Interior design’s occupational closure: an ethical opportunity



Interior & Furniture Design


  • design professionalism, cultural influence, accountability, good citizenship


In March 2015 the South African Council for the Architectural Profession (SACAP) announced its intention to register new professional categories for interior designers. This will provide statutory recognition for the professional status of the interior design occupation and it will allow interior design occupational closure, a state where both the practice and title of the occupation will be regulated.

To reach this milestone interior design’s practical and scholarly endeavour was focussed on the professionalisation of the discipline;  a lacuna was produced in which the discipline did not adequately consider a separate identity for interior design. The pursuit of a stronger discrete identity could provide a stronger professional identity (Breytenbach, 2012).

If interior design reaches the professional status it pursued it faces two consequences: firstly the discipline arrives at an ethical dilemma; secondly energy previously spent in the pursuit of professionalisation would be at large to deliberate discrete knowledge areas.

The ethical dilemma is located in professionalism itself. When an profession reaches occupational closure it succeeds in establishing a monopoly of service which is based on its technical authority which links skill and practice to provide services to the public which are uniquely trustworthy. Professions are technical and adhere to norms and standards. These norms and standards have an ethical dimension: they must service the greater public good (Wilensky, 1964).

As an industry, the interior design occupation must focus its intentions, efforts and influence toward

'that  which  ought  to  be'.  This  represents  a  normative  position  for  interior  design  in  which  the discipline must clearly state what its obligation to society is, and how it will be met. Currently interior design is offered the opportunity to redirect its scholarly endeavour in the pursuit of ethical and discrete knowledge areas. This paper will argue that interior design can face both consequences simultaneously, and that these can be addressed through its mimetic production.

During this emergent and developmental phase interior design can expand its practice and scope of expertise in an ethical manner. This paper aims to present some of these opportunities: interior design is uniquely placed in the built environment to denote occupation, inhabitation and identity; further, interior design is a tangible vehicle for the expression of intangible cultural practices that are expressed as public rituals (e.g. casual encounters and the conducting of conversations and other opportunities of exchange). Interior design contributes to the establishment and expression of identities which could support social cohesion; this is relevant in the establishment of a principle- driven and human centered profession. The professional accountability and social responsibility lies in interior design’s contributions in the cultural realm.


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