Design Pedagogy and Preservation Education: Advancing a Conservation Ethic Across Interior Design Curricula

Presented by: Dr. Diane Al Shihabi

Recent changes by accreditation boards indicate a move towards integration of historic preservation content in individual design disciplines. The Council for Interior Design Accreditation’s (CIDA’s) Professional Standards 2017 incorporate the term ‘preservation’ under guidance in Standard 10 History and Theory, while the National Architectural Accrediting Board’s (NAAB’s) 2009 Conditions for Accreditation address historical fabric, environmental impact and reuse under “Realm B: Building Practices, Technical Skills and Knowledge” (NAAB 2009). The shifts in accreditation standards mirror changes in design practice, which continues to evolve, in part, with the expansion of the federal Historic Tax Credit (HTC) program, designed to catalyze economic development through preservation. Since inception (1978), HTC has over $100 billion in preservation related activities and created 2.36 million jobs, resulting in increases in property values, heritage tourism, and tax revenues (Rutgers University and National Park Service 2016). Compliance with the HTC program necessitates specialized design practitioners, who are equally competent in contemporary practice and preservation guidelines. As a result, Historic Preservation is evolving as a critical specialization within individual design disciplines. The American Institute of Architects Guide to Historic Preservation (2001, 7), lists the “Historic Interiors Specialist” as a type of trained professional working in preservation and focusing on historic furnishings, lighting, and decorative finishes of building interiors. A current problem in the field of Interior Design is that the discipline does not offer widespread training for such a specialist. Thus, this study asks how historic preservation could be integrated across Interior Design curricula to support the evolving design specialization and to protect cultural heritage through interiors. Applying federal standards of rehabilitation warrants a nuanced and comprehensive understanding of preservation; hence, the educational process would require systematic training that combines contemporary design knowledge and technological skills with historic preservation theories and methods. This study contends that appropriate training requires sequential applications, increasing in rigor, over multiple course levels. The paper’s research methodology examines disciplinary and interdisciplinary applications of historic preservation content in a CIDA accredited program’s foundational design history lectures, intermediate level historic preservation seminars, and senior interdisciplinary historic preservation studios. Through pedagogical objectives and course lectures, assignments, projects, and fieldwork, it analyzes potential benefits and illuminates key challenges in the inculcation of historic preservation training across Interior Design course types and programs. Significantly, the study finds that consistent integration of historic preservation content and methods across Interior Design curricula not only generates awareness of the interior designer’s role in historic preservation, but also nurtures a nascent preservation ethic in the field of Interior Design that enhances cultural heritage conservation through interiors by those trained to interpret the holistic interior environment. In addition, the preservation education process serves global practice by increasing cultural sensitivity, multicultural teamwork, and appreciation of cultural diversity. Further, the integration of historic preservation education offers a viable career option for interior design students.


  • Council on Interior Design Accreditation (CIDA). 2015. “Professional Standards 2017.” Accessed 1 October 2016.
  • National Architecture Accrediting Board, Inc. (NAAB). 2009. “2009 Conditions for Accreditation.” Accessed 10 October 2016.
  • Rutgers University and National Park Service. 2016. Annual Report on the Economic Impact of the Federal Historic Tax Credit for FY 2015. New Brunswick, NJ: Edward J Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy. Accessed 12 October 2016.
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