Have you experienced age discrimination in architecture firms

I was curious to hear if others in our profession are suffering from age discrimination in architecture or interior design. Do you think both men and women are effected? Is it more of an issue in the US? Is this issue just swept under the rug, while firms are profiting from eliminating higher billing employees and replacing with lower billable staff to justify high compensation for partners?
Let us know, how you feel about the topic
May 14, 17 3:17 pm

1 Featured Comment

All 22 Comments


OP: "firms are profiting from eliminating higher billing employees and replacing with lower billable staff to justify high compensation for partners

The bias - and wrong headedness -inherent in your question is astounding.

May 14, 17 3:46 pm
Non Sequitur
Dumb question.
May 15, 17 6:18 am

You think that firms that resist calling their architects architects so they can pay them less as interns are not going to practice age discrimination? Ha!

May 15, 17 8:57 am
Non Sequitur

Call an architect an architect if they have a license. Not hard.


I have a drivers license, am I an architect now?!


Replace the work "billing" and "billable" with "paid" in the original post and I think you perhaps get the intended question.

To maximize their profits and resultant executive pay and bonuses, do firm managers force out older, higher paid staff and replace them with younger people that they can pay less?

May 15, 17 9:52 am
Non Sequitur

In that case, then yes, unless the older, higher paid staff, can prove to be more profitable than an army of fresh interns.


Your value must be more than your expense.  It's as simple as that.  Otherwise, the business can't do what businesses do... make money. 

There are going to be firms so in love with the almighty dollar that they will do what the OP is asking.  It's not enough for them to just make money, they have to make more money.  I'm not so keen on working for these types anyway.  So, If I were getting dropped, I probably wouldn't mind. 

May 15, 17 10:48 am

I can see it the opposite way, big name firms using slave labor (unpaid interns) to win competitions and bring design development costs down.

examples abound.

May 15, 17 10:54 am

I believe discrimination is something that happens at both ends of the spectrum. Paying someone badly when inexperienced because you can get away with it, must be a form of discrimination. Older workers being let go 'because the face no longer fits'  is also discrimination.

The bigger issue not touched upon, is that older workers may not have the relevant skills in a changing workplace. Consider how many around 20-15 years ago didn't make the transition to CAD, and were thus increasingly made redundant in a changing drafting office. The same is I expect happening now, with the move to BIM taking over in larger practices, and now expected in many cases as a basic skill.

Older workers will be less likely to have the newer skills, for all they may well have highly valuable older ones.

The challenge for us all is to keep our skills up to date and relevant, and not find ourselves trading on yesterdays glories. That may mean either keeping our skills up to date, or developing entirely new ones.

I'm studying a MSc in Quantity Surveying myself, not so much for the QS degree as to get a grip on the knowledge that comes with it, all in order to be a better Architect and project manager.

May 15, 17 12:07 pm

Software is "DISRUPTIVE INNOVATION". It is done on purpose and there is a disruption plan every software manufacture has. Yes, Autodesk. Yes, Graphisoft. Yes, every other software manufacturer. They plan to make substantive changes every so many years. The reason they do this is so that YOU have to buy the new software and in turn shell out more money to the software company and all the additional training that goes with it. No software has had the longevity of the pencil/pen & paper nor will they ever.


or - software companies are just trying to make improvements...I don't know if it is all a conspiracy because some of the updates offered are actually helpful and beneficial to improve practice...but I can also see how they gotta keep making that money.


well.... if it is a means to get you to shell out another $1000+, sure. It's how Microsoft gets people constantly replacing their OS. Sure, but Microsoft Windows isn't necessarily that much better nor you get that much more better performance. They could have kept the OS so lean that the OS would require less than 500 MBytes and run adequately at 64 bit, 128 bit or even 256 bit architecture and on today's computers would boot in 0.5 seconds. Now, somehow, I doubt that productivity is necessarily improved by that 40x since 1997. Why isn't the programs running 40x faster? Why isn't productivity increased equally? There is a scheme to make you shell out full price or even 50% discount on full price for what may amount to only 2% improvement in productivity. Real improvement, I'm skeptical. A few minor insignificant improvements to get you to shell out $500+ (as an upgrade to the immediately previous version) or full price if you are jumping more than one version step... $1000+. Well kind of but the idea and point is largely there.


