Most people choose architecture as a career because they take pleasure in designing things – but let’s face it, pleasure won’t put food on the table. How much will you actually get paid?
In this guide to UK architectural salaries, we’ll look at the average pay for architects at various stages of their careers, the regions that pay their architects the most, and what other benefits you can expect to receive from your firm.
We’ll compare architects’ salaries to those in similar careers and examine how practising architects feel about their pay, and lastly, we’ll consider the outlook for salaries in the industry over the coming years.
How much does an architect make in the UK?
According to the RIBA Jobs Salary Benchmark 2020, the salaries of registered architects in the UK range from £21,000 (the lowest for a Part 1 architectural assistant) to £80,000 (the highest for a salaried partner or director), with the average mid-career salary somewhere in the forty-thousands.
Figures from the site cashfloat.co.uk suggest the range is slightly lower, with Part 1 architectural assistants taking home a minimum of £18,000 and senior associates, partners or directors earning a maximum of £70,000. Again, their average salary falls in the forty-thousands.
9B Careers reports a low of £20,000 during Part 1 and a whopping high of £120,000 for partners and directors, with averages again in the forty-thousands. However, it is worth noting that 9B Careers takes its data from the London area, where earnings are higher than the national average.
In short, though your salary will depend on factors like your experience and location, £40,000 to £50,000 is a respectable wage once you’re well established in your career – and if you keep climbing the ladder, there is the potential to earn more.
The cost of becoming an architect in the UK
It is well understood that becoming an architect is not cheap. With a training period of at least seven years, as well as expenses such as modelling materials and specialist software that most students don’t have, UK architecture students graduate with considerable debt.
A 2015 survey by the Architects’ Journal found that three-fifths of students expected to owe more than £30,000 by the end of their course, with a quarter of respondents saying they thought the figure would be in excess of £50,000.
Almost a third said they feared they would never be able to pay back their loans – and with salaries sitting under £50,000 for most of an architect’s career, it is hardly surprising. This survey led former editor of the AJ, Rory Olcayto, to warn that the profession risks becoming a ‘rich kids’ indulgence’.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, the website designingbuilding.co.uk reckons the AJ’s estimates are conservative and that the total costs are even higher, in some cases pushing £100,000. If you’re thinking about taking an architecture degree but are worried about money, it might be worth reading the RIBA article ‘General advice on funding your architectural studies’ before signing up.
Architects’ earnings by seniority and experience level
RIBA data collected from over 3,000 Chartered Practices show that architects who registered in the last five years take home between £30,529 and £37,000; those who registered more than five years ago make £35,000 to £45,000; associates are paid £40,000 to £53,643; and salaried partners and directors earn between £43,000 and £80,000. The organisation also suggests average salaries of £21,000 and £27,500 for architectural assistants in Part 1 and Part 2 respectively.
cashfloat.co.uk presents a more optimistic picture for Part 2 architectural assistants, with an average salary of £29,000, and for newly-qualified architects, with a range of £32,000 to £45,000. However, it puts the earnings of Part 1 architectural assistants at a lower £20,000, and those of senior associates, partners and directors in the range of £45,000 to £70,000.
9B Careers offers a range of £20,000 to £35,000 for Part 1 and 2 architectural assistants; £38,000 to £48,000 for project architects; £45,000 to £55,000 for senior architects; and £45,000 to £65,000 for associates. The website differs only in its estimated salaries for partners and directors, which it suggests begin at £60,000 and end at an impressive £120,000!
Conrad Consulting has produced a comprehensive chart organised by job title, which looks like this:
|Job title||Average salary (rounded to nearest £250)|
|Architect with three to five years’ experience||£36,500|
|Recently qualified architect||£30,000|
|Part 2 Architectural Assistant||£26,750|
|Part 1 Architectural Assistant||£21,500|
|Senior Technician / Technologist||£39,000|
|Architectural Technician / Technologist||£30,750|
|Junior Technician / Technology||£22,500|
And finally, payscale.com suggests the following amounts, which when compared to the previous sources are higher at the bottom but noticeably lower at the top:
|Stage of career||Average salary|
The best-paying regions of the UK for architects
You might assume the most money is to be made in London and southeast England, but this is only partly true. Data from RIBA confirm that London salaries average more than £40,000 after five years of registration, while those outside the capital tend not to have climbed above £36,000.
However, partners, directors and sole practitioners were better off in Scotland than anywhere else in Britain, taking home more than £50,000 on average compared to £45,000 to £50,000 in London and the southeast. Regions where partners, directors and sole practitioners earned the least were Wales, and the east and northeast of England.
A different overview is given by payscale.com, which suggests that Birmingham pays its architects more than any other British city – eight percent above the national average. This was followed by London, paying three to five percent more. Those cities which paid below the national average were Glasgow (six percent less), Manchester and Cambridge (both 11% less) and Edinburgh (a very surprising 18% less).
