Architecture Salary

Our salaries over the past 25 years have remained stagnant and flat. It is intersteing that top architectural firms have had record profits and growth, but still salaries are not growing. Our profession has the greatest thinkings, designers and technical minds, but why are we still paid the lowest out of the professional world.
Let me know what you feel salary issue.
Jan 27, 18 1:59 pm
This is the case for a lot of industries to be honest. There's a widening gap between entry and mid career employee salaries and owners/ceos across the work force - and again productivity in most professional service sectors has climbed steadily with the implementation of technology.

That said architecture has the added problem of having created a race to the bottom with fees, plus of course an ever growing consortium of various consultants and 'specialists' cutting into what fee remains.

Ultimately architectural work remains somewhat of a luxury for the bulk of the public to access. The same way only so many people can afford porches and Louis Vuitton etc only so many people can realistically afford to hire architects. Tons of 'middle class' AEC work e.g. Residential remodels or even ground up, is completed by contractors and developers without ever consulting an architect. We're an add on in most cases, to something that is already rather expensive - buildings. Not that these projects certainly couldn't benefit from design services - it just isn't within most peoples' budgets. It's the difference between getting the project done at all.

Unless, as an architect, one also becomes a developer or contractor the bulk of the service fee is lost to the latter.

Seems in most professional services unless one owns the company most of the income stream isn't going to wind up in their salary. There are some scenarios where employees can point to the profits they have directly generated for their company and use that as an argument to win higher salaries, but architectural services are far less tangible in terms of what value is added by any one individual, especially if that individual is not the one who landed a client.
Jan 27, 18 2:19 pm
Thanks for your views and observations.
I do believe that the larger offices are more greedy than the smaller offices.
In addition, the AIA doesn’t foster changes for fee structures or guide fees as other fiends such as the medical field and law firms.
It is true salaries overall are flat because globalism has terrible effects on labor wages.
I do see a change possiblily in the future, since employees are looking for better employment terms and more willing to leave a firm rather than just stay for decades of unhappiness and unfullfillment .
Again thanks!
Jan 27, 18 4:45 pm

Changing firms will do little to solve the problem if the fundamental problem is too damn many architects to begin with.


There's more doctors and lawyers than architects and building designers combined.


Yes, but there is also more demand for doctors. Everyone needs one at one time or another. Not true for architects. As for lawyers, you're right that there is a lawyer glut.


geezer, you act as if no one needs/uses/demands buildings. You are wrong. We all do. Your supply/demand argument is tired. I guess its a way to not self-reflect on how architects can find better business practices. How many more decades can architects do the woe is me thing before start solving problems?


Geezer (as his/her name suggests) has been in the biz much longer than any of you, especially TTT. The facts are:

1. Too many architect kids graduating every year

2. Lesser space for development

3. Heavy automation and software use (think Revit) 

So, try to sugar coat it as much as you want, but realize that we are all very expendable. The race to the bottom is real.


And again, the comparison to doctors and lawyers is tiring. I will trust the advise of a doctor to save my life, but not an architect.


Here's some advice SOD, don't take advice from people who aren't doing well.


I guess if it is out of our control we should just accept defeat. The market rules, we are just pawns. Or try to sabotage the careers of young graduates so they don't compete with us with their fancy optimistic and hard-working problem solving attitudes... oh wait, that sounds scarily familiar.


I guess those museum tickets as a Xmas bonus mean ones doing really well?


Yeah, receiving several personal thank you gifts at Christmas was pretty nice, it seems people like me or something and I can help them and they are thankful, but I'd be ok without the gifts too. It isn't about gifts. Did you want to say something about supply and demand?


As a business owner, good year or not doesn't result in so much of thank you gifts per se or xmas bonus. I may receive thank you and such from clients after a successful project but for me it isn't about bonuses or special gifts even if the overall year was financially dismal. Their satisfaction of the outcome of the service is more important. I'm with Tinbeary on that. As for supply & demand, an over supply to the general market demand at any moment in time does impact prices. It is what in business is called price ceiling. Over supply equates to lower price ceiling because competition drives prices down and more competition with insufficient demand results in a downward push in prices. Market usually resolves the issue with what is called a "shake out" when a number of competitors are driven out of the market and people close their doors. The problem is in architecture, not enough people quit architecture and get out of the market/business then you have architecture schools adding more to the marketplace. It is what it is. I'm not into the rat race to the bottom but trying to move up not down.


The point is if you focus on external reasons (s&d) then you aren't reflecting and really seeing where you really can improve. If people choose you for price so you feel the need to undercut, then you aren't giving them something of value. Where in your life do you buy the cheapest good because they are cheap and not for some other quality such as the value it brings or the ease or pleasantness of the relationship. I get work because I'm pleasant. There, just fixed the supply and demand problem. I compete with other pleasant architects. See how the supply pool got smaller?