I believe with Autodesk it is titled "brand new feature".

I've always found it somewhat irksome as an approach, as the brand new features are usually not well thought out, frequently buggy, often don't add much to justify the whopping price demanded for upgrading, and every so often lead to the removal of something that worked just fine.

Having focussed energy on new sales features, they also don't go back and fix the problems introduced some time ago.


Chuck71 gets directly to the real heart of this issue.

Age discrimination has a legal definition which, while quite complex in the details, essentially means that an employer cannot make HR decisions about employees aged 40 or older primarily due to their age.

Replacing an older [expensive] employee who lacks the necessary knowledge and skills required by a job with a younger [less expensive] employee who does possess those skills is not, automatically, age discrimination -- there are other considerations that also must be weighed.

On this forum there are constant gripes about older workers -- usually supervisory workers -- who haven't a clue about the technologies being used in practice today. There also are constant gripes about firms lacking the business savvy necessary to operate efficiently and profitably.

Given that history, it is interesting to read comments here that characterize employers as 'greedy' and 'uncaring' when they replace older employees who failed to evolve as the profession has changed.

May 15, 17 1:37 pm
Featured Comment

It's complex.  You should look at the makeup of the firm.  I'd reckon 70% are what I'd deem "production" (creating the drawings / renderings "deliverables").  20% are manager sorts.  And the rest are misc like the books, front desk, etc.  

Hone in a bit and the majority of production doesn't need true architectural experience... just enough to draw what they are handed.  Revit skills are the primary skillset being hired.  The other 20% you should note are probably a bit more specialized; contracts, spreadsheets, scheduling, redlining, resourcing, and leading.  They aren't production anymore, so not knowing those tools isn't as critical.  

Something you should consider as a younger architect thinking those poor old dogs who don't know Revit... How good are your time management skills, setting up spreadsheets, negotiating with other entities for favorable results and giving direction to younger staff?  Who's skillsets are really lacking?

And on the flipside... unlike the old days of a full drafting department. Everyone one of those folks currently doing production are one day going to compete for those 20% positions... So a lot of them won't be around in a few years time.  (Again... better take stock of what skillsets you'll need to move up rather than lock you down in production....)

May 15, 17 2:44 pm

good points. as far as i'm concerned the best thing about Revit is that its a great way to screen out various software programming positions out of a job search. My goal has always been to become the best architect that I can be, and there is way more to architecture that knowing a computer program.


Something to remember about learning "tools". I started with hand drafting and all those tools. Progressed to CAD. Progressed to 3d visualization. Progressed to Revit. And who knows what the next thing will be. I have found though the tools have about a 10 year shelf life..... So it doesn't really matter if you master Revit inside and out; in about 3-6 years, something else will come along and you'll have to learn it. By the time you go through a couple of these tech changes... you stop trying to master and just learn enough to get by.

I don't remember, it was too long ago

May 15, 17 9:01 pm

I was once told I cannot use the eraser shields, they were for senior designer's

May 16, 17 1:11 pm

(sharp edges)


liar... senior folks; they used a blue or purple lead to markup and sketch on the mylar. That didn't print, so you never needed an eraser and woe to the draftsperson who erased your notes. Production staff used that other stuff like electric erasers and shields. Also these kids never got to experience those eraser dust sock things we'd toss at each other (used to dust the mylar so the bar didn't leave skid marks). Most have probably also forgotten we had a variety of erasers of different compounds. Also forgotten were the dimple tools to punch plastic templates so they were raised over the mylar and didn't bleed ink... sort of a hole punch looking thing that embossed a dimple. And don't forget the sticky tapes you used to be able to get; basically a tape with a stencil like print on it for poche on walls, etc. All sorts of lost to time production things we had that saved time.


