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Just a random thought that popped into my mind. I know that money isnt (cant be?) a main reason to go into this profession, and was wondering; why? why is it that architects earn so little, compared to the amount of work/responsibility that goes into the job, relatively speaking?
Because Designers can do it for more money!
because we are piss poor at explaining what value we bring to a project; because, with the numbers that are generally involved, most clients will consider price as an important factor in choosing someone and we're perfectly happy undercutting each other.
because, quite simply, most times we don't ask for it...
undercutting is a huge problem and people just need to stop doing it. it hurts the profession and everyone involved. you can't make any profit charging 6% of construction cost and if you do make any profit then you are designing crap cause you don't have the time to make something quality. architects need to charge more money not less.
Not to deflect you, but you should do a search on the site. There are a number of really good threads covering this and similar issues.
A large part is that it is difficult to quantify what architecture can do and, as laru notes, most clients are looking at numbers.
Everything from interior design to graphics to web design will immediately help a business, so clients will appreciate something better because their clients will see and feel the investment. Architecture is rarely seen as something that will help a business, unfortnately.
This is the only profession I know of where the best don't get more cash because they are better, and that's a significant problem.
its hard to charge more when nobody really values the profession and would rather save a little money than build something great. look how fast all the shitty developments are being bought up by people. for some reason people like them. probably because there is no alternative.
people will pay for bricks and lumber but not design/dwgs
one thing related to this topic that i believe actually begins to explain it better is that our fees are related to a percentage of total cost of construction and is regulated by our professional organization. The issue is that although construction has become increasingly complex, bureaucratic and difficult to coordinate.....cost/sf prices have not increased accordingly(i believe there was a news item on this site recently that talked about this issue from the viewpoint of engineers).
at the turn of the 20th century, between 3-5% of a building's cost went to building systems and structure was typically integrated into the materiality of the project. now we face competing outflows of cash towards builidng systems (structural, mechanical, etc) that consume a drastically larger portion of the cost of the project. as the increase in money to these other disciplines is separated from the architectural budget it causes an increase in the amount of coordination necessary by the architect and less money to be spent on architectural design. both of these factors contribute to lower pay. first an incredible amount of our time based on fee is spent coordinating work, secondly a decent design firm will work harder to get a modicum amount of extra design budget or in order to maximize the existing budget for architectural design. essentially we work harder on all accounts for the same percentage of building cost. add onto that the fact that most owners view the work of consultants as being in lieu of extra architectural fee (i.e. the structural engineer is supposed to increase the service within that discipline to a commensurate degree as to what the architect's service is decreased) this would seemingly make sense, but doesn't as each project is a one-off and involves massive research and development expenditure on one, if not both side (this also holds true with other consultant disciplines)....i.e. we are being screwed by a faulty compensation logic that didn't take into account the potential increase in project complexity and further division of budget and labour within the building design process. this is something that the aia or other professional organizations need to sorely address.
trace - "This is the only profession I know of where the best don't get more cash because they are better, and that's a significant problem."
It would be impossible to define who is the best when you are speaking about architecture, or any art. It's completely subjective. It's easier when you are comparing doctors or lawyers or something like that because you can actually compare them objectively.
Starchitects get more money because they have the clout to demand it. You want a Richard Meier house, you are gonna pay out the nose for it. I am sure he is busy and doesn't need your project to survive anyways so he may as well demand a huge fee, he's got nothing to lose.
One thing that I'm really glad about with the University of Edinburgh is that they taught us the context of the professional climate into which we would be going. The more subtle aspects especially - things that usually take some gradual osmosis over time to appreciate. So, as a current student I can't say I've had as much experience of the buisness side of architecture as others here, but the way it was explained to us was - to compare architects with laywers - was that when you need a laywer you REALLY need a laywer. You'll be willing to pay more because - by the nature of their service - demand is very strong and immediate. However with architecture, it's a more gradual process with longer-term, slower rewards. With that, it's a lot harder to convince someone to spend a lump sum.
