Appropriate Salary?

gentle puppies

Ok, I've been approached by my previous employer about taking on a permanent position with their firm in Toronto after I get my M.Arch this summer.  I've worked there for 8 months after getting my bachelor degree, for a total of 3 years work experience (including co-op).  My hourly wage with previous firms started at $16/hr, then $17, $18, now $20/hr.

So far we haven't discussed salary figures, but they said their new M.Arch graduates start at $45K.  That seems very low to me, as it works out to only $22.50 an hour (and that's assuming 40-hour weeks, which don't exist in architecture).  Bonuses were vaguely mentioned, but I have no idea what the typical figures are.

I'll be happy with $25 an hour, but suppose I work 48-hour weeks on average, I should be expecting closer to $60K annually, no?

Jan 29, 12 6:32 pm
gentle puppies

Also, I rarely work overtime in the past since I was paid hourly.  So I also have no idea how many hours a graduate architect should expect to work per week.  The consensus is "a lot", but it'll be nice to have some typical numbers that I can multiply by my desired hourly wage to negotiate an appropriate annual salary.

Jan 29, 12 6:45 pm

$45K USD would be pretty standard from what I have gathered.

Jan 29, 12 7:26 pm
gentle puppies

I'd be ok with $45k if I a) haven't had 3 years experience, b) wasn't already paid $20/hr before starting my M.Arch, c)  was working in recession-plagued USA rather than booming Toronto, and d) at a small office rather than a major firm.

I know $60K is unrealistic, but is it unreasonable to expect between $50-55k for someone in my situation?

Jan 30, 12 12:05 am

Oh, I overlooked the 3yrs of experience part. That does sound kind of low now...

Jan 30, 12 2:35 am

Any Canadian architect who can help gentle puppies?

I once tried to get a job in Toronto (oh boy, 13 years ago), but I was surprised how low they would like to offer. Don't they pay more taxes, too?

I am not sure whether you can include your co-op time to your years of experience or not... (no sarcasm here, I just don't know). but what I do know is that you can't tell them, "I know everyone is getting paid $ XX, but since I work 20% more, I want to get $ XX times 1.2." I know we should, but they just don't play that way. You'll just have to hope that they acknowledge your effort at the end of the year and pay you a good bonus.

Well, if I were you, I would not go lower than $55k, considering the fact that the cost of living in Toronto (awesome city)  and what not.  Good luck.

Jan 30, 12 7:31 am

Salaries for Architecture grads are pretty damn low in Toronto. They have stagnated for well over a decade now. Range for those with around 10 years of experience is between low $50k's and low $70k's (low $60k being the median). Registration or not be damned. Most of the architects I know well here are in their early to late 30's. 

Primary reason for this is cutthroat competition and extremely low fees. Especially in the shitty condo market. There are companies that pay more, but they tend to be corporate. If I knew which company you were talking about, I could give you a much better breakdown of what to expect.

US companies generally tend to pay more (at least in major cities; Toronto is just as expensive as NYC or SF in my opinion), but there is a very slight difference that you should consider taking advantage of:

In US you get 2 weeks of vacation and 5 sick days (typ. in case of a young grad ). Doesn't matter how much (or little) overtime you do. In Toronto most 'cool' firms will let you bank your overtime hours. This is huge! Work your ass off? Take the month of August off. And still get paid. This is a very good 'quality of life' compromise. It may not seem like a big deal to you right now, but it's a really nice perk as you grow older. Ask your firm what their exact policy on overtime is.

ps. It sounds to me like we went to the same Architecture school.

Jan 30, 12 8:25 am

US companies generally tend to pay more (at least in major cities; Toronto is just as expensive as NYC or SF in my opinion), but there is a very slight difference that you should consider taking advantage of:


Really? I have an M.Arch with 3 years of design experience with Revit and get $20/hr(1099) in San Francisco - at least I am working - 

Jan 30, 12 12:08 pm

co-op experience doesn't count.... you shouldn't factor that into salary negotiations. the only work experience that matters is the kind where your title was 'architectural designer' etc.