Oh... and somethings stay the same. You know how larger companies provide family groups with their products? In the 'olden days (80's-90's)' they gave you drafting templates with their products... Anderson windows, Kohler, Steelcase, etc.


Why didn't you get your own instead? lol


so those senior folks lied to me? goobers!!!

mightyaa - I just went for a ride in your time machine. Letraset, ammonia smell of diazo prints, lead pointers ...


Age discrimination, sure, depends on the firm, location, superior urban-attitude, etc.  Here are some funny things I've encountered over the years. Daddy built a great firm, now the son, anywhere between 26 and 34, has his degree from some fancy Ivy-League school in whatever, could even be materials or structural engineering, he's going to strut his ego around the office and give random feces sandwiches to anyone in his path, whether you kiss his smelly backside or not, hell, he will even beat contractors with shovels.  I'm not joking.  Beat-downs and screaming sessions can easily be heard through closed office doors.  

Egos sometime show up on bosses 10 years after you have been at a firm, sometimes they only show up on certain projects.  I AM GOD AND YOU DARE NOT QUESTION OR CHALLENGE MY VIEWS.  This is a standard attitude.  People are INSECURE, they are AFRAID you might know more than them on a certain subject, God help you if you actually worked at something else besides just mundane daily design or drafting tasks and actually LEARNED SOMETHING IN THE FIELD.  

The best architects I have met are the senior guys who never wasted time getting licensed, but ACTUALLY KNOW HOW BUILDINGS ARE BUILT, better than an entire office full of AIA-NCARB-jack-me-off, licensed CEO "PRINCIPAL" or Professor dingle-dong goons who can draw pretty pictures and talk a menagerie of BS up a client's rear-end and make you think they know everything.  Then have you change the design 4 times a week because the client is even more of an immature pain in the ass than they are, or so colossally stupid that they can't even begin to read a set of plans, elevations, or for that matter, I'm not sure they even understand plain English.  OK, exaggerated a little bit there to make a point.  But I have seen it happen.  I have met so many people who are "LICENSED" in their 20's and 30's, and still asking me questions, whether it be structural or whatever in nature, and I am like, are you f-ing kidding me?  How the hell did you pass the test????  You're very pretty and you dress very well, sure, and I guess you know how to take a test, but, do you actually KNOW ANYTHING ?????   My God, it boggles the mind.  Not everyone is like this, I know.  

Okay,so, that said, age discrimination, sometimes it's bad and sometimes it is understandable.  There are almost as many 60 year old architects who are incompetent idiots as there are 29 year old architects who are the same damn way.  Unfortunately there are almost as many engineers from every discipline who are the same way.  Maybe not as many as there are architects though.  Just as many with ego problems though, especially those who have been "Vice President" for 20 years and wonder why your life is not perfect or your 401k isn't as fat as theirs, if you even have one.  Dude be happy to pay your bills, have shelter and food, have your health....ahhhh, but Nooooo.... you don't drive a fancy car and have a fancy house and big bank account like they do.... but..... don't feel too bad, because, in bed, their wife isn't satisfied and their half bald heads and empty souls make up for you being discriminated against.  Imagine how angry they are when you don't kiss their butts or play golf on weekends.

Meanwhile you quietly paid off all your bills and retire 20 years before them, going on vacations and having a ton of free time to do other things you really enjoy, instead of paying on a 50 year mortgage because you just had to have a big fancy house and put 3 ungrateful brats thru college, I mean, you win the award for masochist of the century.  Forget that noise, I'm going to enjoy life.  

May 18, 17 5:13 pm

It sounds like you need a vacation


Love it. Nice post lmf66. Lol.

Great post. Reference Sturgeon's Law.

Great post. Reference Sturgeon's Law.