Also, on a more deeper note, it seems to be increasingly that case that the only people actually concerned with the built environment are architects, civil engineers, engineers, councils etc - the people *involved* with the built environment.
The building owners want a great building but have nothing invested in the city as an environment, while the councilshave an interest in the city's environment but no control over the individual buildings (save some broad restrictions). Nobody really seems to have ownership or a common vested interest in the 'built environment' except for those, such as us, who have to work with it each day. It seems to me that an architect's work is more than the sum of its parts that, as long as they remain parted, won't be appreciated to an equal amount.
Also, maybe that's why a lot of successful urban areas in the past have stemmed from either totalitarian regimes or other single sources of extreme wealth (monarchies etc) - they are built in one image where the whole and the part are considered equally by a single interested party.
Hmm...I'd quite like to do a thesis on this- it's a really interesting subject. :)
the problem isn't the competition within the industry, but moreso, the nature of architecture itself. it contradicts mass production and efficiency because it is site specific and client specific. thus, the costs and efforts required to produce one idea for one client are high and won't be reached by the common crowd. This is one reason why people with a lot of money can afford hiring an architect and people with average incomes can afford buying mass produced houses because they are cheaper.
in other fields such as engineering, medicine, and retail, an idea is mass produced and made accessible to the common person, thus allowing these companies to earn a high profit because of its ability to sell to a large number of people. the designs of an architect does not reach to everyone in public unlike products such as ipods and cars.
this is also why developers earn a lot of profit, because they mass produce one idea and make it low cost to the common person to afford. this can also produce unethical and bad results.
there are firms that produce work with better economies of scale. they recycle ideas and plans. There are also firms who have people from third world countries work for them at a lower cost. They produce more work under less time and thus earn a higher profit. While these firms produce work more efficiently, they are still largely client based and their profits don't match the profits of companies that mass produce.
design is not seen as a necessity since a lot of people judge design purely on aesthetic qualities and not something which affects the way we live. for businesses, it is good business because it can be economically efficient and in fact cheaper on the long run. for schools, good design enhances the way children learn. good design creates more environmentally efficient structures. Once the public understands this, then can architecture be valued more as a necessity.
In a nutshell, the "better" the architecture, the greater the time expenditure, therefore less profit.
true for some developers sashimi. not true for many, or i am guessing not true even for MOST developers. reduction to the cheapest level is not the way to make a lot of money for developers either.
it is a complicated issue. in my experience architects are paid alright. not as much as doctors, but that don't bother me, cuz i KNOW architects are not essential the way, say, the guy who runs my father-in-law's gamma knife is. we should get real on that score. certainly we have fiduciary responsibilities but the profession is more like a guild than a profession...which is maybe why people low on the totem don't make so much. i don't know. but def not a problem about being undervalued by the public, or by clients (our clients come to our office for a reason and are willing to payfairly for what we offer)...
i think the best way to make money quicker in this biz is to start putting money where mouth is. if you can't put a million down for your own design, why do you think someone else will. and once it is your own money just watch how your attitude swings round.
they don't. most architects do fine. the reason your college professors all told you this is because they have no idea, they are manifesting their fears of the real world in anxiety of low wages.
A comment that always gets included in these kinds of discussions is that
" better desingers don't get paid as well", unfortuantely good architecture and design are so intangible to the average human that there is no respect or ability to determine what makes good design vs. bad design ( therefore why would you pay more for the same service ) I don't agree with the argument but it s the reality of the situation. Thats why there is no preceived value for good design or good architecture, and consequently why no one makes money at design.
I also think that architects, in general, are weak negotiators when it comes to submitting additional services requests. In many cases they will either give away free work OR wait until the work is completed to submit the request for additional fee, at which point they are relatively powerless if the client refuses to agree to the entire amount.
Because we are trained from the start to work for pennies.
Like Maslow's dogs, we wag our tails when we get two pennies instead of one.
Meanwhile everyone else gets paid in gold.
Make that Pavlov's Dogs.