Jan 30, 12 1:46 pm

I'm here to debunk myths and maybe reinforce others.

Big corporate firms do not pay more than smaller ones, esp. in this economy and with this competition.

45k is laughable but it is also what places like SOM SF offer M.Arch graduates from the GSD. 

Friends in NY, SF, and Hong Kong with Masters degrees and three years of professional experience have been offered 45-58k (Doesn't seem sustainable to me.)

If you live in a major city where the cost of living is increasing every year, you need to be able to survive.  If more graduates would demand better salary and benefits, then we'd all be in a better place.

While looking for a job post M.Arch, I was told by one firm that they could not afford me. They literally said, "someone else will take the job for less money."  

Shortly after, I found a job (with 4 years of experience, including some part-time weird internship shit) at a midsized firm in SF for 62K...with Bonuses.   A year later, I am making 10% more.


I have some tips to help your marketability.

1. Do not take $45k and stop talking about hourly rates.  Hourly rates are for interns.

2. Overtime is not the issue here.  

3.  Don't forget that negotiation is part of a healthy relationship - Many people often feel too intimidated to do this...I hope canadians are better at it than Americans.  Remember to consider what concessions each side can contributes - 'Not Rusty' said it well.

4. Get a contract or temp job to beef up your skills and you can return to the real market with more to offer and more to leverage.  Prove that you have more than the M.Arch that everyone else has.  Bring some specialty.

5. Something that is often overlooked is whether or not an M.Arch has been studying architecture (or practicing) before the M.Arch.  There is often a huge range in skills and understanding between people who have "done" architecture for the past 3 years vs. the past 6-7.  Similarly, I think there is a lot to be said for people who have gone through graduate school vs. those who have not.  Don't sell yourself short - make sure all skills and abilities are represented when you present yourself.  

Jan 30, 12 3:48 pm

I was making 45k at SOM-SF in 2007 - now I work as a 1099 at small offices- I believe I am at least worth $45K - or so I claim

It's not like I am making 120K as a programmer for Zynga or Linkedin ya know - these are the people who drive up the cost of living in San Francisco and I have massive debt from long term unemployment(15months of it) - It's my responsibility to learn negotiating skills an not be pushed around.

Jan 30, 12 4:17 pm

the appropriate salary or wage as the case may be is what you are getting - we all get what we negotiate or don't negotiate and this becomes what we deserve -  



Jan 31, 12 2:26 am
gentle puppies

Thanks everyone for the tips.

"Friends in NY, SF, and Hong Kong with Masters degrees and three years of professional experience have been offered 45-58k (Doesn't seem sustainable to me.)"

That's a huge range.  What do u mean by not sustainable?

"1. Do not take $45k and stop talking about hourly rates.  Hourly rates are for interns."
2. Overtime is not the issue here. "

I think I'll tell them "at least 50k" and hope for a big bonus.  I was planning to mention that 45k would likely end up equal or less than my hourly pay with them prior to getting M.Arch... is that kosher to say?

Jan 31, 12 5:39 am

only if you can substantiate it - how is your skillset? do you know Revit 2012? - is your portfolio competitive with the best out there? those are the questions I ask myself before I even consider applying because the interviewers will and do. 50K? if you can substantiate it. Are you a good cultural fit? 

Jan 31, 12 12:32 pm

Meaning you can't save any moolah.  You'll be living pay-check-to-paycheck like most architects.

Jan 31, 12 1:37 pm

How do construction management skills/experience translate in the architecture industry?

I work more on the business and project development end for a large design build contractor, but from time to time, I work as a project manager for actual construction projects. 

Ive always wanted to do my M.arch in hopes of running my own design build. What kinda of pay and position would someone like me, with 4 years of experience in urban planning, business and construction management, expect to after completing a M.arch.  Also thinking about the M.arch + MBA

Jan 31, 12 9:07 pm

Toronto is in the middle of a construction boom.  is it really fair to compare this to the US, which is in a recession?  I don't think so, though it may be true that entry-level salaries are comparable between the two countries because of cost of living differences, etc...

