How Much Money Do Architects Really Make?

Stephen Ramos Stephen Ramos

Steve Ramos is passionate about design and architecture. He is the founder of the BUILDINGS ARE COOL blog, an Architect for LS3P in Charleston, S.C., and is working on his first book, Breaking the Box: Explode out of Architecture School to a Successful Career as an Architect.

Money plays a tiny role in architecture school and a giant one in the real world of architecture.

With the lack of proper business training, many architects struggle to run financially successful businesses. The failure of firm owners to run profitable businesses trickles down to the emerging professionals in the form of substandard pay.

I think that a $42,000 salary for an intern architect with a Master’s Degree is unacceptable. Overall, architects have the ability to earn a healthy income, but the starting pay for entry-level interns just sucks! In this article, I’ll talk about how you can predict your earning potential as an architect and — in a further post linked at the end of this one — share five tips for increasing your income.

How much money will you make as an Architect?

Well, it depends. Your compensation depends on three key factors:

1. Your Location

2. Your Position

3. Your Firm’s Revenue

I will use the 2015 AIA Compensation Survey Salary Calculator to illustrate the following three points. I like this tool because it provides a good overview of what you can expect to earn.

1. Location

In general, compensation rates will be consistent with the cost of living. The best example would be urban areas, which tend to have higher costs of living but will also provide for greater job opportunities and a larger income potential.

The AIA Salary Calculator shows that Project Managers in the Pacific Region (Alaska, California, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington) average $83,500 in their base pay, whereas Project Managers in the East North Central Region (Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin) average $78,300.

2. Position or Skill Level

As could be expected, the greater the job experience, the greater the income. The AIA calculator lists 18 different job positions ranging from Intern 1 at the bottom to CEO/President at the top.

Intern 1 shows a base salary of $41,500 and CEO a base salary of $133,600. Not exactly a fair comparison!

Because this book is aimed for emerging professionals, let’s do a projection of your income for the first 10 years:

3. Your Firm’s Revenue

The greater the firm revenue, the larger the salary level. Typically a firm’s revenue is a direct correlation to the size. Larger firms not only generate larger revenues, but also larger profits. This translates into larger salaries for employees.

For example, the AIA Salary Calculator shows that the Intern 3 position earns a $46,300 base salary at a firm with revenues between $250,000 to $999,999, and the same Intern 3 position earns $54,200 at a firm with revenues exceeding $15 million or more.

Another example from the AIA Calculator: An Architect 3 earns $70,900 at a firm with revenues in the $250,000 to $999,999 range, and the same Architect 3 earns a base pay of $97,300 at a firm with revenues above $15 million.

That’s it? There must be more?

Location, position and firm revenue; those are the big three factors that will dictate your income potential as an architect. I have been using the phrase “income potential” because there are no guarantees and there will always be exceptions.

You could have only two years of professional experience and earn a base salary of $60,000 because you are a rock star! Moreover, you could have 20 years of experience and earn a $60,000 base salary because your firm has furloughed all employees because of an economic recession.

In addition to the big three factors discussed above, there are other ways that you can increase your salary. Head this way to read through five ways to increase your income as an architect.

This post first appeared on Buildings Are Cool.Enjoy this article? Check out more of our Young Architect Guides:

The 7 Secrets to Happy Interning

7 Tips for Getting Hired After Graduation

Building Great Architecture Models

Architectural Redlines

5 Lies Told About the Profession You Must Ignore

How to Convince Your Audience With a Powerful Project Narrative

How to Write About Architecture

5 Specifying Tips for First-Time Architects

Read more articles by Stephen

SketchUp Guide: 3 Ways to Supercharge Your Model Renderings

Depending on the functionality and results you’re looking for, the program you’ll want to pair with SketchUp may vary.

© anderson architects

Modern Vintage: 7 Trailblazing California Wineries

Take an architectural tour through the vineyards and valleys of California's wine regions.