You can self-reflect on how you can improve until you're blue as a smurf. It doesn't change what the client is willing to pay. Clients are ingrained with consumer cultural values like getting the most for their money and in some cases, getting what they want for the least amount of money. Quality isn't always what the prospective client is thinking about. As long as we have archi-sluts willing to whore their services for next to nill, it only makes it harder to convince prospective clients to pay fair compensation amounts. Why? They become expecting & demanding of getting architectural services for free or for a few peanuts.


I do support the idea of focusing on competing with other pleasant architects. Racing towards the top not racing to the slut race of the bottom feeders. I am with you on the principle of pleasant, forthright, and candid professional service to our clients.


I was watching a TV show last night set in the early 60's where a woman had a JOB! And a bank account. And her parents couldn't believe it. I can't help but think Geezer's comment is along this line, that life was better before women (and minorities) got to get an education and enter professions. So much for geezers having experience to guide their thoughts if that experience is tainted.


Maybe drawing 2x4's isn't all that prestigious like it was in the days of the good ol boy. Maybe anybody can do it if they can prove they have the skills.


Just about anyone that can draw rectangles and put an X inside it from corner to corner for each of those rectangles. I always thought we provide something more than merely drawing rectangles. Tinbeary, it should be noted that women had been working to some capacity since the before architectural licensing laws (and I'm not talking prostitution and similar line of work). However, women working were limited. Women began entering architecture pretty much since the 1900s. However, they were few and far in between. The numbers were incrementally increasing. Since the 1960s, women working increased considerably. Thank god. It certainly added to the pool of architects but that's okay. Do note that I wasn't specifically talking about women in architecture when I was talking about archi-sluts whoring their services for next to nill. I was actually referring to architects/designers, regardless of gender, willing to provide services and bending backwards for clients with no spine to stand for their worth. They just want work but not thinking about actually earning an income and running things like a real business.


Thats great Tinbeary, youve made it all about feminism, and minorities. Btw, a lot of received hard cash at Xmas, but if you're happy with the museum tickets, theres your growth.


You don't understand that you wouldn't have been allowed to be an architect until recently? That is what people mean by "supply." Letting other people earn a spot at the table. I don't know how to make it more clear. And I don't work for the man, but if you want to feel sorry for me, go ahead.


Oh, and I give bonuses, so naturally I don't get them. Maybe I need to brag more, its not really my thing but let's see, I got a new client for Halloween, two for Thanksgiving, two over winter break while on vacation, one for MLK day, one for Groundhogs day, do you want me to keep this list updated?


Depends on the office. there are still firms with ESOP programs and part-matching 401k. Its old school, but tangible, benefit.

Jan 28, 18 2:38 am

ESOP is great until you realize that you really have no control over the value of the stock. Your project for the year can make millions in profit but one bad job can tank the entire value. Give me the 401k match any day.


if it's true that profits are going up but salary is not, is part of that money going into software and technology?  it's not necessarily all executive pay.  it could be getting back to the employee in the form of tools to help them be productive, or it could be going into marketing and things like that.

Jan 28, 18 11:07 am
I think the software and technology is an excuse principals use with employees.
For large firms, the billing rate is quite high and employee salary is such a small part of the total billing hours. The billing rate has covered all of the overhead expenses.
I think it is more greed and that principals pay needs to be covered ( raises & profit based incentives) rather than salary increases fior staff. I have heard many stories about the large firms , especially the top three in us
Jan 28, 18 11:33 am

"...employee salary is such a small part of the total billing hours."


Oops. Anyway... What? Salary is the highest single expense for nearly any company, and it surely is in architecture

Recently it really seems like the top brass takes home a larger percentage than they used to. Architecture suffers from the fact that vast majority of firms are extremely opaque (small proprietorships or partnerships) and it's been really easy in recent years for the partners to take more and more without increasing base pay much--selling the lie that "architecture is a lifestyle not a JOB" and hey, everyone knows that being creative and doing what you love means low pay right?! In the last two decades I feel like I've seen this industry become more exploitative of labor than it used to be. Many of the firms in my town are busier than ever, but it seems like the only folks I know making competitive/appropriate wages are at the big public firms like Gensler, Cannon etc.
Jan 28, 18 3:35 pm
Basically I used to blame cheap clients/the public's general lack of value of design for low arch industry wages and after nearly 20 years in the field and 9 firms in 4 cities....... now I blame firm ownership.
Jan 28, 18 3:37 pm
Great points!
I agree... I heard on the street that a ny partner at Gensler has million dollars base salary which has steadily increased while the staff hasn’t received or received a pale infrequent 2% yearly raise and not including stock or bonuses so I wouldn’t say everything is fair.
I knew a small boutique firm in Hawaii- great owner from Italy. He actually used his own money to hold his talented staff down a long downtown - he felt the need as a kind person...this is very rare but it does happen!
Jan 28, 18 5:04 pm

Heard it on the street? Must be true.


i also heard that on the street. 2 confirmed. must be true.


