Money, Money Money – An Architect’s Salary

Bob Borson —  January 25, 2013 — 85 Comments

On January 18, 2010, I wrote my first post on salary (it was actually the 4th post I ever wrote) and it was titled Architect’s Salary – Wanna Know? I started that post off by writing:

“How much money do I make? I never get asked this question even though people are probably curious.”

[needle scratching record] What?!?

money

Boy was I wrong. Here I sit almost 3 years later to the day and now I receive a flood of emails every week from people wanting to know how much money I make [How about I send you my W-2 while I'm at it?]. In fact, looking at the Search Engine Terms that have brought people to my site, 4 of the top 8 are:

#3 – how much do architects make
#5 – how much does a architect make
#6 – how much does an architect make
#8 – how much do architect earn

… and the two previous posts I’ve written on the subject (the other was written on November 28, 2011 titled How Much Money Does An Architect Make? ) they are the #3 and #6 most trafficked posts on my site of all time. Clearly, given the economic environment from the last few years, this is a topic of interest but after having read the umpteenth email asking me to tell them exactly how much money I make – sorry, but I’ve had it. As a result, I am going to get up on my dusty and infrequently used soapbox and pontificate for about 924 more words. Don’t say I didn’t warn you, now is the time to bail … I am going to piss a lot of people off.

[ahem]

There is more to life than making a big paycheck.

There, I said it. Wasn’t even all that hard really. I would like to say that what I make is my own business, I do alright and have been fortunate in that I have always been employed and came out of college with no student loans to pay off. It also probably doesn’t hurt that I live in Dallas where we have a global economy and don’t see the wild economic swings that  plaque other areas of the country. There is no doubt that I started my working career off with a clean slate but even if I hadn’t, I’ve been out of school for 21 years now and my students loans would have been paid off by now. My wife and I did have to deal with her students loans but we knew that was coming.

I have long been on record that I can’t stand when people whine that architects don’t make more money. Of course they want to make more money – who doesn’t? The question – for me – is what are you willing to do to get more money because people generally don’t like to give that stuff away. I also strongly believe that each person needs to determine for themselves where the balance exists between work and personal fulfillment. I was going to go back to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics to gather a bunch of data and put together a comparison but the truth is – I don’t care what other people make!

Last time I said I didn’t want to hear about people whining about how much money architects make (or don’t make in this context) I received a comment from someone who said that my attitude was why architects can’t get a decent wage, that somehow by saying “enough with the complaining and the moaning” that I was somehow in favor of lower pay for architects.

Clearly that person is an idiot. (pretty harsh language from me)

I am not trying to say that we don’t have a challenging degree that is at least 5 or 6 years in length, or that we don’t have a brutally difficult registration exam to pass before we can call ourselves architects … I am just saying that  I don’t care. I knew how long I was going to be in college … I also knew that the architectural registration exam was difficult but being an architect is how I wanted to spend my time. What I wanted was a living wage and to find some sort of happiness in how I was living my life. I could have gone to law school – in fact, most architects I know clearly have the mental horsepower to go that route if they had wanted to – but they didn’t. I can only assume that those people tried to weigh their options and find a balance between doing something they loved and making enough money to pay their bills, rather than trying to find a job that would simply pay them the maximum amount possible.

I have spoken to student groups on a few occasions and when the subject of salary comes up – and it always comes up – I tell them that they should never take a job just for the money. I try to convey to these kids that doing a job you love for $50k is a lot better than doing one you hate for $100k for the simple reason that eventually you won’t think that $100k is all that great – it’s just what you make and your lifestyle will probably reflect the fact that you make $100k a year. So what now? You can’t go backwards – talk about a hard transition – and you hate your job. Every day will suck and getting that bigger paycheck won’t make it not suck. I made that mistake once in my career but I was lucky enough to realize it and I left after 4 months, before I could get used to having that bigger paycheck.

My heart goes out to the people who are saddled with mountain sized college loans to pay off and are currently struggling to earn enough money to keep the lights on. I am even more sympathetic towards the recent grads that have been unable to find employment or the older seasoned architects that have forced into early retirement – but that speak more to the workload rather than the salaries available. Most of those people who I know would take any job just to feel like a contributing member of society once again.

There are plenty of architects that make a great living and there are all sorts of things that contribute to that – particularly if you have a skill that is in demand and isn’t readily replaceable by a cheaper source. The point of this rant is that getting paid what you think you are worth in an environment that recognizes your value is a wonderful thing and should be your goal, not I went to school a long time and took a bunch of hard tests and I don’t make what Lawyers or Doctors make – if you want their salary, go do their job.

Oh, and the other point of this rant is – don’t ask people what they make for a living, it’s rude and you should have learned better when you were in grade school.

.

.

 

  • MapleSoda

    I think most people who are reading this — either as a follower of your blog or directed to it from a search term — already have an idea of what points you make in your post. Yes, doing a job you love matters. Quality of life is important and affects your health in every way. Yes, focusing solely on money is an obsession that isolates an element necessary for life, and when taken to an extreme, puts blinders on potential. These points can be made up front, after which additional points can be made about the actual question that might open the conversation about salaries in a meaningful way. Saying it is inappropriate to ask about how much money one makes is to frame it as a taboo — something that shouldn’t be talked about. While your post says, hey look a bit deeper at what makes someone choose a life as an architect, it should take that line of reasoning a bit deeper by moving past an educated, but reactionary response. How much money architects make should be talked about, just as quality of life should be talked about, because they are related. That reality should be the starting place, not the end point of a conversation. Dialogues are not rants, and if it is rude to ask someone their income, then it is certainly bad form to not adequately respond to a question in a public forum, i.e. a blog (your public face).

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      There is a big difference between asking what architects make and what I make – it’s a different conversation and shifts the focus of the conversation from something public and therefore open for community discussion to something private and quite honestly, none of your business.