Jan 31, 12 10:32 pm
pale shelter

The Midwest (Chicago, DSM, KC, MSP, etc) is experiencing multi-family housing booms right now. The recession was over a year ago. As soon as you recognize it, it's over. We will be building like crazy for 2-3 more years until we reach this bubble. Currently my downtown is at 1% vacancy in rental. We'll reach record numbers of new units this year or next. ((We are already attending lectures on how to leverage ourselves for this bust cycle come 2014))

Regarding salary.. we're all down 15% from 2008-2009.  So for someone with 3 years experience, expect 42-48k. Perhaps $52k if your licensed. I'm expecting a mild increase in pay over the next 2-3 years, followed by another yet milder building recession. Cheers to that happening again. In other words, salaries in architecture will not see the better wages we saw pre-2008 for a while.

Feb 1, 12 1:20 am

Pale; Am I reading it right, "housing boom?" "Bust cycle in 2014?" really? Boston is going thru rental residential boom now, because so many people are either foreclosed out or afraid of buying anything... so I call it a side-effect of the recession, rather than "housing boom." Gosh, I thought the Midwest got hit pretty hard in the recession.

The current arch market is weird; some firms are still laying off, while others are hiring like crazy. Yeah, just like someone said earlier (maybe in different thread) that all firms are looking for people with 5-10 years of experience, so I don't know where the fresh out of school kids can get any experience.

Anyway, some kids in the firm that I work here with about 3 years of exp. is getting about $50k, but it's Boston (higher cost of living).

Feb 1, 12 7:23 am
pale shelter

fulcrum: my mistake i should clarify: yes, RENTAL <multi-family> housing. As I said, rental vacancy is around 1% here - and typically we build even at 5% so quite a bit of work happening and in the pipeline. We've been hiring quite a bit lately and I've noticed our AIA page is quite active as well with other larger(non-housing type offices - atleast the most I've seen since 2009.

Feb 1, 12 9:50 am
Token AE

1. Do not take $45k and stop talking about hourly rates.  Hourly rates are for interns.


This type of comment is exactly what leads others to be taken advantage of. You should be paid for the work that you put in. Period. 

If you are being billed to the client at an hourly rate, a portion of that rate is being earmarked for your pay. There other portions in your hourly rate earmarked for benefits, overhead employees, and the instances when you are working on something productive that is not client-billable.

If you are billable above a certain % but are being paid a flat salary, I can almost guarantee that the portion of your billable rate that was earmarked for your pay will get cut off after a point and go towards padding some partner's wallet.

If you are working on flat fee projects, this obviously changes things- a salary with bonus potential is much more understandable here.

I am fortunate enough to be hourly all the time, and it sickens me when people settle for salary when they are being billed out for every hour they put in. 

Feb 1, 12 12:03 pm

Token; so are you saying that we should always ask to be paid hourly?  I wonder the percentage of firms that pay all their employees in hourly basis out there.

Feb 1, 12 12:35 pm
Token AE

It depends on the project.

If you are being billed hourly, you should be paid hourly- you shouldn't necessarily get an increased overtime rate for hours worked in excess of 40 per week (it's nice if you do, though) but you should be paid for every hour you put in to productive work on a project. Diddling around on archinect doesn't count as time at work in this case.

If your firm is working on a project for a fixed fee, a salary is more defensible in this scenario. If your proposal writer (principal or PM in most cases) is particularly skilled in estimating total work time required, you may still be able to work in an hourly rate. Any savings between the fee and what you actually spent could be shared at bonus time.

The way it works now in many firms is that you are being billed out in the following fashion:

Your client is being charged $100/ hr for your services, for example. Of that $100/ coming in, it's broken down something like this:

$25/hr will go towards your pay
$30/hr will go towards overhead. Admin assistant salary, printing, time writing proposals, competition prep, office rent, etc.
$15/hr will go towards paying for benefits
$5/hr will go towards training costs
$10/hr will go towards your year end bonus, if you are lucky
$7-15/hr will go towards the firm profit

If you are being paid a flat salary, it doesn't make a difference in your pay whether or not you work the standard 2080 hours per year at 40hrs/ week or are pushing 2750+ hrs. You're getting paid the same.

