Money, Money Money – An Architect’s Salary

January 25, 2013 — 116 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?!?


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.


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.




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  • Mitchell Snowman

    Graduating without debt is a luxury few people have, Bob.

    Your post is rude; you simultaneously demand that people choose their professions based on passion alone, then turn around and say you’ll only get 100k if you’re worth it.

    You’re implying an inherent hierarchy because you think you’re at the top of it. You wouldn’t be so smug if you were in the same position as the people asking for your salary. You present yourself as a case study but refuse to provide anything but empty pontification.

  • MA

    I’ve been in the industry for 40 years now. I started as a draftsman while in high school. I became licensed 30 years ago. Now I am at the top of my specialty and can’t go any higher unless I changed jobs. I’m happy with what I do, but there is a notion that work is its own reward. In the perfect Utopia it would be, or if you live in a commune, but in civilization you are supporting a family, and you try to excel and go beyond your boundaries to try to make more money. As an employee you will never go beyond that ceiling. Unless you forswear the profession and become a project manager. You could start your own practice, but you need a pool of clients and most dont make it past the second year, plus you need the skills to run a company, or the capital to hire people to run it for you. I love doing architecture and love my job, but I wish there was more appreciation for the profession.

  • Girafa Ponkan

    I liked your story, ’cause you tried having in your own firm and did a good job at it! So no one can say you were not trying hard enough. 🙂

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  • Peter Alex Dreier

    I posted this on another page, but I think it belongs here better….

    Let’s be honest about it – the pay in architecture is a complete joke these days compared to any other degreed and licensed profession. I finally gave up on architecture as my primary means of support because I got tired of being THAT friend and/or THAT family member. It has strained all of my close personal relationships. Plus, as an entrepreneur I can honestly says that it’s probably about the worst business there is in my experience – despite owning a moderately successful residential firm for over a decade I never really made any money. You get paid peanuts compared to doctors, lawyers, owners of other businesses, etc.

    So if you want to be an architect forget those dreams of living in anything bigger than a studio apartment in the city for the rest of your life or get ready for that long commute from the exurbs. And as far as supporting a family working as an architect, it’s pretty much impossible these days.

    I always tell young people who ask me about being an architect not to do it unless they come from a wealthy (and generous) family or are planning to marry well.

    • Girafa Ponkan

      Thank you for this! You can love what you do, as Bob said, but what fair is fair, and any other business is a lot more profitable!