Rich Architects, Poor Architects (Complete Salary Talk!)

Architecture ranges across many disciplines and industries.

Most architects don’t start with the goal of earning a particular salary figure, but life goals differ between individuals.

If you are thinking about your options and wondering if architecture is a career that will let you enjoy your life, you may be interested in the expected salary ranges.

How much money do architects make? Can they be rich?

how much does an architect earn

Are Architects Rich?

Most architects are not rich beyond the dreams of avarice, but then neither are most bankers, accountants, lawyers, and family doctors.

Salaried architects earn as much as other employees, such as doctors and lawyers, but licensed Architects, on average, make less than surgeons, medical specialists, and licensed attorneys.

Some earn megabucks, but most do not, and most architects pursue a creative dream rather than a financial one.

What is the Average Salary of an Architect?

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median average wage for an architect in the United States (May 2019) is $80,750.

The median salary gives you the midpoint in the range – half the architects in the states earn above that amount and half below.

To get an idea of the range of architect salaries in the statistics, you need to look in more detail at the information.

In particular, what do the lowest-paid architects earn, and for aspiration, what do the highest-paid architects take home?

At the bottom end of the scale, 10% of United States architects earn less than $48,700, higher than the average full-time workers in the States ($40,000) in 2019.

The top 10% of United States architects earn more than $137,620, not as highly paid as top surgeons at $208,000 but a lot higher than the average salary.

There is a variation in median average salary depending on which sector the architect chooses with:

  • Government jobs averaging $93,970
  • Construction companies paying $80,040
  • Private practice pays the least at $79,830

Averaging salaries across the whole of the United States hide the incredible amount of variation between the states both for the availability of work for architects and the reward they receive from their employers.

Where Do Architects Make the Most Money (US)?

The US Bureau of Labor statistics obligingly breaks down architects’ salaries on a state-by-state level.

The top States for architecture salaries (mean averages) are:

  • New York                         $106,910
  • District of Colombia       $105,380
  • Georgia                             $104,470
  • Massachusetts                $102,320
  • Minnesota                       $99,870

Salary is not the only factor in how much money an Architect makes in the United States.

New York may pay the most, but it also has a higher cost of living than most other areas. New York is the ninth most expensive city for residents in the world.

Your money does not go as far in New York as it does in other cities.

Where in the World Do Architects Make the Most Money?

Reliable statistics for worldwide architect salaries are hard to get, but you can derive some comparisons from magazines and online surveys of architects.

The top countries for architecture salaries are:

  • Switzerland
  • United Kingdom
  • United States
  • Canada
  • Australia
  • Qatar
  • Ireland

Surveys through professional architectural associations indicate that in Canada and the USA, 32% of architects earn more than $100,000.

In Europe, only 9% of architects achieve these salary levels.

The salary levels probably reflect the cost of living in those countries and don’t reveal if the architects are more affluent than an architect in, say, Italy.

Salary, wealth, and status are not necessarily the same commodity.

Comparing one company’s earnings and salary levels with another is not an accurate reflection of architects’ quality of life.

Moreover, as economies rise and fall, the money that architects make usually changes in tandem.

What Factors Affect the Salary Range of an Architect?

The seven factors affecting an architects’ pay are:

  • Experience
  • Gender
  • Specialism
  • Sector
  • Size
  • Location
  • Mobility

1. Experience

In any career, your level of experience determines your salary level; a fresh graduate will not earn the same as a senior partner with a licensed architect status.

The types of architects and different architect roles similarly impact the salary.

As a new graduate with less than one year of experience, you can expect to earn a median salary of $48,756.

As you gain experience (up to four years), your median salary rises to $55,103.

After approximately five years of experience and fulfilling the Architectural Experience Program requirement in the States – or similar requirements in other countries – you may register as a licensed architect or acquire a specialty or a unique skill set.

Experience counts as part of your salary package, but other marketable skills matter more as you progress.

2. Gender

Despite equal pay legislation and a supposedly fair playing field, women in architectural roles earn 7% less than men of a similar age and level of experience.

The gender pay gap is one of the industry’s problems but not unique to architecture, but the salary statistics indicate being female depresses your salary.

3. Specialist Skills

People pay more for specialist skills in all industries, and architects with unique skills are in high demand.