77, you seem to have no idea what you're talking about. About anything.


My first internship was 20 years ago. Made $11h. One of my intern friends found out how much our direct rich boss made. Just an experienced project architect, and not a partner or an owner. $90k/y! 20 years ago! I couldn't even imagine what one could possibly do with that kind of money. They were an architect millionaire in our eyes. And one day we could be one as well!

Next decade in the profession was filled with hard work, but money never even came close to that level. Your skills were plentiful and replaceable. A lot of people burned out and ended up switching to other fields; often related fields that paid better in your 20s. Someone else finally appreciated you.

20 years later and now I make (inflation adjusted) more than that rich boss man. Answer: all of it goes to taxes and big people bills. It never gets fun. 

My message here is that there is money in this field but it is proportional to scarcity of your abilities and offerings. So yes. Keep telling other architects to just quit the profession. It will increase your own compensation even if overworking will send you to an early grave.

Jan 28, 18 6:27 pm


Thanks for the great posts!
Jan 28, 18 9:10 pm
Le Courvoisier

Well, I ended up getting a less than cost of living increase this year. That was fun.

Jan 29, 18 12:11 am
Maybe you should ask for time off as well
Extra day off or payment for license exam
Jan 29, 18 1:34 am
ESOP hardly helps when the distribution of shares for those at the bottom are just as if not more skewed than the salaries. It's usually a phycological ploy to make the grunts feel like they 'own' something but in practice it's almost always swapped out for what would have been bonuses (again based on overall firm performance not individual), healthcare coverage percentages, and or 401k matches. That may be less true at smaller firms but certainly at the larger firms opacity is even murkier and profits much higher to dip into. It's easier to not feel bad about scamming/taking advantage of the peons as an exec when you don't have to look most of them in the eye.

The only way to make any decent money (these days) is to be the exec/principal of the large firm or owner of an independent smaller operation.
Jan 29, 18 1:52 pm

Eh, I've mostly seen that raises and pay are tied more to how much revenue a staff member is perceived to be bringing in (some obviously take credit for others work and blame others for their failure).  Not all firms are like that, but my experience is such.  At one firm fees were stagnant and partners paid out of pocket during the downturn, so it took a bit before increased fees translated to higher benefits.  At others some staff were bleeding cash by hiring too many consultants and doing too many renderings, the profitable projects ended up paying for them.

There is an expectation that everyone becomes less of a liability and more efficient each year, if that is achieved its reasonable to expect raises.  If not, you're a liability to the firm.

I'm not sure if there's such a huge disconnect from profits to employee salaries as the OP states.

Jan 29, 18 2:09 pm

I hear you, but as it happens in the case of my personal comment, I know the salaries of everyone in my office so I can confirm that this is not the case. Just in my case at least...

To clarify the about billing rates -
When a client is billed $180 for a staff architect. The staff architect doesn’t earn $180. Most likely the architect is lucky to earn $60 if not slightly less. $120 goes to the firm for overhead $60 and profit $60 profit . Obliviously, the firm will make great profits on all of its staff .... I am saying that the staff should receive a bigger portion - why not - they are driving the business through the work ... not just talk.
Jan 30, 18 1:46 am
Non Sequitur

I don't think you understand the numbers. First, if you're pulling in $60/hour, you're already in the top 1% of architect as that's way above 6-figures. It's more likely that the staff gets 1/5 to 1/4 not 1/3rd. Putting aside that strict per-hour contracts are less profitable than lump sum, that extra "profit" you want to carve out for yourself not only covers to salary of the firm's owners but also helps support downtime or project overruns. It's idiotic to think you can just tap into that unless you have direct oversight of the project's margins and can control office costs in a way that actually makes a clear profit. Face it, no-one is owned more money just because schools hammered down the special creative snowflake illusion for which you happily forked over $100k.


Like I said above, 77 has no idea what they're talking about. It's a weird discussion.


I've always heard (and they even make you learn for the ARE) that 1/3 of your billings goes to salary, 1/3 goes to your benefits, and 1/3 goes to office expenditures (electricity, computer, cloud computing, licenses for software, coffee, etc) The remaining 1-10% is supposed to be company profit. 