There are reasons I'm an architect and not a psychologist. Apparently money isn't one of them.
so what is a poor paid Architect?
ha ha...silly kids...just wait until a real recession hits and then you'll have a legit reason to start bitching about money
in the meantime, the world is awash in capital so you might as well enjoy it
- umm ... i'm pretty sure the so-called 'starchitects' we love to celebrate (and lament) here get paid VERY well ... the difference is that they refuse to work for peanuts - they realize their talent is rare and won't work for low wages. too many of the rest of us think we're better than we are, but can't sell it, or are so grateful (or desperate) for a commission that we'll work for anything offered.
like their work or not, I respect the "starchitects" because they seem to have both pride and a backbone.
a 30 year old architect working somewhere non-corporate will b e lucky to be making $35k. That's not really enough to live decently on.
By the time I'm in my mid 30's I plan to have a high-design development firm. Rather than be at the whim of my clients, I'm going to seek out property I think looks interesting and then use my awesome ivy league design skills to put something great looking, innovative, and profitable there.
I've had enough of architects doing the bidding of the clients like a glorified hairdresser. It's time to take control, seek out my own projects, design whatever I want to design for it, and make good money off of it.
We shouldn't be writing off developers as the 'dark side' of the built environment. Sure, most of what they make is ugly, artistically worthless, etc. But if we keep being snotty boutique architects, we're going to design some cool museums, some loft interiors, and a neat bakery here and there, but we're not going to have a large impact on the built environment, the urban environment in which each of us has to live every day. Right now it's the developers who determine the urban environment of our cities. What we need to do is some how take hold of the power of the creation of the city that the developers have, and use that power towards making something that us architectural experts know will be much better for the city than what developers make.
So I'm a new kind of architect. I'll partner with a developer or be my own developer in order to actually have a lasting effect on the ctiy. I'll bring high design in high quantities.
It's gonna be great and influential. All I need now is some investors.
quizzical.... let's get something straight, I can guarantee that just about everyone in the starchitect's office, but the said starchitect is making peanuts. Because they are working on promotion and graphics for there next monograph but they are not making money but gaining experience of some sort.
quizzical - to add to what blackcomb1 said, anyone in architecture (and this includes any starchitect) who is rich, was rich before they were architects. They did not get rich through architecture. Also, I can guarantee you that every starchitect blows there fee five times over. They can get away with it because, like blackcomb said, they pay there employees jack shit. Normal people can't do this because normal people don't have the reputation to get slave labor.
Robust84 - I agree with most of what you said, though it sounds a bit naive. What you are describing isn't really new, as we do that at the firm I work for. We are developing our own projects and we are involved in a handful of others that are not funded by us.
I definitely agree (and I don't think anyone would disagree) that developers have the power in there hands and architects, for the past 50 years, just sat back and watched it happen. Its our responsibility to take it back.
I am reluctant to say that developers are the dark side because they are just building what people apparently want. I do think they are terribly misguided and uneducated however, and probably don't see the negative impact of what they are doing. But there ruining of our landscapes would stop if people stopped buying there houses, but they're not. So I guess architects need to reconnect and become more involved with the general public as we seem to be a profession that only caters to the rich.
i would LOVE to buy a condo designed by a high quality architect. but it's very rare to see a condo designed by anyone other than a bad developer. if you're lucky you can get an SOM condo, but that's only a few notches above developer quality.
i would LOVE to get a house custom designed by a high quality architect, or design it myself. but oh yeah, i can't afford it, because i'm an architect.
something's not right if i can't enjoy the fruits of my own talent and hard-earned skills. this industry needs to change, and i've got to figure out how to make it change.
Well, here's my 2 cents. I just started a new job - for about double what I was previously making, and for significantly higher than I EVER expected to get.
I did a ton of research regarding what cities, what types of firms and what positions pay the best AND offer the best mix for what I want...and then I went to many firms and told them what I'd work for.
I got excellent offers from many different firms - of note:
1) from a starchitect
2) from a tiny firm
3) from a big corporate firm
the result? the facts?