If you want to increase your salary earning potential, you need to develop a mixture of hard and soft skills.

Work alone will not give you all the experience you need in most cases, so it pays to stay ahead in your preferred area – Building Information Modelling, 3D-rendering, Landscape, building codes, and getting your license or professional registration.

The future is green, and architects with LEED accreditation stand to benefit.

Even practicing architects need to continually upgrade their skills in their efforts to land more projects.

It is tempting to stop learning when you get your degree, but fast-paced modern work environments mean staying on top of technology and legislative changes.

4. Sector

The sector you work in affects your earning capacity. On average, government roles pay more than private-sector roles.

Average salary is not the whole story; outlier salaries mean an individual can earn substantially more in any sector.

It depends on how much effort you want to put into your progression.

If you are happy to be an employed senior architect with a salary between $80,000 and $100,000 after you have ten years’ experience, the government path is probably most suitable for you.

You can also do some architectural freelancing on the side.

If you want to run your own business and work for yourself, then working your way through private practice and building your experience portfolio may be a better path for your dreams.

Working in the construction industry gives the middle-of-the-road salary levels – a little less than some government jobs and a little more than some private sector positions.

5. Company Size

The company’s size and client base will impact the salary they can offer you at all stages in your career – a matter of economics.

Small companies tend to give you a more comprehensive range of experiences, and larger companies allow you to specialize – but that is a generalization, and individual roles differ.

A small company that only services hotels will give you a different experience to a large company that rotates its new hires through various departments.

6. Location

Salaries for architects and access to employment opportunities vary between cities, states, and countries.

You will get paid more if you choose to work in an area where salaries are, on average higher than in other areas.

In San Francisco, average architecture salaries are $80,357, but in Chicago, they are $65,816.

Where you work makes a difference to your earnings.

7. Mobility

It would be nice to think that organizations reward loyalty, but the harsh fact is that the banks, insurance companies, and employers do not reward employees who stick with them.

The best deals go to fresh faces.

Typical annual salary increases are less than 5%. If you want a pay rise between 10-15%, you must move jobs to get it.

Strategic moving between employers is the way to maximize your salary level. The strategy lies in remaining with one employer long enough to gain experience and moving when you are most marketable.

More senior roles (salaried licensed architects) move less frequently than junior designers.

Still, in practice, if you are looking to move up the salary scale, you need to be continually looking for the next progression and be prepared to move.

Strategic moving means not moving only for more money but to acquire skills and other experience in your chosen niche, along with more responsibility.

How Can an Architect Make More Money?

Making more money as an architect involves either increasing your remuneration package or earning more outside of your employment.

Self-employed architects may also look to diversify or expand their client base.

1. Higher Remuneration Package

Your remuneration package includes more than your salary:

  • Health insurance.
  • Pension contributions.
  • Medical benefits.
  • Company car.
  • Sports memberships.
  • Professional fees.
  • Training costs.
  • Other employment perks.

When deciding between roles or negotiating salary increases, consider your whole remuneration package rather than focusing only on the salary figure.

Your earnings cover the entire financial benefits package you get from your employer.

2. Bonus Schemes

Some companies pay bonuses on successful outcomes or company profitability.

An excellent bonus scheme can add a substantial amount to a salary.

All rewards are worth having, but the most beneficial are those where you can influence the outcome in your favor.

3. Take on Freelance Work

Your employment terms may limit your capacity to take on additional freelance work. Most employers take a dim view of their employees competing with them for business.

Generally, using your skills to generate an income that your employer could not earn – like designing graphics for games (assuming you don’t work for a game developer) outside your official working hours – is permissible.

You may want to freelance as a graphics illustrator or use your skills on other online platforms as an extra income earner or when working from home.

4. Commission

If you can introduce clients to the business, most companies will pay a set commission concerning that client’s value.

It is worth finding out if your company is willing to pay a commission if your networking opportunities bring in paying clients to your employer.

5. Cost Reduction Ideas

Some businesses will pay a bonus to any staff member who comes up with a cost-saving measure that reduces business running costs.

If you spot a way your employer can save a substantial amount of money, you might want to see if they are open to paying for your idea first.

6. Invest for Growth

A regular habit of investing your money for capital and income growth increases the amount of money available to you.