More lately, I've realized that many firms set as a goal, and often achieve a way higher profit ratio, let's say 10-20%, meaning that as long as you don't hear your higher-ups complaining, it's reasonable to assume that your firm made their 10% mark.

Many firm revenues are available since the firms share the info with AIA for access to surveyed info, etc... for instance my firm revenues around $25 million a year, so it's safe to assume that unless something went wrong, the company made AT LEAST $2.5 million for its owners. 

I know of only one Senior Associate's stake in the firm, at slightly less than 4-5%, and while I don't know his salary exactly, It's reasonable to expect based on my own that his salary is at least $85,000.  More likely it's north of $100,000, but we can be conservative.  Between the salary, his 10 weeks of vacation time (which he realistically can never use up because he's too busy) and his 5% cut of $2.5 million, he's making roughly 3 to 3.5 times what I am.

I assume this is supposed to cover the risk (and I know some people would point this out in all professions) of running a business, and that he should be compensated thusly.  For those lean recession years, where he has to cut his salary in half and receives no bonus because the firm is otherwise taking losses.  However, during those times, people at my level are let go, and/or asked to take pay cuts as well.  *shrug* When I get my option to buy into the company, I'll definitely be taking it.

On ESOP firms (I recall Perkins and Will to be one) I too have heard that the % cut of the company you own is so negligible to not even matter.  I wish I could directly buy other employee's shares, but at least at the firm I'm at, buyouts are at the discretion of the entire board, to be voted on.  As I'm new to this whole level of firm management, I don't know if my direct experiences are typical or an exception. 

Any other experiences on stock options and firm ownership would be appreciated.

Jan 30, 18 9:17 am
Thanks for the post Jose!
I agree with you... my goal of this post is to empower staff to ask for raises that are fairly due to you. You work hard, make sacrificies for deadlines, work odd hours , have to pay student loans and need to raise a family or pay family bills
I hope everyone understands my view.
Jan 30, 18 1:20 pm

Everyone wants to make more money. Eve


Oops. I hate this reply format. Anyway we all want to make more money. And the company wants to make more profit. You may think you deserve more (and maybe you do, but so far you've come across only as entitled), but as long as there are others out there with your experience, you're going to have to compete for salary. If you think you deserve more, nobody is stopping you from making your case to your employers.


To put this whole discussion into some sort of factual perspective, you may want to look at P.5 (marked as Page 07 in this summary) of this link: AIA 2016 Firm Survey Report

While this probably is about the most recent and most reliable data available on the subject, this report does indicate that 86.6% of firms make less than 20% profit; 64.6% makes less than 10% profit; and 19.2% operate at a loss.

Jan 30, 18 3:20 pm

My firm aims for 17% and unlike a lot around here, we're growing because we've been hitting that mark consistently for the past X years. T


Very interesting stats, but I have to say, for anyone aiming for more money at a firm whose excuse is "I'm sorry, but we're operating at a loss, so we can't give you a raise" then it's time to quit. No reason working for losers, and if 1/5 firms are at a loss, we shouldn't help prop their businesses up by working for lower salaries. It only hurts the profession as they continue to try undercutting the market by offering clients unreasonably low fees.


Also, while I really appreciate the AIA survey reports, we also have to remember that people lie on those. Take it or leave it.


Not all of your hours are billed hourly to the client, cutting into that profit. 

Jan 30, 18 3:31 pm

I asked what my utilization target was, and my firm runs 100%.... I was shocked. Now we all know that I'm not going to actually hit a 100% utilization rate... but to even target that suggests that the firm expects any of my time chasing work, handling emails not directly related to a job, continuing education, seminars, developing a professional presence, etc, to all be on my own dime after a standard 40 hr work week.


I believe the three phrases in your OP are completely false

Jan 30, 18 3:47 pm
Non Sequitur


The bottom line is architect’s staff are not getting regular raises or salary increases based on their increased responsibilities, years of service, dedication to projects and talent !!!
There is nothing wrong to be embarrassed about money or asking for more money.
We are a service industry that clients pay for our industry services.
Jan 30, 18 4:44 pm
Non Sequitur

Wrong. You just either work in shitty offices or are a shitty employee. I’ve received steady raises and huge project responsibilities consistently since 2009. Plenty of my colleagues have as well.


I've also received significant bumps, significant or no, I thought the OPs to-the-point question was related to whether or not the gap between staff raises and owner profit sharing is widening. I only have a snapshot on a few companies over the last couple years to compare, so I can't really get to long-term trends over the last two decades.


