Difference in pay - arch firms vs design-built companies


I'm not very experienced yet (2 years in professional office) and trying to figure out how exactly this industry works, so I have a question to fellow architects here.

As my performance review is coming up, I started exploring other options and wanted to send couple of resumes here and there to test waters.

I work in small office in larger midwest city, we do mostly high-end residential projects, or just residential. As I was looking for job offers, I noticed that for positions like mine (unlicensed architectural associate/designer/drafter/you name it) suburban design-built firms are willing to pay more... Is this a thing, or I'm looking at it wrong? My market value according to glassdoor is around 46k$, I'm getting paid 45k$ currently and have a performance review in 2 months, where I'm expecting salary raise, but obviously nothing big, probably another 2-5k. I've seen offers from design-built firms that were ready to pay 50-60k$ for position like mine, while offers in the city has always significantly lower pay. Can someone explain me the difference between pay (and maybe character of work too) in city architecture firm vs suburban design-built company?


Nov 5, 19 11:06 am

Look up *Design-Build* on the internet and you'll find more than you need to know.

Nov 5, 19 11:18 am

Don’t trust Glassdoor. The figures on there are outdated and consistently lower than market rate (at least in New England).

What region in Midwest? I don’t have the city by city breakout, but the AIA salary calculator, which is also outdated, suggests you’re slightly underpaid unless your total comp (bonus, profit sharing etc) is generous. 

Nov 5, 19 11:21 am

Archlandia - I already tried and now wanted to get some first-hand feedback.

Athensarch - Chicago. I'm aware that I'm underpaid and wanted to bring it up on upcoming review, however every time I see an offer in a city with pay info... I'm not impressed.

Nov 5, 19 11:33 am

As a young designer 2-3 years experience in a reputable firm in Chicago... you should be making $55k at the minimum and not afraid to ask for that... or more.


I don't believe you, but whatever. If you want to know what you should be getting paid this is a great starting point

Chad Miller

Well the link you referenced shows an average salary for an intern level 1 at $59.5k for the OP's area.


Chad correct. 'tis the OP I don't believe, not the architecture anonymity individual.

Chad Miller

OK, but why would the OP lie about a low salary? Seriously, what benefit am I missing?


You're over-thinking this: They don't know what design-build is > I suggested they do some actual research > they said they already did > I don't believe that they did based on their response. Fin.


Yeah, why the fuck would I lie about it? I wish it was a lie and in fact I was making 60k. Also, I spoke with my architects (or former architects) friends and they were either making similar money, or slightly more... I was comparing my earnings with Archinect salary pool as well (doesn't work now, don't know why) and I was between mid and low echelon, closer to mid. I have also foreign degree and that might be a factor, when I got this job I was in US for barely 2 years. 60-70k are making here people with 5-10 years of experience from what I know from people - not internet

Chad Miller

Archlandia, ah now I get it. You're just bad a words.


I feel like I'm taking crazy pills

Archlandia, you're not. I followed you the whole way through just fine.


Design-Build firms often pay more than traditional architecture firms. This is mostly because their business model is more like a General Contractor's than an Architect.... and construction pays better than design/engineering... 

I am a licensed Architect working in a preconstruction role for a large general contractor in an urban market. I have 15 years of experience (combination of traditional architecture practice and general contractor) and make significantly more than my peers who have stayed in more traditional architectural practices. 

The major difference between architecture firms and general contractors as it pertains to business model and ability to make an actual profit is:
a. GCs have assets (for the bonding company) 
b. generally operate with much higher % profit than A/E firms
c. annual revenue for GCs is typically much higher than A/E Firms

Working for a GC isn't for everyone... but you typically get better pay... 

Nov 5, 19 2:38 pm

What role do you have? Precon manager? I’d love to pick your brain. I’m 8yrs out of school, 3 in CM.


Yeah... precon manager.. design manager... depends on the day of the week and the job!!


Thanks betonbrut. That was helpful and those are the kind of responses that are hard to find on Google


betonbrut, can you elaborate on "Working for a GC isn't for everyone"?

Nov 5, 19 2:47 pm

job trailers vs. offices... sanicans vs. running water... focused on building the job vs. designing it... it goes on and on... Ask yourself what you like about working in an architectural office and then visit a job site and ask the same questions...

Chad Miller

Don't forget that job site = weather.


Subject to inclement weather like god is pissing on you with cold piss that is like it is coming from a fire-hose or you get ice balls falling on your head making for a very uncomfortable day. Yeah.... job site where you might have some contractor or crew cursing that makes a sailor seem like a choir boy or girl. Yeah, it's not always for everyone.

There is just some of us who just don't give a f--- about that stuff.


good luck getting a year end bonus from an architectural firm.

Nov 6, 19 4:40 pm
Non Sequitur

we do... as do most of my other colleagues.

atelier nobody

Firms I've worked at have been about 50/50 on bonuses.


I do as well, but it was never a thing when I worked for others nor was it common with my associates and other colleagues.

Nov 6, 19 5:06 pm


Nov 7, 19 5:11 pm

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