Some employers are open to running tax-efficient investment schemes based on their shares, increasing the amount you can invest and save.

The value of compounding even small investments gives you more money later when you may need it to buy into a practice.

7. Invest in Yourself Professionally

By ensuring you spot opportunities for advancement, promotion, and gaining additional skills, you position yourself for a better salary package.

You may need to move jobs to get the salary uplift, but you will consistently make more money by managing your career.

Investing in your professional growth through upskilling will give you the best chance of making a six-figure salary as an architect.

8. Become a Licensed Architect

When you graduate from your architectural studies, plan and stay focused on fulfilling the relevant Board requirement and sitting for the Registration Exam.

Even if you do not intend to strike out your own, you get an immediate bump up in salary as a licensed architect in the firm.

9. Diversify Income Streams

You can make more money by making sure you gain income from more than one source – multiple employment or a mixture of jobs and self-employment.

The Internet has expanded small-scale earning opportunities across the globe.

Most additional income opportunities require little capital to start.

What Type of Architect Makes the Most Money?

If you focus on making the maximum amount of money as an architect or becoming the few architects who can afford to design their own home, what is the best area for you?

Architecture roles cover a vast range of job titles and activities:

  • Architect – a generalist, covering multiple projects with a lot of variety.
  • Technical architect – ensures the internal layout and the exterior of a building meet all legislative and essential parameters.
  • Site architect – on the construction site, ensures everything goes to plan, within budget, and in the timescale; Intensive project management.
  • Design architect – sketches and produces concept drawings; master design and planning; choose materials to suit the design intent.
  • Planning architect – a highly technical role focusing on meeting state legal requirements for planning and construction.
  • BIM architect – building information modeling – another technical role in commissioning, documenting, and managing construction.
  • Residential architect – works with clients to produce bespoke homes, extensions, and remodeling.
  • Heritage architect – works with historic properties.
  • Commercial architect – works with non-residential properties.
  • Housing architects – design clusters of houses and supporting infrastructure.
  • Research architect – works in the academic field, lecturing, writing books, and pursuing architectural theories.
  • Interior architect – focuses on the interior of buildings for both functional and decorative spaces.
  • Sustainable design architect – focuses on green architecture with low environmental impacts and renewable energy.
  • Urban designer – works with the cityscape and other built environments.
  • Industrial architect – factories, power stations, and other infrastructure-type structures.

Further reading: Types of Architects.

If you must single out the type of architect that makes the most money, the order below (from the most to the least) provides a general idea:

  • Design architects – more a role than a type, but lead designers in architecture firms take home a higher salary than their similarly experienced colleagues in other roles. World-famous architects that make millions are brilliant designers.
  • Public project architects – licensed Architects earn lucrative contracts from government-funded projects.
  • Commercial architects – demands vary according to the economy, but commercial property designers make more money than residential architects.
  • Residential architects – designers for individual new builds command higher fees as a percentage of the total construction costs than housing estate projects.
  • Architectural project managers – responsible for overseeing construction projects from inception to completion. They may be mid or senior-level positions, but they report to the principal architect or design director. Their salaries typically hit a ceiling with ten years of experience – and it is not a high one.

Salaries and other earnings for each type of architect depend on expertise and demand for your services.

Demands always depend on the economic climate, and the potential fluctuation means architects need to diversify their work portfolio to cushion the difficult times.

The top industries for architects to work in for the highest median salaries are:

  • Insurance Carriers                        $127,030
  • Scientific and Tech Services        $120,030
  • Electric Power Generation          $109,570
  • Land Subdivision                           $107,500
  • Hospitals                                         $103,730

Architects working for insurance carriers cover rebuilding and repair work necessary for clients who suffer losses, and it can be a varied field.

Land subdivision is the stage before any development – commercial, residential, or industrial – takes place.

What is the Most Money an Architect Can Make?

Currently, the world’s wealthiest architect is Norman Foster (born 1935), and he makes well over $2 million a year.

Do the average architects make good money?

The highest-paid architects working for the most prominent firms make in the region of $105,000 a year, and they work in large cities across the world.

In theory, there is no limit to the amount a successful architect can make.

For most architects, a salary between $80,000 and $105,000 puts them in the top bracket of their profession.

Some will earn much more, some a lot less; It all depends on the choices you make and the path you follow.