Stability of the profession


Hey all,

I'm a young recent architecture graduate, working as a full-time intern architect at a mid-size corporate firm. My wife and I just got married and are trying to figure out what our future joint financial situation is like. A lot of online financial guides have different levels of advice for whether your career is considered "volatile," or prone to unexpected shortages of income, especially in regards to putting away for retirement.

So… I keep getting mixed messages as to the stability of architecture as a career. I know layoffs were all too common after the 2008 crash, but is that considered “normal” for any given recession or downturn? It looks like we might be headed into another bear market, and I’m just wondering if we should be bracing ourselves for a reduction in income at some point, or if most downturns are less severe than 2008.

On that note, I'm just wondering if a layoff is a routine and common part of an architect's career, or something one hopes to go through only once or twice in a lifetime. Thanks for your help!

Apr 2, 18 3:56 pm

Yes, layoffs are very common, and not just limited to recessions.  Sometimes all it takes is the loss of a major project or two, and then a firm's management is forced to let people go.

I've been laid off twice over the last 20 years.

Apr 2, 18 4:45 pm

Apart from the recession which has a bright and dark side for employment prospects, in the short and long run, the smaller the city or market the more risky it can be, with the exception of collage towns.  collage towns, where money is relatively steady or cushioned by a multi year allocation schedule, a recession is not felt until 12-18 months after the fact in terms of spending on buildings and renovations. 

The risk of being out of work is correlated to your skills and experience, both have to be maintained and must be relevant to the immediate and future needs. Knowing construction is good, knowing software is good, having knowledge of how they interact is best. 

Licensure gives you some flexibility with the option of starting your own practice in times of economic troubles. I did this in the recession to survive and architecture was a second job for a while but experience and getting projects done counts and being able to hustle up clients in a tight market, even if the clients are family or friends, says something about your commitment to the profession. 

If you have an image of yourself doing your dream job and that dream job is to be an architect, then you will find a way to be an architect despite the economic climate or professional stability.  Staying in the profession is not so hard, accepting compromises in lifestyle and family plans that are tied to financial achievement is hard.

Over and OUT

Peter N

Apr 2, 18 5:35 pm

2008 was unusually severe, but recessions happen every ten years or so on average, and the real estate and construction industries get hit harder than most other sectors of the economy.  The reason is that buildings are built on borrowed money (leverage) and when banks and investors get scared, they pull back.  New construction is the first casualty.  You will experience bouts of unemployment and/or underemployment if you stay in the profession.  And, saving for retirement will be very problematic because just about the time you start building up a little nest egg, a recession comes along and you have to eat into your savings to keep food on the table.  If any kind of economic security is your goal, you are in the wrong profession.

Apr 2, 18 5:36 pm

Architects don't retire. They die before hand.


^^^^^^^^^----  F---ing Hell.... Sheesh!!  ---^^^^^^^^


And some retire before they ever become architect...


Architecture isn't a profession of retirement. It's a way of life. You're married to it unless you divorce. The difference is this wife takes half of what you got upfront before divorce.


How can you retire if you haven't even started?


randomised, I'm talking about architecture broadly and the term architect in a broader traditional definition not the contemporary statutory definition.


There is no broader traditional definition of the term architect, you either are or you aren't.


While it is in the mythical tradition of the architect to work until one drops dead at the drafting table, what about the many for whom that becomes difficult or impossible? One in six people will have a long-term disability in their lifetime. Some people with some conditions/illnesses/injuries/disabilities will still be able to continue working with little to no change to the hours they can put in or the type of work they can do, physically or cognitively or both - but many others will be forced to cut back on their work or their role in it, and some will need to discontinue it at some point.

This is something I've been thinking about a lot since I was diagnosed with a chronic condition recently - something that is currently limiting my stamina and thus decreasing my hours, and in the long run has a significant likelihood of progressing to more serious limitations that will bring into question whether I will be able to continue working to a typical retirement age and beyond.

It's not wise to dismiss retirement planning and saving on the basis that you will work forever. Even if that's what you want, for many it isn't possible, and you cannot predict whether you'll be one of that group.


If you want retirement nest egg and plan for retirement, you wouldn't be an architect or work in a business model of a professional-client model. You'd work in a seller-customer business model selling a product. People want tangible products more than they want intangible services.

That is the world we live in.


Umm... well I am an architect, and luckily I've been saving steadily since the beginning of my career, and have been pretty steadily employed for 30 years, with just a few blips along the path - so I don't have quite the amount my financial planner would like, but not so far off. But Richard you're kind of sidestepping my point: I understand  that you plan to work until you die, and you think it's impossible to save while working in architecture. So what happens if you stay in this profession, continue to not save anything, and then one day you develop an illness, like I did, or what if you are in an accident and you can't work? It's not a remote possibility - close to 20% of adults will develop a long-term disability.