      The conversation – particularly where salary is involved – should remain at a high level in a public forum because getting specific is about comparing the details and abilities of a unique individual to another … we are rarely armed with enough information to make a comparison at that level. To follow this logic, knowing what I make doesn’t actually help anyone out unless they do what I do, in an office just like mine, in the same area of the country, have the same skill set, and are value for their skills and abilities in the same way that I am valued.

      It is for all these reasons that I typically try and push people past the “how much money do you make” conversation and try to focus it instead on “can you make enough money to find happiness in what you are doing”.

      • Tomas Aguilar

        I feel that the reason for the general interest in your private matters of personal pay as a successful architect is that people who feel they are not paid enough want to scapegoat the horribleness of the profession because it is easier than dealing with their personal dilemma of a perceived mismatch between skill value and monetary compensation for said skills. When a successful architect like yourself comes along and shows that the profession actually can pay well, those who are not able to command the compensation they feel worthy of get the foundations knocked out from under their pitifully bitter columns.

        On a more sarcastic note…
        It is most “certainly bad form” for you to be an exception to my resolutely held beliefs! You must divulge your personal information at once so I can tell you that you only have these opinions because you are paid a lot!!!

        On a more serious note, I would just like to point out that even well paid architects are believers…
        “the principals complain that “the profession” doesn’t pay well, but an HCE is an HCE…”-Anonymous

        Thanks for your posts!

  • Hussy shah

    well I think within 20 years if an architect couldn’t mange his own practice,
    he is a loser.. I think in architecture money should be the 2nd priority..
    1st is to Design, just design…

  • I’m Me

    #3 – how much do architects make
    #5 – how much does a architect make***
    #6 – how much does an architect make
    #8 – how much do architect earn

    ***-this is why this country is in debt

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      solid if lacking in specifics

  • bob

    you’re an idiot buddy. (pretty harsh language from me)

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      Comments like this one just confirm that I’m on the right track. If this is the best you’ve got, I’m glad you disagree with me.

  • timhortons

    I don’t usually write comments but felt compelled to do so after reading this article. I want to share some of my own experience here with you and hopefully this will help someone who is thinking of taking Architecture or even someone who is practicing as an architect and considering switching careers.

    I went to a quite prestigious university in Canada and did Architecture. I spent 4 years there and 4 years with a prior undergraduate degree which adds 8 years. However, in my 2nd or 3rd year of Architecture school, I realized that being an architect is no different than being an artist in today’s society; only a very small percentage of architects will make ‘big bucks’ and the rest who stay do it because they love what they do, just like the many ‘starving’ artists.

    I realized that I wasn’t cut out for this, I knew early on that I will be completely miserable in a $35,000/yr job, so after graduating, I took up a job in the IT sector related to design. My first year, I made $52,000 and in 3 years I hit $100,000 point. Now, how many architects can say they made this kind of money in even 5 years time?
    Ten years since graduating, I make close to 140K in the IT field. True, I still miss the very essence and the beautify of architecture, and often catch myself looking at glossy architecture photos in magazines and wonder what would it have been like, had I stayed in Architecture. But when I do, I comfort my self that at least I am able to do this in my paid off home and 2 cars, and that my friends, is a big relief!

    • S Marture N

      You miss something if you ever have it.

  • Paul J. Michell

    As the one who has to give the career day talk to a bunch of high school kids tomorrow, this was a subject I knew I’d have to address once again. Thanks again for your thoughtful perspective, Bob.

  • Frank

    Hi Bob, long time reader, first time poster.

    I’m a recent graduate of Architecture in Australia, and I remember one of the very first pieces of advice I was given by my lecturer at the time:

    “If you’ve enrolled in this course thinking you’re going to make money, leave now. If you want to make money, go work in money (finance)”.

    He paused for a bit and then followed up with:

    “Architects can work till the moment their hands and brain aren’t able to function anymore, most other careers have an expiry date”.

    Those pieces of advice will forever stick by me. I’ve always believed that if you’re good at what you do and prepared to work hard for it, you’ll achieve your financial goals.

    I’m not too sure on the retirement age in the States, but how many careers can you work 10, 15, 20 years post retirement and still make livable income? 10 years on the average salary (for arguments sake, I’ll say $35k) is 350,000, 15 years 525k, 20 years 700k.

    Find me other careers where the opportunity to work till the day you kick the bucket is an option?!

    Architecture is a visual thing, not what the numbers in your bank account tell you. It’s a privilege to be able to contribute to society and to create a visual diary of work you’ve produced (or helped to produce). No value can ever be put on that.

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      Hi Frank – you are certainly correct about the career longevity of architects. Unfortunately, I have been hearing from seasoned architects who have been forced into early retirement because there isn’t enough work to keep them busy and to justify the (presumably) larger salary over a younger less experienced person. I hope these people get to come back in the office and experience the 10,15 or 20 additional years of work – for most of them it isn’t work but a part of who they are. The last 4 years – at least in the US – have been devastating to our profession. Everything is different now.

      • Frank

        The industry has felt the pinch here on the other side of the planet too! But I know a number of seasoned Architects who have decided the office rush is too much for them, and have taken a step back to do more smaller private work which I think is a great fall-back option (and you’d like to think that kind of work will always be around). People do need homes to live in at the very least!

        I also realis(z)ed I forgot to mention that I agree with your article 100%. Takes a special individual to be in this profession and like yourself – I wouldn’t change it for anything else.

        Keep up the good work, your articles are a joy to read.

  • J. Sparrow

    Sadly, I fit more into the guy earning over 100k that you describe. My aspirations of being an architect died when I decided a good way to pay for schooling was the military. From there, the military training transitioned me into a career in cybersecurity, and I have been on the fast track burning hot up the salary chain since. Thankfully, I do get that great mix of left and right side of my brain as there is a lot of creativity (hacking) and execution of sound principles (defending) in this industry. i think that was my pull to architecture to begin with. Creativity and structure in the same boat. I do however thoroughly enjoy my occasional escapes into your world. Thank you for the inspiration and for the journey into what could have been.