In 2017 I made 40% more than in 2014. Not including bonuses or overtime pay. 

That's just anecdotal, but maybe your lack of raise is equally atypical. 

Jan 30, 18 7:13 pm

Yep. I make 140% more than I did exactly 5 years ago (Feb 2013). Not exactly typical but if you're not getting raises, it's time to look elsewhere.

Now I feel like I'm not getting my appropriate compensation. I'm only making something like 137% of what I was 5 years ago. I guess there are always winners and losers.

Oops, my bad. I was off by a year. I'm making 206% more today than I was 5 years ago.


Ok, these numbers seem astounding to me.... 40% not so much, but 140%, 206%? Maybe you both could shed some light on your contextual circumstances? Did you take pay cuts during the recession? Have you jumped jobs? Did you get registered and/or receive promotions over the last 5 years? I


jose, I graduated in 2011 and live in a place not much affected by the recession. As for how I've never received less than a 10% raise each year, I think it's fairly simple. I know what the bosses want, and I deliver. I make their jobs as easy as possible, and I'm rewarded for it. I'm basically a "fixer" and I don't whine or complain, even if I disagree with my bosses (which is often). Lastly, no, I didn't take a pay cut so the number of 140% increase over 5 years isn't inflated or misleading. I think I might even be able to make more money if I owned a suit, but then I'd have to wear it. I'm not a suit guy.

When I say I’m making 206% more, I mean today I am making 2.06 times what I was making 5 years ago. That’s (2013 paycheck)*(206% or 206/100 or 2.06)=(2018 paycheck)


Using that math, I'm making 230% more compared to 2013.


Fine, I'll be the one to do it, and maybe that will get you guys to open up. 2013 - Self employed doing more construction than design - approximately $80k, much of which was under the table or and/or sunk costs to buying tools, etc. 2014 - Consulting work for banks at a non-traditional arch/eng firm (Property condition assessment and field report work) - $50k. 2014-2016, periodic $5kish raises to cap at $67k. 2016 - switch jobs to go back to traditional arch work sitting at a desk doing designs (not yet registered) $53k. (big pay cut to get back into the profession so to speak) 2018 after getting registered, making associate, and other incremental raises - mid $60k. I'd have to go back to my 2008 intern rates at a traditional firm - $35k - in order to see these 200+% salary increases. As a registered architect doing project management, I know there are jobs out there I could get closer to the $80k number, but this is the best working environment with wonderful people and the easiest work schedule I've ever seen. Right now I'm a little more family focused than career focused, so I'm happy to forgo the long hours at other firms. Furthermore, to get the 200% of my 2013 income, I would have had to continue expanding my house flipping trajectory and successfully grow it to doing 4-5 homes a year. That would have involved employing a crew of 4-5 guys as well as subbing out many of the particulars and really running a business... not something I was prepared to do at the time.

Early 2013 I was an intern architect working at a medium-sized firm and grossly underpaid. Owner had just turned me down for a raise that he had previously agreed to because they were still digging themselves out of the hole they had dug for themselves during the recession. I quit about 6 months later when I moved to a different city. 

After a few months of looking I found a new job (more specialized than a simple intern architect role) in a large firm with a substantial raise (1.5 times what I was making before ... still probably underpaid). Then, incremental cost of living raises for a couple of years. Due to taking on more responsibility and some other certifications and promotions in title, I was able to negotiate a raise in 2016 (around 20% increase in salary). More cost of living raises, and so I'm at the point now where I'm making 2.06 times what I was in 2013. 

I'm planning on trying to negotiate another raise here soon. Still trying to get a handle on what I think I'm worth to come to a final number to ask for, but I will probably be asking for 20-25% increase.


Interesting, and thanks for sharing. I mentioned the 2017 compensation reports last time I got a raise. I couldn't help but not look as excited as my boss expected me to be, and when asked, I said that I really expected to above $70k. He brought out the report (but didn't show me) and quoted that the mean for our area was $65k. A couple months later they came back to me and increased my time off (2 extra weeks). Since then, I have seen the report, and I have not yet figured out a way to boldly but cordially mention that according to the report I saw, my $70k asking price was the median, and also that I'd argue I'm past Architect I at this point, which was the position he was quoting me prices for. I think some employers imagine that no matter how much experience and titles you've previously had, once you get registered you start over at Architect I. I don't think that's how it works, but *shrug*.

When I negotiated the 20% raise it was using the 2015 compensation report and I used the position descriptions to make my case that I was taking on responsibilities equal to this position and this pay, but on paper it may look like I'm at a lesser position due to the number of years experience. It worked well for me. 

