As architects and architecture students, one of our favourite topics we like to discuss and keep up to date on is the ‘architect’s salary’.
Whether you are a student about to become an architectural intern/assistant for the first time, a newly qualified architect who has just passed their exams, or one with several years of experience, knowing what your salary should be is vitally important.
We all know “architects haven’t been rich for a long time” and that “architecture is a vocation”, but in spite of this, an architect’s salary is still well above most (if not all) national averages, and is in fact still a well-paid occupation.
The amount an architect gets paid can vary greatly depending on their:
- Skill set
- Firm (size, work load, type)
- Pay type (hourly vs salary)
(Remember that each country has different factors that effect net pay, such as income tax and medical insurance.)
It’s also worth noting that a lot of architects may have private work and/or other opportunities outside of their day job to further boost their income if they wish to …Which is what we are going to discuss here.
Do architects get paid well and earn good money?
When asked if an architect gets paid well (a very common question), we believe that collectively the answer is yes. But could we get more? …of course! But who wouldn’t say that?
After all, we spend a huge amount (if not all) of our younger years in education, are required to know everything about anything, and juggle all manners of projects, clients, and responsibilities …we will always require more money.
The highest earners in the architectural profession tend to be the directors, partners and principles. The level of income at this level is predominately factored by the size of practice and type of work they take on. For example a principle of a small practice that specializes in one-off houses will often be on a lower income than a larger more commercially led practice. Simply because the projects at a commercial level are considerably larger and more expensive, and require a higher architectural fees, but generally speaking, are much more efficient to procure, resulting in a higher profit to the design team.
For this reason large commercial firms in average tend to offer the most competitive salaries, as they are able to take on many of these larger and higher fee earning projects.
…and with these projects comes a hierarchy of managerial positions, providing a clear career path for development with obvious pay increases.
The payoff however is that for most, commercial projects are (architectural speaking) far less interesting and stimulating, as there are very few high profile and iconic concert halls and museums, but many supermarkets and shopping malls.
Furthermore and as mentioned above, there are also many further ways an architect and/or student can boost their income outside of their day to day responsibilities, many are listed further on in this article …commercial work is not the only answer.
So how do we earn a higher salary??
Well aside from developing a “side hustle”, many architects choose to specialize in a particular part of a practices services and outputs. This could be architectural visualization, BIM, project management, construction detailing, hand drawing etc.
Homing in on your particular skills and setting yourself apart from the rest of your colleagues (in a professional sense), should strengthen your position within your practice and ultimately see a pay increase for the additional service you bring.
You are essentially trading your time and level of output for money, and therefore the more skilled you are, the more (in theory) you should be paid, and if you are not, then move to somewhere where you will be!
If this isn’t enough, then keep scrolling for a list of ideas on how to increase your salary further.
As the role of the architect is ever changing, so are the skills required to be one, but the diverse skill sets learnt in architecture school and when in practice don’t just have to be focused on being a singular architect.
The need for an architect to home in on a particular area has never been more important, no longer can an architect know “a little about everything” and barley “everything about something”, this has changed. The requirement to become a specialist in key roles is now one of the only ways to become successful within practice and climb that ladder.
This has lead to a diversification in the architects thinking, and an expansion of their duties, skill sets, and interests. These interests have gone on to develop outside the initial roles taught in universities and colleges and have developed connecting alternative paths.
So within the ever changing modern architects role and for the quest to raise the bar of the everyday architect, many have looked further a field at secondary and primary income streams. Here we take a look at some of the routes taken and hope it offers inspiration and an insight into what is possible.
For most, the chance to be in complete control and develop our own property with no employer or client is the dream scenario. However unless your very lucky as a student and own your own property or have the funds to do so, developing is mainly taken on by the working professionals, and even then its a hard task financially. But if you can get over that initial hurdle, as Architects, we have a huge amount to offer, with the added bonus of no fees!
Many developers seek out architects to add wealth to their projects by bringing knowledge and design skills to the scheme, as Architects, we are able to spot potential areas to develop, generate a working scheme and know how the planning system works.
…and so why dont we use our own skills, for own benefit, and become a developer?
The processes an architectural project goes through from the initial concept development through to its final completion are often priced together under one singular, fee that is then subdivided into the relevant work stages. But if you continue to break the work output down further into the individual quantities that form each stage, you start to generate a series of individual products and services that can then be monetised.
This gives you the ability to provide a bespoke service and allows clients to approach you for specific items and products, such as a consultation or a singular document. Some of these items are also likely to be repeated and transferable between projects, and so can be recycled to save time and generate additional income.
This will also allow you to (if you wish) to be very specific in the work you do and remove the areas that you least enjoy …specialise!
A lot of architects develop a keen interest in the visualisation and representation of architecture, and with it now being a fundamental tool in helping to communicate and sell design intent in presentations, architects have become efficient in the varied types of software used to develop such imagery.
