If you want to skip to the end for an answer to the headline, I’ll save you the trouble. After taking a multitude of different factors into consideration, my estimate is that there are currently somewhere between three and four million architects on Earth.
This number is by no means authoritative. An accurate accounting of all the architects in the world simply doesn’t exist, which is why it’s important to consider, because knowing the limits of something is a crucial first step toward improving it.
A good place to start estimating the total number of architects on Earth is the International Union of Architects, a nongovernmental organization (NGO) that adopts the national architectural associations of 124 countries and claims a membership of 1.3 million. The organizations adopted are mainstream groups like the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), but in many countries, there’s a lot of architects who aren’t members of these organizations, and there’s also an additional 72 countries in the world, so it’s a safe bet 1.3 million is too low.
Monditalia infographic; via ArchDaily
Perhaps the most comprehensive census of architects available is in the form of an infographic from the 2014 Venice Biennale exhibition “Monditialia.” Its purpose is to illustrate a disparity between concentrations of architects around the world and in doing so lists the number of architects per person in 36 countries.
When this infographic is averaged, the number of architects per person across the 36 countries surveyed is 2,759. If this average were representative of the whole world (7.5 billion people), that would mean there are 2.7 million architects on the planet. But besides making gross assumptions about the 160 countries that weren’t surveyed, there are a few issues with this graphic. First, it lists the number of the architects in the United States as 222,360 — more than double the National Council of Architectural Registration Board’s (NCARB) official number for that year, which was 107,581.
It’s possible the “Monditalia” study confused the total number of architects in the U.S. that year with the total number of architecture licenses (226,181) because many architects hold multiple licenses in different states, so the NCARB’s total of 107,581 seems more reliable. But the NCARB only counts licensed architects in their figures, and the spirit of this inquiry supports ignoring that distinction and applying the term “architect” to anyone who designs buildings for a living, regardless of legal standing.
To that end, U.S. Census estimates suggest a ratio for the number of non-licensed architects working relative to the number of licensed ones. The number of employed people in the United States listed in 2014 as “Architects, except naval” is 141,773. Assuming this accounts for job description regardless of licensure, that would suggest the ratio of non-licensed to licensed architects is 1.3 to 1, which, to anyone who’s worked at more than a few architecture firms, may seem a bit low.
By contrast, the U.K.’s Architects Registration Board reported 35,157 licensed architects in 2014 (in line with “Monditalia”’s number) compared to a government estimate of 101,000 architecture professionals for the same year. If a similar parallel is assumed between these two surveys and their U.S. counterparts, that means the ratio of non-licensed to licensed architects working in the U.K. is about 2.9 to 1 — considerably higher but not unbelievable.
With these numbers, it’s possible to paint a picture making several assumptions. First, the low estimate of 1.3 million from the IUA should be subject to some sort of multiplier, such as the ratios described above, which attempts to account for unlicensed architecture professionals who aren’t part of the IUA’s member organizations. If this were the case, the range represented between the U.S. (1.3) and the U.K. (2.9) could be used, suggesting a worldwide total between 1.7 and 3.8 million architects.
This same logic can be applied to the figure of 2.7 million extrapolated from the “Monditalia” average because its U.K. number suggests an attempt to represent the total number of licensed architects in each country despite its erroneous number for the U.S. Subject to the same range of multipliers to include non-licensed architects, this worldwide estimate falls between 3.5 and 7.8 million.
Taken in context, the “Monditalia” study seems to skew toward developed nations, suggesting figures drawn from that study are artificially high. As for the IUA, the 72 countries missing from its member rolls may or may not even distinguish architects from builders, but because this consideration is attempting to include anyone whose principal occupation is deciding the layout of inhabitable structures, it will regard numbers drawn from the IUA as likely a bit low.
With that in mind, it’s not totally unreasonable to take the inside range of those estimates (from 3.5 to 3.8 million) as the possible number of architects in the world. Rounded to something more palatable, a quote-ready figure for the number of architects around the globe could be estimated as somewhere between three and four million.
NASA’s famous “Blue Marble” photograph; via Wikipedia
Why does any of this matter? Consider the story of Stewart Brand, who in 1966 started a grassroots public relations campaign to get NASA to publish photographs of the Earth from space. This was important because at that time, barely 50 years ago, very few people had seen what the Earth actually looked like; the image in most people’s minds was derived from maps, all of them flat, intentionally mis-scaled for clarity and covered with imaginary border lines. The effect NASA’s photos had once they entered mainstream consciousness, showing the planet in its totality as only land masses, water and clouds, was nothing short of revolutionary and is credited as having a hand in the birth of the modern environmental movement.
But knowing the limits of something is a crucial first step toward improving it because that knowledge can focus efforts in a viable direction, preventing the sort of wheel-spinning that distracts while a problem continues to grow worse. Defining the extent of the global architecture community can be helpful in this fashion. Simply attaching a figure to it, however speculative, could foster a shared sense of purpose within a fragmented profession, supporting the sort of unity needed to overcome the challenges facing it.
So, now we have a number. Tell your friends.