It was also nice being between position descriptions because they couldn't come back to a set number from the report. Interpolating values between the positions and numbers was to my advantage I believe. 

The disclaimer to all that though is that you are not an average or simply a position description. Your individual value may be more or less than the position description and average value in the report would indicate. It should be used as a starting point, not the end point in the negotiation.


I can't remember all the details but early 2013 I started at the same salary I made at my previous job (from which I was fired). Made 10% raise after 6 month review. A year later, a 30% raise. A year later, 10%. Then I took exams and got registered. Wasn't promised any increase but a few months later I got a 17% raise. I wasn't happy with some of the things in the office so I met with the bosses and suggested how the firm could do better. They gave me a 14% raise on the spot. That was last winter. And finally a couple weeks ago, I walked into my bosses' office and literally said "you should pay me more." They said 6%, I said 10%, my boss told me to fuck off, shook my hand in agreement, and we're both happy for the next year or so.


77 -- this report (AIA 2017 Compensation Report_sample chapter) refutes, in a pretty clear manner, the assertions you make in the 1st paragraph of your 4:44 pm post.  See in particular Exhibits 1.1, 1.2 and 1.3.

Jan 30, 18 10:49 pm
You need to look at independent data that clearly states wages are not growing but actually losing ground for the past 30 years.
The competitive large firms look for high production and low wages to pay for upper management profit. This is a fact and the wealth is not distributed equally and this is again a fact. Just like our population wealth distribution, the larger firms are controlling profit and not passing it along the full range of staff. Profit doesn’t equal salary for staff but upper management profit. The independent data shows it quiet accurately . It is happening not only for architects , but technology firms as well
Jan 31, 18 2:32 am

You can't respond to a linked source with a non-link and expect anyone to bother listening to you. Want me to look at "independent data"? Show me some.

Start looking at some of the data analysis from Robert Reich
Jan 31, 18 2:35 am

reich is talking about minimum wage dude, wake up and get to work, if you don't marry a rich woman, you would have to work your ass off to get that ferrari you want so much.

Non Sequitur
77, did you know fluride was behind the grassy knoll during the moon landing filming? Open your eyes man, it’s all connected. All connected except for you singular cherry-picket « facts » which no one here has witness in practice.
Jan 31, 18 7:50 am

Question for all the more experienced and wizened/ jaded architects: 

Obviously we all want to do good work, and personal motivations vary greatly, but how do you overcome the seeming trade-off between firms that pay well and those that do exceptional work? Did you ever leave for more money only to regret it because the quality of the work was worse? Did you ever leave a high paying gig to work somewhere that did better work?

Jan 31, 18 5:43 pm

The grass is always greener.


I once left for an engineering / arch firm that paid pretty well and was a mile away. Hated everything about it. Turned out their bread and butter was roof replacements. They have a new job posting up every 6 mths. Makes me laugh every time


always left for more money, except in 2012, but bounced back quickly - as for your differentiation of firms that pay well or those that do exceptional work, those are very relative terms - I can say I have not seen exceptional work ever, mostly overrated personalities.


I had 5 offers when I graduated, but was only interested in two. The firm I went with offered me $5k more, I liked their architecture more, and they devoted more time to training their interns. The con (not to me, but should be noted) was that they were known for burning people out, especially interns. A decade later, and without purposely seeking them out, I am now working for the other firm. They still pay a little less than most, they still do mediocre work, but their hours, especially related to flex/family time/commitments, are great. I would rather be working for the first firm, to be honest, but it's in a state I'm not located in, and my wife would kill me over the hours required.


I guess what I'm saying, is you make your decisions, but always know why you are where you are, and don't regret it. My plan A (and I'm optimistic) is to reach a position at this firm to start changing things up and creating a higher standard. I'm optimistic because I'm bringing in work (nothing major yet), but it's definitely not a sure thing. Plan B is to take my clients elsewhere or go it alone, but that's a monumental task and is solidly in "pipe dream" phase right now.


at the end of the day I care about being happy with my family, and if crappy work affords that sign me up. at the end of the day most lay people dont know good design from bad design anyways


once had a previous client at a previous employer that did farm construction so we did all their drafting. I learned alot about dry hoppers, wet hopper, grain bins, and the whole set up.

I am sure the people you give wise cracks are making up for their lack of talent , manners, sincerity and the reason our profession is marginalized.
I have fulfilled all my dreams in the profession
And know fullfilling my new creative adventures now !!!!!
Jan 31, 18 11:58 pm
Non Sequitur

nope, no making up here.


wise cracks? the only marginalized I see here is you, good luck with "know fullfilling my new creative adventures now !!!!!"