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      Thank you for sharing. A lot of people have been leaving the profession but still care about what architecture is and what it can do – that’s it’s real beauty.

      Glad to hear things worked out well

      • JSparrow

        Bob,

        Thank you for taking the time to respond. I find that disheartening
        to hear of an exodus from this industry, but considering the history of the past ten years, I suppose that makes some sense and a natural decline would be expected. I did have a hard choice when I left the military in 2004. At the time, my passion for architecture was burning strong, but the reality of the road to “success” just seemed too daunting, especially among other alluring opportunities. To slave through five years of schooling (at least) just to graduate into a 35K a year as a drafter’s apprentice didn’t appear all that appealing. That is what I understood to be the realities.

        I often reflect on those decisions and still kid myself that I will one day return to a creative career field, possibly in retirement or on
        the side, but as my lifestyle and responsibilities expand, it becomes understandable more difficult. My daily escapes involve perusing your blog and AD and I am appreciative of those insights into the realm of it. Probably underlying my decisions
        to avoid truly creative fields is that results in these industries are almost entirely based on opinions, and “success” or praise in the world forum, are based on either influential individuals’ or collective audiences’ perception of the product. Perhaps a question for whole new blog post, but I am curious how you handle this. I suppose many state that one should design for what they truly like, integrity to your own design beliefs, but what do you do if those beliefs change frequently? How does one stake their livelihood on their own idea of how things should look and feel? Perhaps these question are covered in design schools, but as a young seeker these unanswered questions founded a lack of confidence in being successful in this field. Perhaps it would be a service to provide these to the next generation of aspiring designers.

  • http://www.facebook.com/shawnda.rixey Shawnda Rixey

    Life of An Architect,

    People that ask you how much architects make are not college graduates, they have to be people who are thinking of getting the degree. I am a graduate student at Texas Tech and I am in my last semester. I don’t bother to explain a lot of my chosen profession, mainly because I came to realize, while in school that architecture is not a profession but more of a lifestyle. College weeds you out of being an architect; only those crazy, passionate, gluton for punishment types stay on to continue their education; me being one of them. Not everyone will understand an architect and I think that your blog is a good introduction into what and how they think. Example: you put your daughter in a picture for scale. No one else does that other than architects.
    I agree that there is more to being an architect than the money. When you dream about being an architect as a kid you don’t think about the money you think more like me. When I was a kid I wanted to say that I designed that building. That was before I realize that architecture is not an individual accomplishment but a team one. Anyways, point is that no one should go into architecture for money, if anything maybe go into law or medical or now adays do IT work.
    Thank you for your blog.

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      Thanks Shawnda – I think most people think along the same lines as you but there are a handful that are discouraged that things aren’t going better for them – and I can sympathize for those people. Hopefully things will change and our profession will move out this dark hole it seems to be in.

      Cheers

  • Drew Hasson

    Bob, I totally understand where you’re coming from. It’s basically a redundancy from what you **already** explained in your FAQ: “How much money do you make?” “What schools should I apply to?” “etc, etc. I’ve spent a consderable amount of time reading your posts, drawings, etc. I can totally agree with your reaction to these incessant and damn near totally disrespectful inquiries that were pre-answered. It’s unfortunate that it has got to this point, yet I can easily understand.

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      Thanks Drew – if you read the comments down below, many people are missing the point (which I will assume that I did a bad job explaining the point) but I am at a loss as to why having $70,000 in student loans means you should get paid a lot of money. It also doesn’t address the issue that some of these people don’t have the ability, skill, or service ability to justify getting paid more money. If what you do can be done by somebody else for less guess what happens? If someone can’t figure the answer out on that question, I’m not going to worry about them.

  • http://www.facebook.com/yoon.loh Yoon Meng Loh

    This was an insightful post (I also read your Jan 2010 post), and it helps! I was working voluntarily in Melbourne, Australia, while doing my degree there and I enjoyed a very interesting ‘working/studying/living there’ kind of relationship with an architect’s practice, a small one, with just me and the principal. I learned and did lots of things that I’d never have the chance to do if I was a paid employee.

    After graduation, I stayed on for almost another year struggling to survive and having to do odd jobs until I finally decided to get a job back home in Malaysia for a comparatively low salary (not to mention the currency exchange rate and terribly rude and tough culture). After six months in my first serious paid job and I’m moving-on again, this time to a lower paid job, but in a bigger and better firm, and more internationally exposed too, phew…

    Just hope I’d be able to grow better in this one than all the ones I’ve been through during my student years. But I’m still trying to find that special thing I’m passionate about, architecture in space! Long way to go for me… until I get there.

    Thanks Mate! For the article.

  • Juan

    We are in the construction business. Hello?! We master design. we are liable, we need to protect the people by designing safe structures, we hold licenses. We combine art and engineering resulting in buildings that have to be safe. Everyone involved in the process of construction makes really good money BUT THE ARCHITECT. Don’t be a fool, you deserve to be paid accordingly. Do not work for free or low wages, do not charge low rates, people are walking all over architects because you know what, if you don’t value yourself no one will. The low wages and compensation is a problem created by architects and we need to solve this. is not about I wanted to do what I always like and I new I was going to be paid crap. WRONG MENTALITY! Come on guys, a sales commission on a building has a higher percentage paid than the architect who design and built and spent so much more time creating the building and is liable for the quality and safety of the building?

    BE PROUD OF YOUR WORK AND VALUE YOURSELF AND WORK AS IT SHOULD BE!

    • marge

      this (look up) yes, this.
      “people are walking all over architects because you know what, if you don’t value yourself no one will. The low wages and compensation is a problem created by architects and we need to solve this.”