A survey conducted by 9B Careers in 2019 produced the more predictable result that London architects were paid almost six percent more than others, while in the northeast of England salaries were nearly 19% less than the national average. Salaries in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland were all lower than in England, but in Scotland markedly so (16.8% less than the UK national average).
Lastly, research carried by Conrad Consulting in 2020 on both the UK and Ireland found that London paid architects the most – 20-30% more than the national average – followed by the southeast of England and Dublin. The northeast of England was once again found to offer the lowest salaries, paying 15% less than the national average.
Most common employment benefits for UK architects
It’s always worth making enquiries about what a firm offers their employees beyond the salary package, as certain benefits can increase an on-paper offer considerably.
In 2020, Bespoke Careers produced a list of employment benefits enjoyed by architects in London, categorising them either as standard or outstanding. They were:
- Contributory pension (two to four percent)
- Private medical insurance
- Twenty or more days of annual leave
- Interest-free season ticket loan
- Paid overtime
- Flexible leave (‘buy back’ up to five days)
- Cycle to work scheme
- Skills sharing sessions
- Complimentary fruit
- Funded continuing professional development
- Design reviews
- Contributory pension (five to eight percent)
- Twenty-five or more days of annual leave, increasing year on year
- Annual bonus
- Worldwide family travel insurance
- Death in service
- Profit share
- Enhanced maternity, paternity and adoption leave
- Paid Part 1 and Part 2 qualifications and training
- Reusable water bottles and coffee cups
- Gym discounts
- Duvet day
- Corporate social responsibility events e.g. charity fundraisers
- Recreational activities e.g. yoga
- Catered breakfasts and lunches
Meanwhile a 2019 report by 9B Careers focused on ‘soft perks’ which cost firms little or nothing, but which improve employees’ quality of life. The authors suggested looking out for the following:
- Flexible working arrangements
- Time off in lieu
- Continuing professional development, e.g. mentoring, sabbaticals
- Shared culture and values
- Charitable giving
- Health and wellbeing initiatives
- Workforce diversity
UK architects’ salary satisfaction
A recent survey by Hunter Dunning revealed that more than half of UK architects are unsatisfied with their salaries, while 40% thought their pay was fair and seven percent thought they were paid too much!
On average, architects thought they should be receiving around £6,500 more per year for their work. The main reasons given for wanting more were: their pay was not in line with RIBA standards; their pay did not reflect how hard they worked, or for how many hours; firms were charging clients too little; inflation was not being taken into account; and architects were paid too little in general.
Research by the Architects’ Journal, on the other hand, discovered that 50% of architects were satisfied with their salaries and 29% were very satisfied. Only ten percent of respondents claimed to be dissatisfied and two percent very dissatisfied, with nine percent claiming to have no strong feelings either way.
Conrad Consulting also found that most UK architects were happy with their salaries: 75% thought their pay was either average or above average. Twenty-three percent thought they were being paid below or well below the industry standard – and when the company investigated further, they found that three-quarters of those people were absolutely correct.
How do UK architectural salaries compare to those of similar careers?
The website prospects.ac.uk provides average salaries across a range of professions. It suggests that the average for an architect is around £38,500, which is more than planners (who earn in the low thirty-thousands); graphic designers and site engineers (both £30,000); historic buildings inspectors (£31,000); interior designers and structural engineers (both £32,500); aerospace engineers (£34,000); urban designers (£34,500); and landscape architects (£37,500). However, architects earn less than civil engineers (£40,000), construction managers (£41,500) and building surveyors (£48,000).
What is the outlook for architects’ salaries?
A recent article in the Architects’ Journal bore the dispiriting headline, ‘AJ100 2020: Salaries are stuck in the doldrums’. (The AJ100 is a list, compiled by the journal, of the 100 top-ranking architectural practices in the UK.) It suggested the median salary for an architect was £40,125 and for an associate £55,000 – an effective reduction compared to the previous year, taking inflation into account.
The report noted that mid-career salaries had more or less stagnated in the last decade. Conversely, those at the very bottom and very top of the profession had seen small increases, and 28% of practices on the list paid their partners or directors over £100,000.
The majority of firms in the AJ100 have bonus schemes, meaning take-home pay is higher than reported, but this doesn’t change the fact that baseline salaries are indeed in ‘the doldrums’.
A positive note, though, is that unemployment for UK architects is generally low, with careersmart.org.uk estimating that just 1.02% of us are out of work.
RIBA has also found that most practices have enjoyed recent growth in revenue if not in profits, and that large practices (defined as having 100 or more staff) are doing better than their smaller counterparts. It also suggests that the industry as a whole is growing, which means there ought to be more jobs in the future.
Architects in the UK earn respectable salaries compared to many other professions, but there’s no denying a lot of us feel we should get more.
It’s probably worth bearing in mind, though, that a lot of industries have struggled in the last few years, and that salaries at the top of the architectural profession (especially within the most reputable firms) will give you a very comfortable existence. It’s just a shame it takes so long to get there!
For more information, you might like to read our longer Guide to US Architectural Salaries that contains FAQs addressing issues relevant to the architecture industry globally.