — As told to Steve Cimino