I understand that you personally live with parents and can probably expect not to have to function as an adult for another 20 years or so - but then what? How will you pay your property taxes if one day you can't work anymore? I don't know about you, but I certainly wouldn't want to be counting on just social security/disability with no nest egg of my own. I've worked on enough subsidized elderly housing and it sure is a cautionary tale that will make you up your 401k contributions!


Unless the illness or injury is going to completely cripple you to the point where you can't even use a computer, then I suppose that could be a problem... a big one at that. There's a cheap and inexpensive solution to that problem if that occurred. However, there are career fields that can generate a hell of a lot more money for the hours spent. When I say, generate, I'm talking about net profits that goes into the business.... that ultimately goes into your pocket because you are the business owner or co-owner. I do have the software field that I still work in. I just don't see how on Earth can anyone really save up money in residential design for retirement whether it be a 401K contribution or a savings account. There is only a relatively few illnesses that can completely disable a person from any kind of work. You might have to do something else or different kinds of tasks. I don't know what kind of illness you have and I'm not asking you to disclose it. There is stuff I'm also working on that isn't generally talked out here that is in the software side. Lets just say that if implemented right, can be quite an nest egg.


Balkins you spend a lot of time complaining about this profession, for someone who is so peripherally related to it and who has done so few real projects. It begs the question: why don't you just pick a better, more stable, more lucrative imaginary career? How about pharmacist? That's a profession with high starting salaries, demand is increasing, employment is a near guarantee. Don't pharmacists have websites you can haunt?


It is not mythical if one is the owner of the firm, and it is also not impossible because architecture is not hard labour that wears your body out, it just makes you bitter before you reach sweet old age ;)


Such doom and gloom.  The OP said he's married, so problem solved, right?!  After graduating with a PhD, my Civil Eng wife has consistently outperformed me salary wise and hasn't even considered jumping into private sector.  Govt civil engineering jobs is the definition of stable.  All her work colleagues are as old as the dirt they're working with.

Apr 3, 18 6:00 pm

The instability of the profession is very stable.

Apr 4, 18 2:58 am

As stable as a two-legged stool.

Apr 4, 18 6:42 pm

To be fair, I know architects who work in government and facility management-type positions at universities and hospitals that have very stable career experiences, and retirement plans with all the trimmings.  The trade-off is that the work they do is mostly un-creative.  There are also special kinds of politics present in organizations where all of the employees plan to be there for life.

Apr 4, 18 8:05 pm

The best insurance to avoid getting laid off is simply to be the best - the mediocre, average and dumb are the ones that get laid off - people who cut out early

Apr 4, 18 9:30 pm

But even that doesn't save you if the market completely craters and the firm is flat out of work and headed for Chapter 11.


Best insurance is to be self employed or at least have a good side gig. You have to lose a lot of clients to completely get shut out of business, but only one employer.


I started out at a big office in 07', in 08. 1/2 of us were gone - same with many others - most of my co-workers that got layed off left the field

Apr 5, 18 11:59 am

"Stability of the profession"


Apr 5, 18 12:46 pm



Apr 5, 18 2:00 pm






Look at the bright side - you could be a programmer for Linkedin, Google, Face, whatever, and be making $150K and paying 3500/month rent in mountain view or SF. % years later, you are replaced by someone fresh out of school and you get laid off, and no one will hire you are obsolete, then what?

 at least in architecture experience counts or rather progressive experience helps

Apr 5, 18 2:21 pm

Don't be an employee in the tech field. Be the business owner. Leave programming (shitty grunt work) to the kids.... you manage and supervise them and tell them what to do and get the million dollar a year income off their sweat shop labor of working 80-100 hours a week. You get to go home at 5pm or come and go at your leisure aside from some meeting appointments and all.


Bright side, you can live outside the more expensive land and commute so you can keep more of the money in your pocket. There is just an inflated costs bubble in the immediate area but get outside that bubble, the costs goes down drastically. Yet, you make the big bucks and keep more of it while they get their money sucked away like a vacuum. Time to be a Scrooge!


Another recession now?

Apr 5, 18 2:21 pm

Thanks for the information everyone. Sounds like a cheery outlook, haha! We'll definitely put away what we can for retirement, but it looks like we'll be keeping a lot of savings accessible in case things go south.

@Xenakis, if you don't mind my asking... what kind of other fields did the former architects get into once they left? I've heard that from people in my own firm as well.

Apr 5, 18 2:32 pm

First off, when it comes to tech jobs such as in the software development field, the key is to move into director/management level. The key is not be the programmer unless you own the business. Programming knowledge will be useful. "Programmer" basically equals "Intern". It's a starter position. The key is to move into management or otherwise form a start-up with something innovative or otherwise worthy enough that you can get a crowdfunded campaign as seed capital to get more capital. Opportunities for architects with project management (PMI) that brushes up on not just the PMBOK but SWEBOK (IEEE) will help you but also brushing up on computer science and programming and having a good idea about how much time tasks takes in software work and build up your understanding of the vocabulary will help but you need to transition into it not simply jump into it.