  • oldman

    It’s all fine and dandy to love what you do, but todays young architect needs to take care of student debt levels which today can be astronomical, try providing for a family on their salary today. This profession, if you want to call it one is falling by the wayside. The role of the architect has been marginalized, I find the architect siting in job meetings with clients, owners representatives, and contractors as the whipping boy that no one listens to. So many clients look for free work, god how we prostitute our services, fools every one of us. I own a mid size office in a large city, fees are so low due to competition that I can only hire contract employees for $11.00 to $13.00 per hour, no benefits, if we don’t need them they don’t come in. I feel truly bad for what I offer, but I don’t have another option. I make around 40% less than I made 5 years ago. The truly best advice that I can give a young architect is to look for another line of work, this business is truly a fools game.

  • Danny

    A student’s perspective…

    I’ve wanted to be an architect for as long as I can remember, and when some bad advice led me down another path I was pretty heartbroken but I learned to adapt to the situations in front of me and keep working towards my dream. 4 years later I’m about to graduate from a well respected state university with a business degree concentrating in supply chain operations. Mind you it was an alternate path that I’ve grown to hate but I can still see the positives for my future. My peers are landing different jobs, some making as much as $60K with $30K signing bonuses while im planning on going to graduate school for something that I’d be lucky to make 2/3 of that.

    For a long time I looked at money as a motive for my success, now I can see that I was completely wrong. I’ve spent 4 years in a curriculum I have absolutely no passion for, the only thing keeping me going is the thought of going to graduate school to be an architect and pursue my dream job. I don’t care if I could make significantly more in the business world, I’ve been doing something I can’t stand for far too long. I’ll gladly take the pay cut.

  • Cindy Franklin

    Do what you love and the money will follow? Not necessarily.
    Follow the money.

    To afford a custom home designed by an architect, a client needs a hefty income most likely in a field that was not their first choice but one they pragmatically chose because while money does not buy happiness it can buy a custom home. Work is work but coming home to a retreat, shelter, sanctuary soothes the soul. I’ve read books written by architects and they write that they cannot afford the homes they design for clients nor do they have the time to spend on their own home. So, let’s hear for those of us who suck it up, stick it out, and sell out, we keep architects in business.

  • DominicC

    The whole “how much does an architect make issue” seems to be an international one. I am German and currently in my first year of architecture school in France. Everybody around me (except my parent) kept telling me that it isn’t worth it, had I listened to them I certainly wouldn’t have chosen this path. Yet I don’t regret it. And to be honest I am struggling right now, don’t even know if I am going to make it to the second year at the first try. But I always feel that I am in the right place. And that is the most important thing for me.

    Most people in my classes think the same way, but then again after reading the comments I notice the huge difference between America and Europe. Here our education is basically free, of course we have to spend a lot of money on books and other learning material (drawing paper is just so expensive) but we are not weighed down by enormous tuition fees. I mean my yearly budget at the moment is less than 12,000 dollars and that’s including rent. That’s probably less than most tuition fees.. Which makes a huge difference, because while the starting salary here is comparable to the one you can get in America, we get out of university with virtually no debt at all (if we are lucky to have parents that can afford to support us all the way of course but even those that have to work small jobs to pay off their studies live quite decently).

    I also think, and that may sound harsh, that most young people nowadays take too much for granted (like owning a car or the newest technologies), and that kind of inflates the salary expectations. The bad economic setting aside, I don’t necessarily see the problem with starting with 30,000/year. I know plenty of plenty who live ok with that kind of money. And besides what kind of jobs gets you much more money in your first years? Like other people already said, you have to earn the chance to get a promotion. I never heard of anybody starting as CEO right after college. Moreover, the way you spend your money is often just a matter of priorities. My parents make a lot of money and yet I spend less than 3/4 of my classmates simply because I spend wisely. And if tomorrow I were to get 2,500 per month I’d know exactly how not to overspend it. I am not judging people who struggle while earning such amounts, because obviously I don’t know their situation, I am merely observing a pattern among some people I know.

    But then again I realise I am talking from a totally different point of view. In Europe, we get so much state-help whether it is to pay our studies, or while we’re jobless. And let’s not forget healthcare and a very good and affordable (at least for us students) public transportation network. With all that in mind I do get the feeling that America is a far harsher place to start off for a young adult than Europe…

    Oh and thank you for keeping this blog so interesting over the years, it is really nice to get such a clear insight into a potential future profession :) Cheers.

  • Ron Campbell

    I’m with you, Bob.

  • wavewriter

    Get “Down Detour Rd., An Architect in Search of a Practice” by Eric J. Cesal.

  • GP

    I started my post-graduate career in a small firm in Mississippi making $29,500/yr. I had to negotiate hard to get that. As new college grads, my classmates and I openly discussed our job offers. The same firm offered two of my classmates $30,000. All three of us had the same experience and education. My initial salary offer was much lower than the $29,500 but I refused to settle for what I perceived to be a major offense and prejudice – my two classmates were white males and I am a black female. When I left that job I was making more than both of those guys. What I did was to prove that I was capable and justified every salary increase I received. What I hear now are a number of young architects that have racked up insane amounts of debt and have mediocre work performance question their salary and why they can’t get a raise. My response is that if you do what it takes to get the salary you want then you can challenge your employer to pay you justly… otherwise change your lifestyle and career.

  • brians1999

    Great post Bob:
    When someone asks me how much I make, I tell them I make $175K before bonuses. Not true of course, but what the hell…it’s not their business! The look on their face is always a plus.

    When someone discusses their salary, I take it with a grain of salt. (They are usually trying to brag.) It’s sort of like cars…everyone tells you they paid less than what they did and it gets better mileage than it really does.

    • margo

      ” I tell them I make $175K before bonuses” which is why so many people think the profession makes big bucks- it’s because of liars.

