Green Jobs: Architects and Interior Designers

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Green building is becoming more and more popular as energy prices continue to be unpredictable. Once the economy has recovered and the housing market and construction pick back up, green building will be at the forefront. When that happens, I hope energy efficient features will be included in building codes, regulations and covenants. Then, there will be no option but to create buildings with reduced carbon emissions.

Green architecture combines building science with green design methods. It works with nature, and it’s not new. Frank Lloyd Wright designed homes that blended with the surrounding area, creating a harmony between man and nature often described as “organic.”

Photo: Pablo Sanchez

Strategies for Green Building

The American Institute of Architects (AIA) is committed to reducing the need for fossil fuels. They offer 50 strategies for reducing a building’s carbon emissions by 50%. Their strategies, called 50to50, offer strategies including:

  • eco-friendly building methods and materials
  • HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning)
  • site planning
  • building orientation
  • windows
  • landscaping
  • building life cycle assessment
  • preservation and reuse
  • systems

The advent of green building brings the need for green architects, designers and interior designers. These industries will need to stay competitive. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts job growth will be 16%  for architects  and 19% for interior designers between 2008- 2018.

How to Become a Green Architect

Becoming an architect requires a formal education of about six years, an internship of about three years, and licensing, which requires passing the ARE (Architect Registration Exam). Most college programs now include sustainability courses. Once licensed, an architect can take more courses through the US Green Building Council (USGBC) to become LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified. LEED is an internationally recognized green certification.

The LEED AP course of study includes a similar plan as the AIA’s 50to50 and includes:

  • sustainable sites
  • water efficiency
  • energy
  • materials
  • indoor air quality

Anyone in the building industry would be wise to attain LEED certification. LEED AP architects will be in high demand, and the same holds true for interior designers.

leed certified

Photo: Mike Gifford

How to Become a Green Interior Designer

An interior design career starts with formal training, which must be accredited by CIDA, The Council for Interior Design Accreditation. There are Associate’s and Bachelor’s degrees, but I have been told a Bachelor’s is preferred. School is followed by a 1-3 year apprenticeship.

The next step is to garner at least 6 years of combined education and work experience, then pass the exam administered by the NCIDQ (National Council of Interior Design Qualification).  As in architecture, interior designers would be wise to take more courses to be LEED certified following licensing. Designers with green backgrounds are in high demand.

My mother was an interior decorator, but she was also an interior designer. She was very creative with fabrics, colors, textiles, art and furniture placement but she also knew how to design an entire home. She and my dad designed the two homes they built, which were very functional with practical floor plans and ease of use for occupants. That’s what today’s interior designers do – they work with architects and contractors to help build the space they then decorate.

green room decor

Photo: Jerome d'Almeida

All interior design programs teach sustainability. It is possible to make residential, commercial, health care and hospitality buildings healthier with eco-friendly textiles, carpets, paint and furniture. The general public is becoming aware of the hazards of materials with chemicals like formaldehyde in them. Interior designers know where to source non-toxic materials. They can also find components that are recycled, woods that are sustainably harvested, and materials with a low-embodied energy.

Residential design includes additions and remodeling. In this economy, homeowners are remodeling instead of selling and moving. Kitchen and bath remodeling is very common in homes.

Every interior designer I have spoken to says health care is a huge field. They design hospital rooms, lobbies and clinics, as well as nursing homes and assisted living for our ever-increasing, aging population. Non-toxic materials are crucial to good health. Think how good you could feel knowing you have created a healthy space for an aging couple or someone in the hospital!

ASID, the American Society of Interior Designers, has plenty of information about training, job opportunities and continuing education.

As the construction industry struggles to get back on its feet, it’s time to think about careers like these. When housing gets back to normal, green architects and interior designers will be in high demand. Be prepared!

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Nan Fischer

Nan Fischer has been living and building green for over 35 years. Nan’s emphasis on the BuildDirect blog is about how to make your dollar stretch further, while also moving toward a more sustainable lifestyle, as well as upcoming and existing technology to help us live in an ecologically-friendly way. Nan also authors posts on the website of her seed business, sweetly seeds.