How Much Do Architects Earn?

The Occupational Outlook Looks at Careers in Architecture

oung woman architect changing architectural drawings at business meeting with client couple
Young woman architect changing architectural drawings at business meeting with client couple. Photo by Jupiterimages ©Getty Images / Collection: Stockbyte / Getty Images

How much do architects earn? What's the average starting salary for an architect? Can an architect earn as much as a doctor or a lawyer?

Architects often supplement their income by teaching college-level courses. Some architects may even do more teaching than building things. Here are the reasons why.

Salaries for Architects:

Many factors influence the salary an architect earns. Income varies greatly according to geographic location, type of firm, level of education, and years of experience.

While published statistics can be outdated—the May 2016 statistics from the federal government were released on March 31, 2017—they will give you a general idea of the salaries, wages, income, and benefits for architects.

According to May 2016 US Department of Labor statistics, US architects earn between $46,600 and $129,810 a year. Half of all architects earn $76,930 or more—and half earn less. The mean annual wage is $84,470 per year, and the mean hourly wage rate is $40.61. These figures exclude landscape and naval architects, the self-employed, and owners and partners of unincorporated firms.

Landscape architects do not fare as well. According to May 2016 US Department of Labor statistics, US landscape architects earn between $38,950 and $106,770 a year. Half of all landscape architects earn $63,480 or more—and half earn less. The mean annual wage is $68,820 per year, and the mean hourly wage rate is $33.08.

Job Outlook for Architects:

Architecture, like many other fields, is profoundly affected by the economy, especially the real estate market. When people don't have money to built houses, they sure don't have the means to hire an architect. All architects, including the likes of Frank Lloyd Wright, Louis Sullivan, and Frank Gehry, go through good times and down times.

Most architectural firms will have a combination of residential and commercial projects to hedge against these economic ups and downs.

In 2014, the number of jobs was up slightly to 112,600. Competition is fierce for these opportunities. The US federal government predicts that between 2014 and 2024, employment of architects will increase 7 percent—but this is the average growth rate for all occupations. About 20% (1 in 5) of all architects were self-employed in 2014. Projections about the job outlook for architects in the USA are published in the US Bureau of Labor Statistics in the Department of Labor's Occupational Outlook Handbook.

More Statistics:

For more employment statistics, check out the DesignIntelligence Compensation and Benefits Survey (Buy from Amazon or visit the DI Bookstore). This report draws data from hundreds of practices that offer design services such as architecture, design-build, engineering, interior design, landscape architecture, urban design, and industrial design. Thousands of full-time staff are represented in the survey.

The DesignIntelligence Compensation and Benefits Survey is published every year and includes income projections, cost-of-living differentials, and information about benefits and perks.

For the most current data, be sure to check the most recent edition.

While You're in College:

Too many people think of four-year colleges as training schools—a place to pick up specific skills to find a job. However, the world changes quickly and specific skills become obsolete almost immediately. Consider your undergraduate time as a way to lay the foundation, as though building a structure. The design of your life is based on your learning experiences.

The most successful students are curious. They explore new ideas and reach beyond the curriculum. Choose a school that offers a strong program in architecture. But, while you are an undergraduate, be sure to take classes in other disciplines—science, math, business, and the arts. You do not need to earn a bachelor's degree in architecture in order to become an architect.

Even a degree in psychology can help you understand your future clients.

Build the critical thinking skills you'll need for an unpredictable future. If architecture remains your passion, your undergraduate studies will provide a solid foundation for a graduate degree in architecture. To learn about the various types of architecture degrees, see: Find the Best School for Architecture.

Anticipate the Future:

Most economic slowdowns affect the building business, and architects and other design professionals are no exception. Frank Lloyd Wright weathered the Great Depression by inventing the Usonian home. Frank Gehry spent an economic downturn remodeling his own home. The reality is that when the economy tanks, people get laid off. Architects who have their own businesses must make their most difficult decisions in hard times. Being "self-employed" is sometimes more difficult than being an employee.

Architecture can open a world of career opportunities, especially when combined with other, seemingly unrelated skills. Perhaps you'll discover a new type of housing, develop a hurricane-proof city, or design the interior rooms for a space station. The particular type of architecture you pursue could be one you've never imagined...perhaps one not yet invented.

Some of the highest paying careers today did not exist 30 years ago. We can only guess the possibilities for the future. What will the world be like when you're at the peak of your career?

Current trends suggest that the next 45 years will bring an urgent need for inventive, creative architects who can rise to the challenges posed by aging populations and global climate change.

Green architecture, sustainable development, and universal design are becoming increasingly important. Meet these demands, and the money will follow.

And, speaking of money...

Does Architecture Pay?

Painters, poets, and musicians struggle with the challenge of earning enough money to put food on the table. Architects—not so much. Because architecture incorporates science, engineering, and many other disciplines, the profession opens many avenues for earning income. While other professions may pay more, an architect who is flexible and creative is not likely to go hungry.

Remember, too, that architecture is a business. Develop project management skills that will get jobs done on time and under budget. Also, if you can develop relationships and bring steady business to the architectural practice, you'll be invaluable and well-paid. Architecture is a service, a profession, and a business.

The bottom line, however, is whether architecture is your passion—whether you love design so much that you can't imagine spending your life any other way. If that's the case, the size of your paycheck becomes less important than the next new project.

What Drives You? Know Yourself:

Know what drives you. "Architecture is a great profession, but there are some key things to remember," 9/11 architect Chris Fromboluti told an interviewer at Life at HOK. Chris gave this advice to young architects: "develop a thick skin, go with the flow, learn the profession, get into green design, don't be driven by money...."

A future is the most important design an architect will ever make.

Sources: Occupational Employment Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2015, 17-1011 Architects, Except Landscape and Naval and 17-1012 Landscape Architects, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor; Architects, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition; Life at HOK at www.hoklife.com/2009/03/23/5-questions-for-cris-fromboluti/, HOK.com [accessed July 28, 2016].