  • http://twitter.com/Erik_Jens Erik

    Comment to the commenters: I think the take-away here is that Bob is extremely satisfied with the work he does and not all satisfaction comes from a paycheck. Being confident in ones work and the detail to create that work accurately is a reward in and of itself. Sometimes you have to be your own motivation. It appears that this monolog shows that being fulfilled by ones dedication to his/her craft can be as rewarding as having a higher pay-scale. I observe that Bob has an insane-crazy amount of time dedicated to making sure a project is done well and completely, as does anyone who has read this blog. I keep coming back to read his posts because they are authentic and reality based. (And I live vicariously in the dream that I was also an Architect).
    Thanks for the post Bob.

    • http://twitter.com/Parthenon1 Tara Imani, AIA, CSI

      Beautifully said. I agree

  • TMP

    This is why I read your blog.
    If I wanted some depressing architecture complaining, there’s plenty of other places to find it. Stay positive Bob, thanks!

  • Tyler Adams

    Funny, I just got an email from the AIA asking about what we pay employees. Nice timing.

  • PM in CA

    As always, great post! I love all of the activity its’ inspired.

    I’ll be honest, I was curious what your salary was (and surprised you were
    going to post it).However, I understand your objection to posting. I too am
    culturally shaped to avoid such a topic. My wife and I are in the middle of
    building a house and were recently asked a similar question by a nosey
    neighbor. We too deflected the question and are quite appalled by the gall.

    My curiosity is driven from an analytical perspective. There is a lot of
    national/ semi-regional general data that with a simple search one could find,
    but there is little specific data. The general data can give you some basis for
    salary negotiations, but doesn’t provide much in regards to individual
    comparison/self reflection.

    From my perspective you should have a pretty high value in your
    firm/marketplace. You have a great deal of experience, professionalism, and
    dedication. In addition, you are very active in the professional community,
    recognized by peers, have a large public following (potential clients/partners
    or you could probably start a recruiting business). The delta is what I’m
    interested in. What is the value of all of your hard work perfecting your trade
    as well as marketing yourself?

    Please consider a constructive post addressing the value of an architect, (or
    better yet a ‘good’ architect/services) and ways that it could be improved. I
    suggest discussing both, quantifiable data/metrics to establish and help ‘sell’
    the value of an architect (What value do we add to a building/project? What is the difference between a ‘good’ and ‘bad’ architect?) and perceived value
    (professional/public respect and demand for good architecture). Maybe some of the ideas could inspire action instead of just complaining! I’ll save mine for another time.

    Thanks for taking the time to actively host and post. It’s something that I don’t have the dedication, interest, or desire to do even though I think it would increase my value. Kudos to you!

    P.S. For those that took the time to read my opinion above. I took a detour as a pure architect to pursue project management (developer without the risk/pay off). I use my architect talents on a daily basis just in a different way, but I still get the arch itch. To help offset it I get my arch fix on a few small
    additions/TI’s a year. In an effort to break my cultural aversion (and because
    I have a cloak of anonymity) I’ve put my ‘pay’ info below. Analyze as you want.

    Salary=+100k/yr, 2 weeks vac, 11 holidays, health, etc. (~50 hr/week), (Coastal CA=not rich, but happy)

    Education/Cert’s/Experience=BArch, MBA/CA Lic., LEED AP, PMP/9 years on public and private projects

  • Bostonian

    It’s one thing to not care that much about what you make when you make enough to live a decent middle class life, say if you make a median architect’s salary of $70,000, your spouse makes a similar income, and you live in a low-cost suburb like Dallas. I make a decent salary and so does my husband, but here in Boston we can’t figure out when we’re going to be able to have kids and afford the $14,000 a year that daycare costs (per child!), not to mention something bigger than a studio apartment. I can’t even imagine what architects in New York do.

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      your comments are part of what makes answering a salary/ compensation question difficult – things cost different in other parts of the country. In addition, people can make the wrong assumption in some key areas.

      The “low-cost” suburb in Dallas that I live in has an median house cost of $917,648 – which is about $400k higher than the median detached home in Boston.

      That’s what I mean when I say, unless you are me, living where I live, doing what I do, and having my skill set – knowing information about my personal compensation package doesn’t really do you any good.

      • http://twitter.com/PracticeEcology Carolyn Day

        I don’t know where your getting your cost of a median detached home in Boston, because my recent experience tells me it’s certainly not that low. If you want to drive an hour, sure. Suburb to suburb it’s a fair the comparison. Here in the city the 2 bedroom 700 square foot condos start in the $500 range. The better comparison might be square footage.

        But that’s not the point of the conversation. Fact is, on $70,000k it’s even difficult to afford rent in Boston. That means you can’t save up a 20% down payment. So it is important what we make and it should have kept pace with inflation. If we don’t talk about it and advocate for ourselves, we won’t know where to start and can’t be properly compensated to earn a decent middle income wage and have a generally carefree lifestyle free to enjoy our everyday job.

        Of course, after saying that I don’t want to reveal what I make publicly. Anywhere we can gather this info in private and not have to pay the AIA for it?

        • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

          http://www.city-data.com/city/Boston-Massachusetts.html and I went with the figure for detached housing.

          But you are right, this has nothing to do with the original point or the original question. The market dictates our value and we should be talking about that, not how much some other profession make or (even worse) that we went to college in a demanding major and had to get licensed. Why does that guarantee the expectation to be make loads of money?

          • Luke db

            You are correct sire!

            A lesson in economics should accompany architecture school…people should understand why they’re worth what they’re worth. The market pays most for what knowledge and skills are most in demand.

            I think some other ways to increase ones worth is to consider what the market needs, not what they (student/architect) needs (money). Can you make something better, smaller, faster, or cheaper, rather than “pretty”? Can you do something that few others can do?

            I think in an economy, “it” has to do SOMETHING, with a few exceptions.

  • Jose M. Barquero

    Well said Bob!