If those extra 670 hours are being billed out the client, are of no cost to your firm, and you are still on salary: someone is pocketing $16,750 ($25/hr * 670 extra hrs) off of the work that you put in. Get my drift?

A partner/ principal in the firm may make the argument that they work for a flat salary, so you should too. Here's the rub: they get a share in the firms profits, while you don't.

I'm fortunate enough to work in an environment where the books are totally open to all employees at all times- it's been eye opening as to what some other firms do. I'm hoping to raise awareness about how things actually work in posts like these because, quite frankly, not many architects paid attention to these details in their professional practice courses. It's a major part of why young architects are getting absolutely fleeced upon entering the workforce.

To bring everything full circle: when someone tells you not to worry about hourly rates, you should immediately question their motives.

Feb 1, 12 2:22 pm
Token AE

I can't edit that post anymore, but I wanted to clarify the following:

If you are being paid a flat salary, it doesn't make a difference in your pay whether or not you work the standard 2080 hours per year at 40hrs/ week or are pushing 2750+ hrs. You're getting paid the same while generating significantly more income for the firm.

Feb 1, 12 2:30 pm

token - what's your experience (at your firm) as to the % of work being billed hourly vs. flat fee (which a % of construction would be)?


we don't see very much truly hourly work - maybe 5% of what we do each year? I have to offer salaries from that perspective. we don't abuse the hours though - 48 out of the 50 weeks each year are the typical 40. 


reason for bringing that up is that your numbers seem very plausible and if someone were being billed out hourly, say 90% of the time, it might change the equation some. i just don't think that many firms primarily do hourly work (unless it's hourly not to exceed, which is a flat rate for all practical purposes). 

Feb 1, 12 2:54 pm
Token AE


My target utilization rate for 2012 is set at 94% billable. I work in a well-known A/E consulting firm and dabble on both the architecture and engineering sides- hence my moniker. My projects range from very quick turnaround redesigns (~1-2 weeks) to long-term projects (4+ years). As you can imagine, our projects aren't always of the OMA variety.

As to what the overall percentage of billable hours vs. flat fee- it depends on the client. We pretty much know exactly how long it is going to take us to do something, so even if it is a flat fee we can still maintain our hourly structure.

The numbers that I provided are back of the envelope and 'close-ish' for our entry-level employees. As employee skills improve and they become more... useful, their pay percentage will increase slightly relative to the other categories since they will simultaneously command a higher billable rate and cost less in overhead.


Feb 1, 12 3:07 pm
Token AE

I was just rereading your question-

If you are asking what the percentage of direct billable vs. flat fee out of our entire ongoing project pool is, I am not sure. It probably isn't a secret if I wanted to know, but setting and maintaining those targets are issues that are mainly dealt with at the very senior/ managing principal levels. Whether or not those targets could be disclosed outside of the company is another story.

It sounds like you run a pretty clean ship with employee workloads on flat fee projects. A lot of rank-and-file aren't quite as fortunate in other firms, sadly.

Feb 1, 12 5:17 pm
w. architect

With your qualifications and an Architect license behind your name, you should be making at least $175k, driving an exotically fast car and have a sexy model on your arm.

Feb 1, 12 7:36 pm

what the heck, pale shelter?  I live in Chicago and there is definitely not a boom of any kind going on here.  No one I know has been re-hired, no construction visible, my contractor friends are still unemployed and getting by on the occasional small rehab.  Where are you located?

Feb 1, 12 11:49 pm

Token A/E -  You took specific advice to gentle puppies a bit out of context.  Your point about getting paid at a rate more closely aligned with billable rates is an excellent point of negotiation, probably most appropriate in a performance review setting that prospective employees should also bring to the table at the interview stage.  It's productive to let the firm know that you are interested/dedicated to professional growth at the onset. seem to be more the minority than the majority when it comes to running a tight ship at an architecture firm.  Half the people I work with would end up making half their current salaries or less if they were paid hourly - productivity is never running 100%.  Similar to G. Walker.