The striking difference between architectural visualisation and architecture, is that it is a lot quicker to build up a portfolio and doesn’t have the pressures and responsibility that come with being an architect.
…and just like architectural design, the style of imagery can be completely unique to the artist and so why not take this skill and offer an alternative service to other architects and architectural students.
Productising your services
Following on from breaking down your services into products, you can also take a step back and offer work stages as singular products, for example, you could develop a series of singular plan sets for a dwelling that are capable of being repeated within varied locations. Each work stage would then have its own plan set and set of standard documents accompanying it.
This removes the bespoke element of the design and build process, but enables clients who cannot afford the full service to still have a professionally designed product. For example, a client may just want a concept development package or just a construction set of drawings.
A very good example of a practice already doing this is 30 x 40 workshop.
Offering a CAD drafting service can be an excellent way to earn some extra money in your spare time. For most of us, a large part of our day in consumed by this anyway (its easy!) and so it comes as second nature, as long as you have the will power to continue it into your evenings and at weekends, it can be a relatively stress free way to subsidies your income.
There are a lot of design and build firms and contractors out there that will be submitting their own planning applications, and contractors in particular are unlikely to have the time or even want to produce the planning drawings themselves. So do some research into your local companies and offer your services.
Be mindful however that if you are a registered architect, you will need your own insurance.
Sell products online
Many architects have interests that expand past the built environment and filter into other related disciplines such as furniture, product, interior and landscape design for example, and this can lead to their own experimentation and developments in these fields.
These are often started as a hobby, but once competent enough, it can grow into a viable side business that can even go onto service your architectural occupation. An architectural practice that can offer its own furniture line or one off products, can be a very attractive offer to certain clients.
Alternatively, it could be something completely separate from architecture and be its own separate entity.
A lot of architects are naturally interested in composition, lighting, and atmosphere, and this often leads to a large amount of them taking up photography as a hobby.
But to turn this into an income isn’t easy, as the industry is highly competitive and over saturated. The advantage architects have however is that not every photographer has had the same training and development in light and composition as they have.
A good and obvious area to explore is therefore architectural photography. You may need to start off by offering a free or reduced fee service to build up a portfolio, but if you’re able to get established this can be an excellent side project and income.
Lastly tutoring, universities and colleges are always looking for studio and guest tutors to work with their students to bring a level of reality and alternative approach to the education process.
If you can get away from your practice for a day or two a week, it can a very rewarding secondary occupation and a break away from normal practice life. It also seems popular with architects who are just starting their own practice, as it can offer a part time, reliable, and constant income while they build up their own work load.
The freedom and creativity architecture schools have can also be refreshing and often inspire even the most hardened architect.
Where do architects earn the most money?
Currently figures from the AEC Industry Salary Report have the US and Canada ranking high above most other countries, however it is Asia, Australia and New Zealand that provide the highest pay for architects and construction professionals.
Those who reside in other countries need to work a little harder and think outside of the “standard” architectural box to increase their salary beyond their own national averages, as we discuss in further detail below.
Your location within these countries will also heavily influence your wage, as large city based firms on average pay more due their higher level of opportunities and career progression. Though the work is often less design based and more repetitive than smaller design based practices.
…The increased living costs and/or commute should also be taken into account
That’s not to say that all small firms pay badly, because they don’t, it is completely dependent on their profile and type of work they carry out.
Unfortunately however, there does seem to be a general pattern of the more design based a practice is, the less it seems to earn, but this is then more rewarding in other aspects …just not so much in monetary terms.
A small diverse designed based practice on the whole is full of opportunities, and provides experience in all aspects of the business and construction processes, which we believe creates better job satisfaction.
…So it can be a very careful balance
How much does an architect intern and assistant make?
This is a very frequently asked question and aside from the type of practice and its location, an architectural interns/assistants salary is dependent on the interns/assistants amount and level of experience. A newly graduated student will and should earn less than an architecture assistant with a years or more experience.
Current statics show that there is approximately a 20% increase in income between an architecture assistant with 2 or less years’ experience and an assistant with 2 to 4 years’ experience.
This is due to the fact that most new architecture graduates will experience a steep learning curve when they first enter into the profession, as it takes time to get up to speed, and this is therefore reflected in the pay scale.
How much does a newly qualified architect make & what is the starting salary?
The starting salary of a newly qualified architect is generally a 15% to 20% increase on top of their current internship/architectural assistants wage.
The factors discussed above all contribute to variations in this, but as newly qualified architects and therefore professionals, you will be professionally liable for your work and are therefore taking on more risk. …and more risk should always equal more pay (no matter what the profession).
Some newly qualified architects may be self-employed, and therefore the initial increase in income is completely dependent of the amount of work they are able to generate, and have at the time. However the above still applies in the long run, as they will be able to offer a registered architects service (and liability), making them more attractive to potential customers.