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Architecture Career Guide: How Much Money Do Architects Really Make?

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When the general public thinks about architects or architecture as a career, they generally imagine a single figure who designs and plans buildings. This misconception may translate into the way that architects may think about their salaries. In addition to the range of job positions that exist within various firms, educational credentials, licensing, work experience, location and firm revenue are all factors that contribute to variations in salaries across the profession. 

For instance, according to data released in 2020 by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average annual salary of an American architect was $89,560 — which has increased about $1,000 annually in the preceding years. Meanwhile, the same study cited that the average architect working in Idaho could expect just $65,140 in 2020 — several thousand less than they had in previous years. While such statistics are helpful, “the average architect” is an elusive term that many professionals in the industry do not identify with. Just what factors should architects consider when discussing salaries? 

Apparatus Architects Studio by Apparatus Architects, Lisbon, Portugal. Popular Winner 2020 A+ Awards, Details – Pus Architecture +Ceilings

Position / Skill Level

A with most professions, in architecture, greater experience usually equates to greater income. The AIA Compensation Survey Salary Calculator, lists 18 different job positions ranging from an unlicensed, entry-level architect at the bottom to CEO/President at the top. The median salary of an intern was $53,000 while a CEO could expect $137,000. What this demonstrates is that while licensing is an important first step for a recent graduate to increase their salary, there are many subsequent tiers to climb within the profession.

Location, Location, Location

Compensation rates are often calculated in relation to the cost of living. While urban areas may be more expensive, they also have greater job opportunities and larger income potential. According to the AIA calculator, which aggregates data as recent as 2019, the average project manager in America can expect to be paid around $91,000. However, those working in the same role in South Atlantic (D.C., Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia) could ask upwards of $97,370. Meanwhile, someone holding the same position in East South Central (Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi and Tennessee) may make substantially less, at $65,760 annually.

On an even smaller scale, metropolitan areas can make a notable difference. For instance, while New York might be an obvious first guess, the highest paying city for architects is actually West Palm Beach, Florida (Salinas, California comes in at a close second).

Firm Size and Revenue

As a general rule of thumb, the greater the firm revenue, the larger the salary for its employees. Typically, larger firms generate larger revenues and larger profits, translating into bigger paychecks for employees. However, this is not to say that small and independent studios are never a route to financial success. For some, managing their own practice may more quickly lead to higher earning potential than simply working their way up the ladder of a big firm. This is especially true of highly lucrative small studios that make a name for themselves as specialists in one particular field.

Apparatus Architects Studio by Apparatus Architects, Lisbon, Portugal. Popular Winner 2020 A+ Awards, Details – Pus Architecture +Ceilings

Further Considerations

One thing omitted from annual Base Pay calculations is typical hours worked. It is not clear if those working at bigger firms or for higher annual salaries are expected to put in more overtime than others. Likewise, experience is not the only factor contributing to higher pay; specialization in a field that is in-demand, such as Building Information Modeling management, will pull a greater salary than some peers, especially cases where they are charged with complicated construction projects. Two other notable examples of well-paying specializations are sustainable design and urban planning.

Of course, many architects are not driven by money when they train to join the profession; however, as they continue in the industry, earning potential may become a significant factor contributing to career direction decisions. All of this money-talk is usually tempered by non-quantifiable aspects, including the types of projects that a job might allow an architect to work on, the number of hours worked, colleagues and opportunities to develop.

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