  • Amy in Arch

    Bob-

    I whole heartedly agree with what you’ve said…. however, I am a recent arch graduate and I have $90K in student loans. I have just landed my first position as an intern architect and am making $32K a year. Let me also say that I work in a small firm (10 people) and I love the office. I feel valued and am learning a lot while I am also taking the first ARE and keeping up with my intern hours. However, I am definitely feeling the financial strain. Between all the NCARB dues and testing fees, on top of my monstrous student loans, I feel my passion and creativity being smashed under the weight of debt and reality. I just don’t know if all the debt I have incurred is going to be worth the pay off in the end. I am uneasy about my future as an architect and read your posts for affirmation every day. I am in too far to go back now, and I don’t want to – this is what I have wanted since I was a child – its just hard sometimes. Thanks for your post.

    • Paul Scharnett

      I am 100% with you on this. Relatively the same boat, only I am now married and without my wife’s income we would be sunk. I love what I do, but it’s hard to balance the checkbook when it’s hemmorhaging red from student loans. And let’s not even get to NCARB–their fees seem like a taxation for being an architect.

      But alas, this is the price we pay for being in a profession we love.

  • ImperialStout

    Well said.

  • Mikheil

    Harsh, but very good post. Bob question, somehow related to this matter – what is your preference working in a small, medium size or large Architectural firm? What are pros and cons financially and personally? I guess it could be subject of new post. Thank you!

  • 1irishdell

    Thank you for this. I could also write a slew of supporting comments and points toward the matter, but I think you were perfectly succinct in your post. ~Kelley Dellafave

  • Ami Arora

    perfectly said..

  • Pursuit

    You know, I kind of get what you mean about intrusive questions but I would like to offer an alternative perspective. First, some background: I did all the necessary hard work to achieve my dream career in medicine. But, when choosing my speciality, I never thought to ask the question you strongly oppose, falsely assuming the range of incomes within the profession would be reasonably small and fair. This turned out to be a false assumption and, unless you come from a family with a medical background or have a mentor (which you won’t get until you have chosen your speciality) or, as you can do now, go on the internet to do some research (read: ask the question those folks who emailed you were asking) you won’t have that information. Since I loved practically every rotation I ever did I could easily have opted for something different than the one I chose and been as happy (but far wealthier and vastly less exhausted) than I am now. I often wonder what I would have done if I had known what I learned after my path had been chosen. Within your profession there must be trends regarding income – commercial vs residential, custom vs track housing. And no one would commit to a six or seven year training program to discover they could have done as well financially with a two year college course in drafting.

    Second, North Americans’ and Westerners’ reluctant attitudes about talking about money are culturally shaped – the ways and the effects on our relationships and families (both positive and negative) have filled several books and multitudinous blogs. Maybe our reluctance to ask each other these questions is why so many young people have failed to comprehend the effects of enormous credit card debt nor understand why re-financing a mortgage might be a bad idea even if some TV commercial says it’s a great opportunity.

    Taking offence to the question is a cultural bias. As an architect, you obviously know the budget drives the project; you would never dismiss the economics and you’d be shocked if your students didn’t keep those issues in mind.

    I agree that a detailed response is unnecessary but generalities or at least some relative comparisons within the profession might be of value to those young admirers of yours. Just a thought….

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      you should read my response to Jamieson B Taylor. I don’t have a problem talking about salaries in general but there are many things to consider and work through – it’s not just about the bottom line “how much money do you make”. Besides, there are all sorts of compensation reports out there that address geographic location, market sector, skill and experience level, etc. – these offer far greater insight into the question where someone might actually get an answer worth receiving. That’s why I provide links to some of these reports and reference the Bureau of Labor and Statistics.

      • http://twitter.com/Parthenon1 Tara Imani, AIA, CSI

        Your post and this response has touched on an important aspect– what kind of quality of life is it to work until 700pm (or later) while someone else looks after your child?

        This issue of compensation for architects opens up a can of worms, in one sense, and on a more positive note, an opportunity for open dialogue on an important topic.

        Cost of living is very high. What is the ROI for the amount of effort put in? The only people in our industry who talk about ROI seem to be the huge AEC consortiums, developers, and clients.

        And why is it okay for an established firm to do major design work for free for a university ( true story as the school’s Dean told this to me himself– he was thrilled about it while I bit my tongue) just to secure new work? How can any firm expect to stay in business with a biz model like that?

        And, lastly, for now, even the AIA (or NCARB) recent compensation survey showed that some firms went in the hole last year just to keep the doors open.

        If all of this is not enough for ACSA, NCARB, the AIA, and any sane architect to begin to question HOW architects are educated and trained, I don’t know what else is.

  • Bob

    Actually, most of the architects I know personally would love any job that pays 50k

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      but all the architects you know live in the woods.

      Clearly there should be scales that help people manage their expectations. What you make in New York, Chicago or San Francisco should probably be higher than what you make in rural Vermont. That’s why I was trying to make this about quality of life, not size of paycheck.

      • Bob

        Are there other architects in Vermont?
        Actually, I did a round of interviews in urban Massachusetts last year and found that I was worth about 60k – not enough to make the move.

      • sarath

        was getting offered a 30,000 salary a year to work in new York city- top fancy, fancy design firm- so since it’s new York they offer higher salaries on average? really? also know people that also got offered that salary- now don’t go assuming they sucked, these were top design talent being recruited- some were offered higher in different firms but they “knew people” in the firm. seems if you don’t “know someone” you get the low end of the salary.

  • CanadianArchitectBC

    Ok I will bite… Note that I have loved my job all along while working in offices that pay overtime. In recent years I have been salaried in a high level position. Also to clarify I live in Canada. This is my salary history since graduating in 1997:

    1997: $35,500
    1998: $51,000
    1999: $68,000 (Crazy paid overtime)
    2000: $42,000
    2001: $45,000
    2002: $50,000
    2003: $52,000
    2004: $52,000
    2005: $61,000
    2006: $65,000
    2007: $62,000
    2008: $75,000
    2009: $85,000
    2010: $90,000
    2011: $98,000
    2012: $101,000

    • http://www.facebook.com/jeff.justis Jeff Justis

      What is so sad is that graduates today are making the same 35K/year starting. Insane when you consider inflation. Architects are in a race to the bottom and frankly we’re all idiots for continuing to compete in this way.