Someone - I can't imagine 50K being livable in Boston.  Do these "kids" still live with their parents?


Gentle Puppies -

"If your grammar and the way you speak already assumes that you got what you want, you may end up w/it quicker than if you go into it being reticent and hesitant about it" - Sam DeFranceschi (NY Real Estate Agent on Negotiation)





Feb 2, 12 9:42 am
gentle puppies

An M2 student suggested that I ask for $55K even if I know I won't get it, and then settle for $50K.  $55K is very different from $45K... and I wouldn't want to sound unreasonable...

I've been randomly applying to other firms just to test the waters, to see how much I'm worth...

Feb 3, 12 11:38 pm
gentle puppies

I'm thinking of asking some of my previous employers what they would hypothetically pay someone in my position and experience, just to have some numbers to work with... is that a good idea or no?

Feb 8, 12 1:02 pm
gentle puppies

An update.. I got offers from 2 of my "test" firms, and they are offering only $40K.  Yikes, that can't be the norm.

Feb 15, 12 11:42 pm

Oh but it is- for me .

Feb 16, 12 12:32 am

So here's another question to add onto this discussion...I have approximately 3.5 years of experience on top of my master's degree. After 4.5 months of unemployment I got a job doing some freelance drafting. I have been working full-time 40-45 hours/week since I started (as well as a few side projects on the side for other firms). The company I am at bills all of their clients at $XX/hr regardless of the owners, mid level or peons working on the project. Knowing what that billable rate is to their clients, as a freelancer, what % of that billable rate should I be asking for?

I like the post above that had broken down of $X per insurance, $X for proposal writing, marketing, etc etc...but as a freelance, I am not getting the benefits that the salary people are; so should my % of that billable rate be higher than the salaried people, since i buy my own health insurance, retirement, savings, "bonuses" (as if they existed in freelance)?


Feb 16, 12 11:55 am

For a comparison, here in Calgary, the norm is 45-55k tops. I know Design Dialog here starts interns at 50k, Another local firm will start interns at 43k. I have friends who fit in-between that range. For another comparison, architectural techs in Calgary get an average of 40k, so if you are getting offered that as an intern that is a bit of a slap in the face I'd say.

Feb 16, 12 5:20 pm

a BIM modeler/architectural tech in San Francisco @ $40K with 3 years exp. and M.arch? is that all I am worth? maybe

Feb 16, 12 6:13 pm

I had to join to comment.

I live in Toronto and work for a corporate firm - 4 years post grad experience with an M.arch. I did an architecture undergrad with co-ops (like you?). I earn a little over 60k plus bonus and overtime pay at time and a half after 44 hours. My friend who works at a boutique design firm earns 45k. We both get insurance coverage through our employers. Hope that helps. 

Feb 17, 12 1:05 pm


If you don't mind my asking - what are your duties and accomplishments

It seems like those of us on the architech rather than architect track earn less - just trying to figure what I and others need to do to rate more pay.

Feb 17, 12 1:46 pm

Well, nothing special....I did a bunch of co-ops before I graduated, then started working earning in the high 40s. I asked for raises each year after that. I work in a project architect role on smaller projects and as part of a team on larger jobs. I just try to take on more responsibility with every project to make myself more valuable, but I'm not exceptional at all!

Feb 17, 12 4:36 pm
pale shelter

How does everyone's pay compare to the AIA 2011 compensation report? Is this a good measure? Shouldn't it be / isn't it factual? Because I've used it in compensation reviews and well, the "current, tough economic times" has, I believe, created an excuse for employers to continue to pay poorly.


I also have around the 4-5 years experience - freshly licensed: but I don't know anyone making the numbers the report is showing: Architect 1 earning around $58 on average?! I'm not seeing anywhere near that. And all of my fellow, similar work experience colleagues are  "Designer Staff 2" and are NOT earning between 55-65k ! We are all 25% less than that. What are 5-year freshly licensed Architects getting in Chicago? ; say after they jump firms (which I'm thinking is the only way to gain substantial pay increases)... ??