1) architecture (and engineering, and any other business where there isn't tons of overhead in materials and equipment - but where there is tons of overhead in employees) CAN be very profitable. In terms of a business model, we are very close to lawyers. Profits of 20-50% are possible.
2) architecture is regional. where there are lots of architects, and limited construction, you won't get paid very much.
3) you get what you negotiate for. if you don't have the guts to ask for more, you won't get it.
4) your boss has a vested interest in getting you to work for less. your professor probably doesn't get much himself, yet seems to find the academic world to be better than the corporate one. hmmm...
consquences of development...?
i know archi-school is a place to instill socialist attitudes (was for me, anyway), and i totally agree the world would be nicer in patches if architects had more of a hand in things. but come on, we are not that impt in the scheme of things. we really are not. developers are not even that impt in the scheme of things. individual people make places work, or not. sometimes as themselves, sometimes as politicians, very seldom as architects...which is sad in some ways.
there is something much more fundamental going on in our cities than mere development of land into one form or another by some crazy money hungry assholes...and in any case architects NEVER designed any of that. We have always served the elite, and usually we come from the elite. And the elite have IDEAS about how the world should look. Which is why we hate developers i suppose, cuz they dare to be inbred and uneducated and provide people things that they want instead of what WE think they should be satisified with...
ayway...what is the average wage for someone who has worked for a decade or more? most of my ol classmates are earning tween 50 and 100 k, which is not a lot, but not shite either (to be fair some of the kids i know here in tokyo work as starchislaves, and a few older classmates make much much more, but own their own practices; neither of which is normal though)...how much do we have to earn before we don't feel trod upon?
i just want enough to live comfortably in manhattan and take a few nice vacations each year.
so basically i think that requires $300k + 5 weeks vacation.
i used to think architects were underpaid because certain other professionals i knew made more. but then when i took my new job at the same time that my father took a new job, i was shocked to learn that i was going to be making much more than he has ever made...and he's been at it for 40 yrs and is now director of the metro surveying dept for an almost-major city on the east coast.
To me it all comes down to education related to compensation.
That's the main reason I've been frustrated. If I had the education of a graphic designer (ie no all nighters, no stress, etc.) then I wouldn't think it a big deal. But when comparable educations place graduates easily above $100k to start, then it seems difficult to swallow. It's hard to ignore the student loan bills.
"Good pay" is all relative, we need to keep in mind. For some it's $50k, for others it's $150k.
i think you people are just regurgitating the same bullshit. i guess the issue here that i say is not "what is good pay" but what is proper compensation versus education, experience, and difficulty of the job. i've heard the lawyers and doctors are more valuable, but (other than single family housing) i am completely convinced that architects are equally indispensible and potentially more liable in terms of potential damage to their clients and the larger public.
the argument i was making earlier was not talking about competition within the discipline, but instead trying to interrogate the basis for compensation, which i believe is inherently at odds with the goals and realities of the profession at the current moment....
that is a real solveable issue that requires our attention.
until that happens be happy with what trickles down.
futureboy - does it come down to a simple economics question of supply versus demand? too many architects (supply) willing to work for too little? not enough people demanding architectural services and thus driving wages down? are architectural services undervalued by the market?
I think there's some confusion in our profession about 'value' and where it's placed.
As a field that is both tangible / concrete service provision AND intangible / artistic creation, it gets a bit muddled about where we as architects find 'value' when we do our work.
Money in exchange for service is a clear cut arrangment. But satisfaction from creating a work of art is something we want to do and are willing to do, often without money. And this is another sort of value, even if we can't put it in the bank.
If you want to make lots of money, then focus on the area of tangible service provision. If you want to make great works, then focus on the work, even if it blows your budget. And if you can find a secret formula to make the two go together, please let me know what it is!!!
i don't believe that is the case. if you look at lawyers or doctors there are probably an equal percentage....i think it comes down to a more difficult inherent problem in regards to how we as a profession deal with our fee structure, i.e. the development of a fixed fee based on construction cost both is limiting in its inability to integrate change as well as placing within the public's mind that we provide a fixed degree of services and our percentage fee is based on the amount of input we have on a project...these both combine to cripple us
sorry that response was directed at robust's comments.
and cpnorris -- whoa -- get a grip -- take a deep breath. you're confusing two entirely separate issues. i don't now, nor have i ever, condoned the manner in which 'starchitects' run their offices -- from what I know, way too many of them are totally abusive of the people who pant to work in their shadows. but, that was not my point.
at the most basic economic level, the architecture profession suffers from two major ills -- a) fees that typically are too low, compared to the work required, the talent provided and the risk involved, and b) abysmal productivity.