Xenakis may have a smoother transition than most architects but it really depends on what your background. The biggest part is learning how much time tasks actually take so you can time it and estimate time so you can build a schedule with float. Consulting the staff will help but you need to know from experience and the more projects you work on in software, the better you can predict and schedule tasks. The timing is different. The assortment of tasks are different. Different from what you may be accustom to but if you have practical experience in multiple software projects, you could predict but once you do something new to you, it's guessing and you can ask senior experienced technical staff how much time they think it will take and build in some float time.

@Hyperion, check out this series of Archinect features, for some other examples.



Well, One became a Chef, another went to selling coffee beans, furniture design, web site development, drafting, many moved back to China(H1-B expired) - I myself after a year out of work, worked on Chinese skyscraper projects

Apr 5, 18 2:47 pm

web site development is different than software development but some of the principles do overlap. They are related and have similarities but also different.

Software & Web development do have a similar development process. A lot of traditional lines of differences have blurred over the years since the introduction of the web. 


I have been working as an Architect for 20 years. I have seen many downturns and layoffs. I only got laid off once when I was still a student at a part time job at an architectural firm while I was in college, and that firm ended up closing its doors shortly afterwards. The firm's usually start off with 1-5 and then move up from there in waves of more as required. Definitely put a paycheck or two in savings for preparation for this. My 401K has been able to grow over the years and I think of the profession as stable. I work hard, am accountable for my work, am self-guided and since I produce a lot I think that is the reason I have not been laid off (other than that student experience). But never say never. I guess do your work, work hard and think always about value you add to the firm. Be flexible if you must, like getting new credentials (I have continued my learning throughout my career). Demonstrate willingness to try new things and a positive attitude. Especially don't let ego take over (not that you would). Keep your debts in check too so that you don't get hit with a situation you can't get out of financially.

Aug 12, 19 4:05 pm
atelier nobody

In a 20+ year career, I have only been laid off twice and had one temporary pay cut. The longest I was involuntarily unemployed was 3 weeks. Interestingly, neither of my lay-offs coincided with recessions.

If you're a valuable employee, they'll try their best to keep you, even while laying off others.

Aug 12, 19 5:12 pm
Chad Miller

I've been laid off three times in 17 years.  The longest was 2010 where I was doing intermittent freelance or contract work for 2 1/2 years.  The shortest was 1 week.     

Aug 12, 19 7:18 pm

The big hits seem to happen less frequently, but with all the leveraging in the economy, dips here and there are bound to keep happen every decade or so.  Local policies and economies are different, so there's that too.  Like any financial planner will tell you, best to be prepared and nimble financially (don't over extend, have a nest egg, and save enough to cover a few months expenses at the very least).

Professionally, work hard to have a good reputation for the work & being a good colleague (team player, etc).  Always network and be open to opportunities so if something goes terribly wrong, there are good options out there to jump onto.  Keep an eye and ear out for how you can become more valuable to your employers to be one of the last ones out.  Some of it is playing politics, but a lot of it is taking on more responsibilities responsibly (there are so many over ambitious types who embarrass their firms out there).  Part of the value building is being aware of how the skill sets might translate into another field in case a big recession hits.

Some examples from my colleagues who left the profession: baking, game design, photography, user experience design, marketing, construction.

Aug 16, 19 12:24 pm

Two things to protect yourself, your career and livelihood.  A) Make yourself critical to your office.... meaning develop skills or talents that the office can't live without and take on the stuff other don't want to do, bring in clients and / or start your own firm and don't look to rely on your boss(es) to get the work.  Architects are notorious for being poor managers, we just want to draw pretty pictures. But the guy in the back room who knows how to detail and assemble a building is the real keeper in the office.  B) Follow the money.  As several have noted above the economy fluctuates and when that happens look to see where the money or investment goes during recessions or when the market is flush.  Typically the public sector has lots of money during a recession as governments look to jump start the economy, but the private sector is flat broke.  Work with firms who recognize the dynamic or switch to offices that have a healthy mixture of public and private sector work.  I am sure you can look at any firm who has been successful over a long period of time and you will see that their portfolio has a healthy mix of work.  It doesn't mean they have to be doing healthcare work all the time but some small mixture of government funded projects to balance the typical developer spec projects.  Diversity of project income streams is what I call it and even though we are a small office we have a very broad and diverse income streams from; the private sector, institutional, first nations and corporate clients.  I have never not been busy in 25 years of business including the 2007-2010 recession period.

Aug 16, 19 1:28 pm

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