Architecture Careers: How Much Do Architects Make?

An Architect's Salary and Occupational Outlook

Young woman architect changing architectural drawings at business meeting with client couple
Can You Make a Living Doing Architecture?. Jupiterimages/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 While published statistics can be outdated — the May 2017 statistics from the federal government were released on March 30, 2018 — they will give you a general idea of the salaries, wages, income, and benefits for architects.

According to May 2017 data from the U.S. Department of Labor statistics, U.S. architects earn between $47,480 and $134,610 a year, up from a range of $46,600 to $129,810 the previous year. Half of all architects earned $78,470 ($37.72 per hour) or more — and half earned less in 2017, but these figures are significantly more than the median in 2016. The mean (average) annual wage for 2017 was $87,500, up from $84,470 per year in 2016, and the mean hourly wage rate was $42.07. 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 2017 statistics from the U.S. Department of Labor, U.S. landscape architects earn between $40,480 amd $108,470 a year, which is up from $38,950 and $106,770 a year in 2016. Half of all landscape architects earn $65,760 ($31.62 an hour) or more — and half earn less. The mean (average) annual wage of a landscape architect is $70,880, and the mean hourly wage rate is $34.08, both up from the previous year.

Job Outlook for Architects

Architecture, like many other fields, is profoundly affected by the local and national economy, especially the real estate market. When people don't have money to build houses, they sure don't have the means to hire an architect. All architects go through good times and down times. Even the most famous architects have stories to tell — Frank Lloyd Wright worked on his Usonian house design after the Great Depression; Frank Gehry experimented with his own house during the economic stagnation of the 1970s; Louis Sullivan is said to have died penniless.

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

According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook, in 2016 the number of jobs for architects totaled 128,800. Competition is fierce for these opportunities. The U.S. government predicts that between 2016 and 2026, employment of architects will increase only 4 percent — slower than the average growth rate of 7 percent for all occupations. The job outlook for urban and regional planners, however, is predicted to be 13 percent, but there are far fewer jobs available.

More Statistics, More Sources

The professional organization for architects, the American Institute of Architects (AIA), provides an AIA Compensation Survey & Calculator based on their own research. It is to the organization's benefit to provide information to newly hired architects, as part of their campaign to Know Your Worth: Are you compensated fairly? It's well-known that many entry-level architects feel taken advantage of at the start of their careers, and the AIA wants you to know that they are on your side with information transparency.

For more employment statistics, check out the DesignIntelligence Compensation and Benefits Survey. 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. Design Intelligence is an independent research organization who regularly publish surveys and reports that they sell in the DI online bookstore.

Online communities such as Archinect also provide data input by their online members. Remember that online polling has become technologically very easy to implement, sometimes making the results a little less than scientific. The Architecture Salary Poll from anonymously input survey data may not be as reliable as federal government data collection.

You Are Your Own Architect

Too many people think of four-year colleges as training schools — a place to pick up specific, marketable skills to find a job. However, the world changes quickly and a fixed set of skills can 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. You are the architect of your life.

Anticipate the Future

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.

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 2017, 17-1011 Architects, Except Landscape and Naval and 17-1012 Landscape Architects, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor [accessed May 13, 2018]
  • Quick Facts: Architects, Occupational Outlook Handbook, U.S. Department of Labor, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/architecture-and-engineering/architects.htm [accessed May 13, 2018]
  • Quick Facts: Urban and Regional Planners, Occupational Outlook Handbook, U.S. Department of Labor, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/urban-and-regional-planners.htm [accessed May 13, 2018]
  • Life at HOK at www.hoklife.com/2009/03/23/5-questions-for-cris-fromboluti/, HOK.com [accessed July 28, 2016]