'starchitects' seem to have a) more-or-less under control; as you say, they still haven't figured out b).
nevertheless, over my many years in the profession, i have known quite a few architects who didn't start in the profession as the sons or daughters of rich parents nor did they marry money. yet, many of these good folks have developed quite prosperous practices, doing good, if not spectacular work, because they paid attention to both a) and b).
are they as rich as the typical doctor or lawyer ? - probably not. but they live very well indeed and, along the way, they haven't developed reputations for abusing their employees.
architecture can be quite a lucrative profession, but it's not going to be handed to you on a platter nor will it happen simply because you have a long and expensive education. you have to work at it -- and you have to set out to achieve a reasonable balance among a large number of wildly different pressures that attend the practice. an excessive focus on any one or two throws the whole mix out of balance.
your comparison works except for one thing:
if doctors and lawyers try to charge more, people will pay it because they need doctors and lawyers. if architects try to charge more, people will just go to a developer who will design some crap, 100% architect free.
another reason why there should be a rebellion against the need to study architecture at a graduate level. the debt incurred is not reciprocated by the income, particularly since graduate education focuses on endless design games and the reading of french literary criticism. perhaps a five year degree is enough with specialties in spec writing, construction admin/project management and a deemphasis on "design". of course, if this were the case the enrollment would drop dramatically in the schools and the sale of black turtlenecks would plummet causing a minor recession in the world of superficial trendiness. the horror.
It isn't that the pay is always low, it's that the pay always seems capped, and the opportunities seem limited. As Le Bossman says, plenty of architects do fine - how can that be, when so many architects seem to not do well? Here's my take:
Be a Team Player: Successful practitioners are directly involved in scouring the free market for clients, hustling for work, and directing their efforts towards building a solid business reputation in their community. They do this because they know this is what their clients will understand - everyone wants to do good business with others who do good business, and to be seen as a viable player with fewer limits on opportunity an architect has to come off as a businessperson first, designer second. Not that design doesn't count - clients want good design, as opposed to what many on this forum post, and they're willing to pay for it. Not that you have to "sell your soul" either, your talent *is* what you have to sell. You do have to have a sense of perspective though. First and foremost, clients want to know that their architect is going to be a good steward of their project and their resources, gaining this trust is a key to successful practice. It isn't about joining the Kiwanis Club or the Moose Lodge to get clients, but it is about showing the community that you're willing to help forge *their* vision of their future by incorporating their input as opposed to being an autocratic "starchitect" type of designer.
Figure Out Where You Are on Economics: To expand on the last point, it's important to see that architecture functions off of a "dual currency" system - money vs. design success, economics vs. art. (To me the "vs." is appropriate; they can be merged but to do so takes a lot of talent and skill.) The central question is this: How much is the architect willing to give, in money, to see his projects built to the letter of his vision? For many, the answer is "a lot". These practitioners see their revenues dry up in the face of arguments over design direction, squabbles over budget, fees and materials expense, creating a trail of wrecked client relationships leading to no repeat business and no referrals. They do this because they have been taught that "design integrity" and "educating the client" are the foremost missions of their business. Lots of architects have "educated" themselves right out of business over time. Successful practitioners know that to succeed they have to focus on the success of their clients first. Again, this doesn't mean doing bad design - quite the opposite, actually. Not that this means leaving their own ambitions out of the equation either - again, quite the opposite. By focusing on client success they increase their opportunities for repeat work and positive referrals, boosting their client base and growing their businesses.