      • CanadianArchitectBC

        Actually the $35k in 97′ was earned in a seven month period as I started my first job upon graduation in May.

  • http://twitter.com/laNevaTile Lisa La Nasa

    Hmmm. I understand what you are saying, and it is very well said, as always. “There is more to life than making a big paycheck.”
    Amen!

    But… there is so much fear and ignorance surrounding money in our culture, I don’t think keeping silent about it will help matters. Why not talk about money openly? Why the secrecy? Asking about money isn’t rude at all when you are trying to get a rough estimate of salaries when you are coming out of school.

    It is the mindset that we all need more money and more THINGS to survive and be happy that needs to be changed. That starts with each one of us and what we teach our children.

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      it is rude when you don’t know the person you are asking. One of the other main issues is that so many of the people who contact me are concerned that architects don’t make as much money as other professionals.

      I don’t know what other architects around me make – even my friends – but that doesn’t stop me from knowing my worth. (now all that’s left is to actually collect it)

  • Jamieson B Taylor

    This definitely has merit. However, it’s a shallow mind that assumes to know what others are thinking or what their motives are. In my brief 10+ years I am constantly amazed at the choices clients make when it comes to design and beauty. My point being, people may or may not be asking because they want to make a decision ENTIRELY on career based on salary. It may be a factor, it may part of a planning process, it may be that they are being controlled by aliens. The universe is simply too wide and magical a place to ever safely assume anything. I do agree, however, with your general point that’s its none of your damn business! Anyway, I remain your friend and admirer. -Aslan Design, Kalamazoo, MI

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      since there are many things that determine a compensation package, asking what my salary won’t really do you any good unless you are me, work where I work and do what I do. People want the salary but no one has ever asked about my insurance plan, the retirement plan we have (with matching funds btw – and we are an 8 person firm) the hours that I keep, the role I play in the office, the work I am responsible for bringing in the front door.

      Salary questions are moving targets and there aren’t simple canned answers. If people don’t understand the bigger picture, the smaller answer has no value.

  • http://www.facebook.com/sweet.violet1 Sweet Violet

    Doing a job you love for $50K is NOT better than doing a job you hate for $100K if you have children to feed, clothe and educate. I did a job I hated for a person I loathed for $60K/yr for two years because that was what it took to support my family. Working at what you like is a luxury that few people get to do, and even fewer of them are doing it in this economy.

    What your next employer pays you will very likely be based on what you earn now, so if you don’t mind living with half a loaf, get used to it. That $100K job you hate may very well lead you to something you like much better and your next employer will offer you more than your present salary to come on board: you want to earn 10% more than $50K or 10% more than $100K?

    Oh, and they aren’t being rude to ask: who wants to spend all that time and all that money studying for a career that doesn’t pay enough to put tacos on the table? How do they find out what different careers pay so they can weed out the ones that pay a pittance and guarantee a life of genteel poverty? By asking, of course. They aren’t asking what you, personally, earn, just what people in your profession earn. Is the pay so dismally low that you want to discourage them? Or so phenomenal that you don’t want competition? Or do you just enjoy being coy?

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      hard to really address your comment as there so many things that I truly disagree with. Just as a starter, $50k is 4x the poverty level in this country and you are trying to say you can feed your family on that? That’s not the point and it’s a bad comparison.

      If your employers are simply paying you slightly more than the last guy, that doesn’t speak well for that employer – they are paying you for a skill set and a service. If you are worth $100k than great, you’ll earn $100k. It is the attitude that simply because what we do is challenging but is frequently unappreciated by the community at large, that we are owed something. That is what drives me bonkers. Personally, I would love for the pay of all the architects I know to go up but if the demand and/ or ability isn’t there, it’s not going to happen.

    • 1irishdell

      If you have to ask what an architect makes to consider being one, then, believe me, you SHOULDN’T consider it.

    • Ann

      Exactly. Every job is a JOB unless you’re independently wealthy. School costs a lot of money and how much you’ll make when you get out is a relevant factor. Maybe being raised by penniless parents and having nothing will teach people a little better that money = resources for your family, and that’s important.

      When you provide design services for your client, it’s not about YOU or your ‘passion’ or making sure the darn architect is “having fun” – it’s about providing a quality service to those who are paying a lot of money for it. Sometimes thats enjoyable, sometimes it isn’t. And even if it isn’t, it can still be fulfilling to have a long miserable stressful week and simply accomplish something challenging. The fact that people pay a lot of money for school, work very hard, and get done and continue to work hard, and expected to be paid well for it, doesn’t give these other people the right to be so smug.

      I don’t think it’s realistic for anyone to expect to get rich doing anything, but I also don’t appreciate those who scoff at others who place a lot of priority on financial opportunity.

      “if it’s about the money you shouldnt be an architect!” then what should people be? You can replace ‘architect’ with virtually any career that requires a big, expensive degree and thereby cut off all the people that just want to work hard, do good work, and then go home and be passionate about something else, with their well-cared for families.

      • Ian Toner

        Agreed, Ann. I’d also like to point out that there are lots of reasons people might need to make a certain salary, and not all those reasons are based on greed.

        Maybe the person has health issues that require expensive treatments. Maybe they care for a parent, or foresee having to do so. Maybe they are going to enter a career that will have to support a family back in a foreign country. Maybe they want to live in the city, and know that city schools won’t cut it and need to pay for private schooling for their children.

        All those reasons are probably not that common, but one that no one has mentioned is that maybe the person is trying to decide between two fields that, at this point, they are equally passionate about. If I was really having trouble deciding between architecture and something else, I’d want to know as much about the two fields as possible, including salary prospects. It’s not an unfair question.

  • Collin Zalesak

    AGREED.
    “I tell them that they should never take a job just for the money. I try
    to convey to these kids that doing a job you love for $50k is a lot
    better than doing one you hate for $100k for the simple reason that
    eventually you won’t think that $100k is all that great”
    One of the better pieces of advice from this.
    On another note, Bob you wrote this well.