Isn't age discrimination present in almost any industry?

Jun 1, 17 1:15 pm

Letting go senior employees just to save a few bucks - if that is how the firm is being run, they have a bigger issue.  Do they just promote employees based on the years they've worked, some basic skill most employees have and not for their real value (connections, ability to lead, bring clients/business etc). It also makes me wonder if that business is even profitable or hanging on a thread and could go belly up with one wrong move.

Jun 1, 17 2:18 pm

the product being sold by architecture firms is knowledge and experiance.  Why would you want to get rid of the most experienced people?  Dumb business move.  

Jun 1, 17 3:43 pm

Economics jla... Simple formula.  Overhead rate * salary = how much you have to be able to bill to churn a profit.  Overhead rate can be affected by insurance costs, retirement contributions, etc.  Older means those things cost money too and they tend to take more vacation and save more in the retirement, so the overhead goes way up.  Knowledge and experience also cost more in salaries.  

Start running the math on a office of older folks who get good six-figure salaries that you match 15% of their salary in retirement, give 4-5 weeks vacation, and know you'll probably dish out a nice premium on the insurance (roughly $1200/m for a family full coverage plan) and see how much you'll have to bill just to pay the firm bills.  

Then do it with a quarter of that older staff and twice the inexperienced staff and see how much you'll need to make.  They'll contribute 5% to their matching retirement fund, cost a quarter on insurance (plus no family plan), and be fine with 2 weeks paid vacation...  (hint; a lot less).

That means you can be competitive with your fee structure.  Otherwise you'd better be in a niche where you and your highly experienced staff can command higher fees (like my old firm and our litigation support).

Basically, the system is also rigged to create a financial benefit to laying off older workers.

Jun 1, 17 7:37 pm

In other words: Stop billing like a non-profit. 

Most shitty firms, like where I work discriminate against people with families. It's not on the surface, but these kinds of firms are the ones which don't take kindly to one leaving at 6pm.
Jun 1, 17 10:50 pm

There's some leeway in their argument tho: Single people aren't there to pick up the slack for individuals w/ family. Considering that the profession is pretty time consuming altogether when the team needs to meet certain datelines/tender, it's hard not to empathize with them.


The solution would either to implement a blanket rule across the profession: All singles to work OT while people with families get to go home early (which forces singles to get married earlier where the next batch of singles may cover their shifts) OR everyone stays till the job gets done.


I'm a firm believer in mandatory hours - no slipping out at 6pm when we need to post on friday night, and there are are whole butload of redlines to pick up before we print and post - how many time have I been the last man standing at 12:30midnight -

I'm the only person at my firm so I discriminate against myself

Jun 2, 17 10:14 am

I routinely consider firing myself and hiring someone cheaper but can't find anyone who is qualified.

I fire myself several times a day and yet I persist

I fire my clients too, they keep calling


In its purest form, age discrimination is when persons who look or act "old" are treated unfairly.  It's very common in technology and advertising where a connection to youth culture and "new ideas" is prized.  I haven't seen too much of that in the architecture world, the impulse to purge older workers was more about their higher pay and sometimes their unwillingness to learn new skills, rather than their perceived lack of youth.

On the other hand, in firms where I worked where the architects employed interior designers, I saw older women frequently terminated and replaced with 22 year old recent graduates.

Jun 2, 17 12:09 pm

the main thing is not to burn-out - if the higher up perceive you burned out - then you're out

always keep learning the latest technologies - Dynamo, relevant

because when you are through learning, you are through - get a box, pack your tools and leave

Jun 2, 17 5:57 pm

I have to agree that they lay off older or more experienced employees to keep their expenses lower. It's normal even with other industries, not just architecture firms.

Jun 3, 17 11:18 am

I currently do consulting to three firms.

The concept of firm is detaching into remote collaborators.

Jun 3, 17 11:25 am

Block this user

Are you sure you want to block this user and hide all related comments throughout the site?

  • ×Search in: