** UPDATED post – ‘How much money does an architect make‘ from November 28, 2011 **
How much money do I make? I never get asked this question even though people are probably curious. There is a perception from the general public (at least those that I run across) that architects make a lot of money. There is also the perception from within the younger members of the architectural community that think architects don’t make enough. Both of these perceptions are irritating to me because it removes some really basic considerations from the criteria one should know in order to provide a qualified answer.
Are you any good at what you do?
Do you have a skill set that is in demand?
Are you able to provide more than one basic service with competency?
I graduated from the University of Texas School of Architecture in 1992 (currently ranked as the #5 Best Architectural undergraduate degree program in the country) with a Bachelor’s Degree in Architecture. My resume is pretty good and have worked in a lot of different types of practices and have run across a lot of different personality types. Most of these people have graduated from various architecture programs from around the country but the different abilities and skill sets among these people are as varied as any slice across any other profession. And surprise – some of the folks I worked with I thought were great and some were terrible. I have had 9 jobs in the last 17 years. Prior to the one I have now (8 years), I have never stayed anywhere for more than 3 years, most were no longer than 18 months. Sounds bad I know, but, I could more than likely go back to any of my previous places of employment and get a job (except for one job that was a 4-month stint that has all disappeared from my permanent record…)
According to the United States government Bureau of Labor Statistics – the Occupational Outlook Handbook, the salary range for architects is link updated April 2020):
Median annual wages of wage-and-salary architects were $70,320 in May 2008. Update – $72,550 in 2010
The middle 50 percent earned between $53,480 and $91,870.
The lowest 10 percent earned less than $41,320
The highest 10 percent earned more than $119,220.
I know a lot of people who make considerably more than these figures and I know some people who fall below these levels. Of the people who fall above these numbers, the one trait that almost all of them share is that they are not motivated by the money. They do this because it’s what they love to do, at least at some level. Talented architects seem to never take a day off from architecture; it’s part of who they are. They plan vacations around buildings and places they want to see, take pilgrimages to these special buildings, buy books endlessly about architecture, etc.. Bottom line – it’s not just a job and by extension, not about receiving a paycheck.
Several employers know this and endeavor to make opportunity part of the compensation package for younger architects; the opportunity to take on new challenges and get to do something above their current pay level. Some of the best firms to work for are also some of the lowest paying firms but they have a culture in place that rewards achievement with more opportunities for achievement. From the firm’s standpoint the downside to this type of “compensation” is that eventually, your best talent will leave because someone will pay them more to continue doing what they are currently doing for you. From a business standpoint, architectural firms will pay someone a lesser salary but provide them with more opportunities to do things that maybe they have not yet mastered instead of having someone do this work who can complete the task in less time (remember that TIME = MONEY). In order to maintain a viable business structure, if someone is going to take longer to do something, you must have a lower operating expense assigned to that person – seems pretty obvious to me.
I was reading another architectural blog yesterday and someone had asked the question “why don’t architect’s get paid more?”. Paid more?… Paid more than who? Doctors? Lawyers? Just like in our profession, there are some Doctors and Lawyers who make a lot of money but they don’t ALL make a lot of money. It seems pretty simple to me – people who are exceptional at what they do and/ or provide a service that few others can make higher salaries. Doesn’t that hold true with everything? Where did this sense of entitlement come from? People complaining that they went to school for a long time, took a lot of hard tests and don’t make as much as some other vocation from our society. That drives me insane.
Also from The Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Occupational Outlook Handbook, the salary range for lawyers is (link updated April 2020):
Median annual wages of all wage-and-salaried lawyers were $110,590.
The middle half of the occupation earned between $74,980 and $163,320.
Based on where those lawyers work:
Management of companies and enterprises was $145,770
Federal Executive Branch was $126,080
Legal services were $116,550
Local government was $82,590
State government was $78,540
For someone to determine what they should be making in terms of compensation simply based on the fact they are an architect is foolish. There are extremely competent architects out there that don’t make a big salary because they don’t have commensurate abilities to run an office, or communicate, or manage the time spent working on a project. There are also architects out there that are doing tilt-wall construction warehouses and site-adapting Circuit City’s and Taco Bells that are getting rich.
The most important thing for anyone considering a career in architecture is to try to determine what you like and what type of projects your skill set is best suited. If you can do that, then regardless of what your paycheck is, you will be rich.