    -CZ

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      Thanks Collin – I appreciate it

  • Brenda

    Thanks Bob this is very well written and I agree completely. I do have a hefty student loan debt, but my salary would cover that, a cheap apartment and a rusty Honda from the 90s if I had to live alone. Fortunately, I’m married and our double income allows me to drive the 9 year old Pontiac instead! I love what I do for a career and no amount of money will make that better or worse.

    By the way…my sister-in-law is a recent lawyer. Many students in her class didn’t have jobs when they graduated. The degree doesn’t always mean a large paycheck, no matter what the profession.

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      Brenda – I’m glad you brought the lawyer angle up. I have a lawyer in my family and I’m friends with several others. Some are really doing well, some are just doing okay, and some don’t have a job. Half work in some sort of civil servant office and don’t make $100k but they believe that helping people who can’t afford private representation matters. Not so different from architects really.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1374130919 Julie Richey

    People who start their search for Who They Want to Be When They Grow Up by picking a salary before a vocation are living life backwards. Nice post, and thank you for not disclosing your salary. I was asked recently by a fellow artist, “so how much are you being paid for this commission?” I gave the easy answer, “I’m not allowed to say.” What I really wanted to tell her was that it was none of her business, and based on her limited skills she’s many years from commanding a commission of this type, and that based on my longstanding relationship and involvement with the client institution, quoting her a figure would only serve to warp her idea of what she could command in the marketplace. Sometimes jobs are “organic” in the sense that you earn them over a long period of time through loyalty, sweat and relationship building. Those figures never go into the remuneration.

  • http://twitter.com/Parthenon1 Tara Imani, AIA, CSI

    I could write a mini novel in response to this but I won’t- at least not here.

    I was raised like you to not ask those kinds of questions as it was rude and none of my business. I think this is especially true as an American way of acting and thinking.

    In stark contrast, after I was finished with college and part of my husband’s middle eastern family, culture, and friends– I was suddenly confronted by this very question from one of his close friends. I was excited about landing a new job as an intern and this guy- who held an Master’s in Engineering- said point blank: ” So, how much do you make per hour?”

    I was shocked and offended. A thousand feelings rushed in and I suddenly felt embarrassed and that my privacy had been violated. I also knew that, by his tone, he obviously held the bigger poker hand.

    So, I quickly turned the question around and said, “Why? How much do you make?”

    “$19.00/hr.”

    My eyes opened wide. “Wow! That’s good.” I said, “Congratulations!”

    And since he shared, I flt the need to reciprocate, so I sheepishly told him: “I make $8.50/hr now, but they said if I do we’ll, they give generous raises and end of year bonuses.”

    I could sense the inner laughter as he knew the countless sleepless nights and the struggles I’d been through to earn my degree.

    • http://www.facebook.com/sweet.violet1 Sweet Violet

      I hope this story happened a LONG time ago! I was making $27/hr in 2001 as an executive secretary…

      • http://twitter.com/Parthenon1 Tara Imani, AIA, CSI

        It happened in 1988 after I landed my second job as an intern architect in Columbus, Ohio.

        I know specialized billing clerks that are paid higher salaries than architects. It’s as Bob said above– higher pay isn’t warranted unless the demand is there and the skill set is solid.

        I think this is the whole problem: due to economic downturns, attrition occurs and people who leave the field to survive financially are not finding it easy to return as technology and practice methods change, rendering them incompetent to compete.

        The highest salary I earned ias an employee in a residential architecture firm was way back in 1991 at $52,000/yr- and that was due to lots of overtime pay.

        When I returned to work in architecture in Houston in 1998, my hourly rate was in the upper teens. And, again, at the same firm in 2008 when I returned briefly after being a stay at home mom with a practice on the side, I was paid hourly in the mid twenties.

        I do believe women are sometimes paid less than men in architecture for essentially the same work. For example, in my second job, I found out that my fellow classmate who sat behind me was paid $10/hr. I figured it was due to his longer experience at that firm.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jr.vanwormer Jr Van Wormer

    Good post…but seriously, how much do you make? Do we have get a 5th post out of you? lol Just kidding, However, didn’t get into architecture for the money, but as I approach finishing my graduate degree, I have concerns. 80k in student loans and I just got married last year and the wife wants a family…..at this point in my life it’s hard not to think about the money, unfortunately.

    • Jessica Janzen

      I know how you feel! I’m in my first year of grad school, and my husband and I will easily have 100K in debt by the time I graduate.

      I know thinking about the money is often depressing, but we’ll all make it through even though it may be tough for quite a while. (And, as someone who worked in the field for three years prior to grad school, I’m certain it won’t be easy.) But I’ve come to the realization that doing something I love, even if we’re just scrapping by, is better than hating my life. Which, like Bob said, I would have if I’d become a lawyer (my second choice).

  • http://janrobin.de/ Jan Robin

    Word, especially your last sentence :)

  • http://twitter.com/nickjthorn Nick Thorn

    Very well said, Bob. I, too, graduated without student loans so it has been very helpful in getting my feet established (financially) while making a piddly intern salary. But, I am thankful for my job and being able to continue my pursuit of my childhood dream of becoming an architect.

    I knew what I was signing up for and that didn’t deter me. Well, maybe I didn’t know right away. But I wasn’t deterred when I found out.

    Thanks for your Friday morning rant!

  • syuQ

    well said :)… myself also got same questions like you, especially student…
    “The point of this rant is that getting paid what you think you are worth in an environment that recognizes your value is a wonderful thing and should be your goal, not I went to school a long time and took a bunch of hard tests and I don’t make what Lawyers or Doctors make – if you want their salary, go do their job.”

  • http://www.leecalisti.com/ Lee Calisti, AIA

    Amen, Bob

  • Alex

    well said.