JLC Please go back to computer and complete your redlines on the computer - I don’t want the boss to know that you are just surfing the web and making ridiculous comments.
Feb 1, 18 11:41 am

go ahead, keep going with the stupid comments, you will get rich!

Archanon - I'd like to think after maybe the 10 year mark the salaries start to even out. I'm not quite there yet and honestly doubt I'll be staying in the field long enough to ever be. The marginal difference in salary between the interesting sort of firms vs the corporate mundane is so minimal in the grander scheme, it almost doesn't seem worth it to do the banal stuff if you plan on staying in the industry long term.

I switched somewhat recently after several years of 'interesting' work with not so great pay, thinking well, I'll being doing someone else's grunt work either way, may as well get a little more cash for it. A few years into the 'mundane' and I can tell you I'm bored out of my mind, but yes I make 5-7% more than had I'd stayed with the more fun work. (This includes the initial move plus consistent yearly increases).

I'm actually ok with the decision, something tells me I was on the verge of being equally bored with the 'fun' work because realistically the only broad strokes design decisions made are done by the 'directors' experts principals etc. not lowly PAs. Now that I basically work on autopilot I am able to focus on outside activities, networking, AREs (something I didn't have time for at design focused firms), and ultimately my transition to another industry that will pay enough for me to take a vacation, start a family, buy a home etc.

It's all about your goals and working at a firm that will help you to accomplish those. I never wanted to be a designer or an 'artiste', just a middle class Joe working with buildings in some capacity. I've been told my designs are great and I definitely enjoy doing it, but to me it was never worth the sacrifice of a decent standard of living. That's more and more true as I approach very adult aforementioned milestones.
Feb 1, 18 12:18 pm

I love this reply, especially the "lowly PAs" comment. It was such a struggle to shed the intern vibe, even after registration, and being solidly in PM mode, but rarely skirting on the PA responsibilities, I definitely feel the "we pay you enough, we've given you responsibilities, have at it" mentality from the principals... that is until they see something they weren't expecting and suddenly I'm back to "I want this 1x material here, and transition to this profile... oh, and the entry sequence is off, I sketched what I think it should be over the weekend, etc, etc ,etc" My general feeling is that the projects I work on are mine unless a principal gets interested in some aspect of the design, then I have to follow their whims until they're satisfied.


Agreed. That's one of the reasons at my current place I've been going after smaller projects (we are a mega firm so the small projects are still damn good work) that tend to fly under the radar. Principals get busy and have tons of other stuff to worry about and as long as the client is happy they don't really care too much about the design. I've been considering a change to a "starchitect" office and the biggest drawback I can see (besides the backbreaking hours and low pay) is that you are once again under the thumb of a senior design principal or the firm namesake.


archa, I've worked in a couple small design-centric boutique firms, and now a medium sized corporate firm, and I'm not sure I'd ever go back. I hate being micromanaged. Plus the hours, pay, and corporate culture are sooooo much better. When the principals are making money, they're happy, and that actually does reflect on things like hours and pay, in my experience.


a recession in the next year or two will set all of this back - be grateful for what you have and enjoy it while you can - because 1/2 of us could end up on unemployment

Feb 1, 18 1:33 pm

That's what this thread was missing - xenakis' never-ending pity party. I can go on with my day now.

Non Sequitur

There is enough construction scheduled in my city to retire twice over. So much that there is already a shortage of labour.


I can't say that I have enough work for two lifetimes, but the next 4 years of my life is already mapped out for me, on large scale projects. Which is comforting.


Same here, ATL, I assume a recession is possible in Trump's second term, and highly likely if democrats get the office, just because the GOP and corporate america will reactively start pulling back, no matter what policy the Dems suggest. That said, I don't see a recession happening for Trump's first term due to our industry; we're still bringing in loads of work that won't even start construction until late 2019, early 2020.

Thanks fir your comments -and understand your choices
I think your game plan is quite normal.
Good luck to you!
Feb 1, 18 3:29 pm

Thanks fir your comments

Feb 2, 18 8:34 am

Bowling Ball

No pity party - its reality, ever since the GOP approved a tax package that is really a 1.5 trillion dollar pay day loan that could undermine the economy

Feb 2, 18 11:51 am

get into high end residential, but not spec houses, custom for real clients; we are seeing tons of new inquiries lately, looks like the next 3-4 years will be hot.

It may be counterintuitive but the tax break for the rich is generally a good thing for architects since our services are primarily purchased by the top end of the income distribution, middle class residential will feel the hit most, commercial and luxury res will be fine or increase. We find ourselves in a paradoxical limbo where we actually do experience trickle down in terms of being employed but (most of us) are faced with out of control living expenses which our salaries, even at their decades high point, will never cover.