In short: Become a member of your community, not a design recluse. Show people you're a team player and seek out opportunities with an open mind. Keep the lid on your design ambitions and focus instead on building a good business. If you do the design opportunities will follow and you'll have the chance to do some stellar design of your own.
quizzical - sorry if i somehow came across as an ass. I totally agree with everything you just wrote. I am a bit unsure of what people have a problem with honestly. The word "rich" keeps getting thrown around and if you are coming into architecture expecting to get rich then you completely miss the point of why we do archietcture and you are gonna be very dissapointed. The profession is very fulfilling in other ways besides money, athough it is possible to make good money as an architect. I haven't said anything yet about an architects compensation and I have no problems with it at all. Like you said, its not gonna be handed to you and you have to work very hard at it.
Im not sure that a collegiate education in architecture should automatically qualify one for a high salary. Sure, design education has a lot of qualities, - just because you know how to design, it doesn’t mean you seriously know anything about life safety, codes, laws, etc – an architect almost needs two educations – one in design, one in law
With this being said, most architects learn the legalities and the life safety requirements while in practice, which become recognized upon licensure.
Once a person is licensed to practice architecture, their salary, more often than not, is substantially increased. This is also true for one licensed to practice law, or to licensed to practice medicine. (increased salary based on licensure)
It is the reality – if you work for an architect, but are not a licensed architect yourself there should be no expectations to earn an incredible salary.
If you want to discuss salary of a licensed architect vs. licensed doctor / lawyer – and are not happy about how they stack up together then in my opinion there is only one way to change this.. and that is to make the architect a requirement.
Meaning, you cannot build anything unless you have a person who is licensed to practice architecture… not a house, not a small building, not a barn, nothing! The only way to make this happen is for architects to take an active stance and locally / globally change the laws.
(i admit that i have not done anything myself, but hope to in the years to come)
For those just starting, or just graduating, if you have any preconceived notions that you will be making more money than a nurse, or more than a law office assistant than you are fooling yourself. The ability to design is only 1/2 the game – just as a medical / law graduate only knows 1/2 the game for their field.
Personally, I think we are grossly under-paid, under-represented, and under-appreciated.
One thing I am hung up on is how much architects really are bystanders in the processes of real political change in this country. I haven't found a way to do a head count, but outside of the local planning boards, does anyone know how many architects actually attempt to become a state representative, let alone a state Senator? I would think it would be extremely low because how can anyone envision themselves seeking a place in the political system when you are already swamped with paying off 20-year school loans on a measley income, let alone trying to payroll and keeping the project pipeline moving every month.
To me, it is our absence in the political process of government that reveals why it is others who ultimately determine our social value and economic worth.
robust, well if you read my previous response to this question i don't think that the analysis of architects as being optional only applies to single family or small residential developments. i don't believe any developer or contractor are legally able or knowledgable enough to undertake projects beyond that cut-off point.
beyond that level, the protection of the public welfare is the aspect that our professional organizations don't discuss with enough sincerity and becomes the main reason why we as a profession are necessary.
this discussion is just rediculous. i just got out of school a year and a half ago and i have more than enough money, and i get raises every year. and i have interesting projects. some of my friends already make almost 70k! most of our clients come to us because they want good architecture. i think, contrary to many of the students on this board, that it is architects who don't fully appreciate the value of architecture.
true story - when I told my grandpa I was studying architecture He says to me, " so you want to suck dick for a living"?
le thinks you're the luckiest son of a bitch i've heard of...more than likely, though, you and you're friends are from serious cash, because i've been out for 10 years and frankly what you said is so ridiculous compared to most people's experience i almost fell of my chair. again maybe i'm conjecturing here, but i believe that if you aren't from serious cash and incredibly connected somehow family wise (and likewise your friends) you probably need to save because there's going to be a big potential for a crash in the near future and you are experiencing the luckiest streak that anyone can ask for.
a license doesn't mean much in regard to knowing codes as i just had to explain how to calculate an allowable area increase to a registered architect.
if im not making $70k by age 32 im changing professions
shit, time to change professions....