Feb 19, 12 9:45 pm
pale shelter

Haha - look at how Wikipedia reports on Architect salaries:

"The average salary for all staff, including non-architect support staff, working in architectural firms in 2009 was $81,600.[2] Senior architects and partners typically have earnings that exceed $160,000 annually. It is not unusual for an officer or equity partner to earn a base salary of $235,000, often with a bonus of $400,000 or more in a good year. Due to the major stake in ownership that equity partners may have, they can earn incomes approaching, and occasionally surpassing, seven figures. [3]

Full time Intern architects typically earn between $60,000 and $74,000 depending on experience prior to licensure and location of employment. Architects that have completed the internship period and are licensed can expect an average starting salary of between $80,000 and $100,000....

To any joe on the street looking into architecture as a career, and using the ubiquitous wikipedia for info, well, it paints quite a rosy picture!!

Feb 19, 12 10:14 pm

The wikipedia article reflects what architects SHOULD be making.

Feb 21, 12 10:47 am

These reports repeatedly state "average" salary.  I know of several recently licensed architects with 4-5 years experience, including myself, that are within these salary ranges. 

Feb 21, 12 2:00 pm
pale shelter

Request for information: can i request some info / example cities you're talking about? and you mean ranges between 60-75k. Nice.

Feb 21, 12 2:15 pm

I wouldn't really call the places we work cities, but they're more like towns along the Gulf Coast, like Slidell, LA; Gulfport, MS; Tuscaloosa, AL; and a few other small/medium towns.  Many of the architects that I know at these places focus particularly on government, education, and military projects, with the rare commercial and residential projects every now and then.  But yeah, the mean is up in that range.

Feb 21, 12 2:37 pm
gentle puppies

According to the AIA compensation report, I should be making $59,300!

When I told my boss that the salary offer isn't much more than my hourly wage with them, they said that the benefits makes a big difference... really... like, a few hundred bucks of health and dental insurance, sick days, up to $5,000 bonus... likely raise after 3 months... that's it?  How big is a typical raise?

Feb 24, 12 2:11 pm

gentle puppies, from your perspective (cash taken home), there isn't much difference. From the employer's perspective, by transitioning you from hourly to salary, the amount of money you cost them on a monthly basis goes way, way up.

Feb 24, 12 2:53 pm
gentle puppies

then why don't they stick with hourly?

Feb 25, 12 7:16 pm

" by transitioning you from hourly to salary, the amount of money you cost them on a monthly basis goes way, way up."

That's true in the US, but not at all in Canada (where gentle puppies are). It's just a different tax system. In US you will get in trouble with IRS if you treat your full time employee as a contract worker. No such issues in Canada. It's usually advantageous to treat your full timers as employees.

gentle puppies, you are supposed to charge 13% sales tax (in Ontario) on your hourly rate if your company treats you as contract worker AND if your gross salary exceeds $30k/y. $25/h quickly becomes $28.25/h for them. Larger offices can typically go for higher tax write-offs is you are on the books as an employee. I know plenty of folk who get an hourly salary in Toronto architecture scene (smaller offices tend to do this). 

Don't worry about what AIA has to say. I'd send you the 2010 salary report for Canada, if there was a way to do so on here. From the report:


ONTARIO  LOW:$23k HIGH: $133k MEDIAN: $55k from 327 people surveyed. 

Assuming you just finished school, you would be well below the median.

Feb 25, 12 8:46 pm

Hi all,

I have close to 3 yrs of experience out of Undergrad program currently working at a medium size firm in San Francisco. I'm making 52K now but i wish to get a raise since I work so many hours on overtime and i don't get paid for them because I'm on salary based. After reading some posts here, perhaps I should forget about asking for a raise.  It isn't a good time to ask for a raise, is it? 

Feb 28, 12 7:07 pm

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