While it's always good to be skeptical / have a back up plan for lows in the economy, one can't base every single career move and decision on what *might* happen in the next few months/years. Being that paranoid and risk adverse you'll never find success much less an ounce of happiness in your work or life. (Xenakis). No matter what an architect or economist tells you, it is not possible to accurately predict a recession nor how hard felt it will be across any particular sector. Build yourself a nest egg, diversify your skills, and focus on your long term goals with the assumption that in the long term e.g. your lifespan, economics tends toward an average. Meaning during your career you're likely to be employed far more often than unemployed, as an architect or otherwise.
Feb 2, 18 12:43 pm

Not so fast. The rich people that it benefits are people like Donald Trump who don't pay the people he/she contracts. How do you think people like that get rich and build their income.... by not paying people they owe money to.


@OP: Perhaps looking only at salaries is not enough. Personally, I am equally interested in the purchasing power. In this document from the Bank of Canada, it is mentioned how the Canadian dollar was losing half of its purchasing power every 35 years. Likely there is a similar trend in other developed countries. I am not an economist, but to me, at face value at least, the nominal salary should at least double over the same period of time, simply to keep up the same purchasing power.

There are many other factors; the cost of living comes to mind. In order to get a better picture, a nominal salary increase should be read in conjunction with at least a few more other indicators like these ones.

Feb 2, 18 1:43 pm

Has anyone done one of those intra-office spreadsheets to see how much everyone get's paid and promote wage transparency?

I know recently there have been some low-profile wage adjustments to fix the gender gap around here.

Feb 2, 18 2:10 pm
I have to say tax break for the rich doesn’t help the economy or middle or low income .... it’s been proven wrong by many economists ....Reagan trickle down theory ... was only Helping wealthy
The best incentive for a healthy and sustainable economy is consumption tax - middle class people do not purchase $20,000 handbags at Gucci .... its a luxury so it should be taxed ..... buying groceries to feed a family should be not be taxed heavily.
Feb 2, 18 3:34 pm
Non Sequitur

if only those tax dollars would go to pay for universal healthcare, universal tuition subsidies, higher minimum wages, better social services, etc.... and not just funding military conflicts overseas... then you could actually afford groceries without breaking a sweat.


define "luxury"


Over the past 12 years, I've learned that if you want to increase your value in this industry, you need to do the following:

  • Stay away from residential work.
  • Change jobs when you're in a bad/toxic/dead-end work environment or you've exhausted your growth where you are. Leave with the personal goal of negotiating a substantial salary increase at your next gig.
  • Specialize in something technical that not everyone can do, but is highly sought after (energy modeling, medical planning, curtain wall design, NYC building code, complex renovations, etc.)
  • Get really good at the tasks that nobody likes to do such as writing specs, detailing thermal and moisture barriers, doing code analysis, etc. -OR- Become a great project manager who is indispensable to your clients, and participate in marketing and job pursuits.
  • Treat your consultants and contractors like partners and work with them collaboratively instead of treating them like people you need to babysit, or bossing them around because you're the architect and you're in charge. They can teach you a lot and you will be a better architect for it.
Feb 4, 18 10:03 am

Really excellent advice, I totally agree


^^^ +1000


This should be the featured comment. Sadly the answer is to move away from "design" design (subjective skill) and into project execution (objective skill).



I'm not a robot

good advice. my philosophy has been to do the work no one else wants to do.

Good advice
1-Also I would add - make your plans and follow them ... don’t wait for someone or some form to help you - help yourself !
2- never seek loyalty of a firm because they only are looking at the bottom line - not you as person
Feb 4, 18 1:36 pm

Apple will repatriate 250 billion dollars from overseas and pay 38 billion in taxes. That figure, by itself, will recoup 3.8% of the trillion dollar ten year cost of the tax cut to the Treasury that was forecast absent any tax cut stimulus to the economy.

Not saying the tax cut will or won't work, but it is off to a very promising start.

Feb 4, 18 1:54 pm

under the revamped tax code, apple would have been taxed on their overseas hoard of cash whether they repatriated the $ or not

Feb 4, 18 2:08 pm

^I do not believe that is the case. If that were true it would not have been necessary to give a lower tax rate to encourage the return of funds held offshore - they could have simply taxed it.

Feb 4, 18 3:10 pm

It wouldn't be legal. A country can't tax money earned in another country held in another country *UNLESS* the money at some point in time has been in a U.S. based bank account. This relates to sovereign jurisdiction. Aside from legal issues, it would amount to a shit storm of issues with countries and literally a world war would brew when the chaos unravels any form of decorum.

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