Architect salary guide (compensation levels & factors influencing pay)
Architects are responsible for designing our homes, offices, stores and practically all other buildings we inhabit throughout our lives. It takes a lot of work—usually many years—to learn the mathematical, design and project management skills needed to eventually become an architect.
It makes sense, therefore, that architects be compensated well. In fact, the median annual salary for architects (excluding landscape and naval architects) is $82,840 according to the 2022 Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). That's almost $10,000 more per year compared to the annual mean wage across all occupations ($73,220).
An individual architect's salary is influenced by many different factors, however, including location, experience level, licensure, work environment and more. In this guide, we've broken down how these factors could affect your earning potential so you can better understand how much you could make in your own career.
How education and experience impact salary
It's a commonly held notion that a higher education level can lead to a higher salary. While that does tend to be true when you look at general wage statistics across all occupations, it's not always the case for specific careers.
Architecture is one of many careers in which someone's experience tends to have a larger effect on their earning potential than the degree they hold. That said, architects with a master's or doctoral degree may by default have more experience than bachelor's degree holders, but that's not always true. In addition, having a graduate degree could potentially make it easier to land more advanced leadership positions that come with a higher wage. In either case, the degree itself is not necessarily a firm indicator of an architect's earning potential.
The American Institute of Architects (AIA) does not collect salary data based on education level, but they do have a salary calculator that contains salary data based on various architectural job titles. This compensation data was collected through a survey of 1,135 unique architecture firms and 16,308 positions within those firms.
To get a better idea of how experience can affect an architect's earning potential, check out some of the architect roles below, what those roles mean and their median annual salaries according to the AIA's data:
|Job title||Job description*||Median annual salary|
|CEO/President||"Licensed architect who manages and directs organization toward its objectives, establishes direction and long-range plans, plans/directs mergers and acquisitions, serves as the face of an organization."||$165,000 (base pay) + $50,000 (additional cash compensation)|
|Director of Design||"Licensed architect with a thorough knowledge of architecture practice who develops design standards and may supervise design department."||$155,780 (base pay) + $20,000 (additional cash compensation)|
|Senior Architect||"Professional degree in architecture, plus 10 years minimum of related experience. Can be relied upon to present directly to the client on technical and design solutions."||$118,860 (base pay) + $9,270 (additional cash compensation)|
|Architect - Level III||"Professional degree in architecture, plus at least eight years of related experience."||$97,700 (base pay) + $6,350 (additional cash compensation)|
|Architect - Level II||"Professional degree in architecture, plus at least six years of related experience."||$86,200 (base pay) + $5,000 (additional cash compensation)|
|Architect - Level I||"Professional degree in architecture, plus three to five years of related experience."||$73,620 (base pay) + $3,670 (additional cash compensation)|
Licensing and its impact on architecture salary
Whether or not you are a licensed architect can potentially impact your salary significantly. There are lots of staff roles at architecture firms that don't require a license to perform—these jobs are often filled by people who are working on fulfilling their experience requirement to eventually get their architect license.
Data provided by the AIA indicates these unlicensed roles do not tend to make quite as much as their licensed counterparts with similar years of experience. Take a look at the median annual base pay of unlicensed architectural staff versus licensed architects of similar education and experience:
|Achitectural staff (unlicensed)||Architect (licensed)|
For full position descriptions of what these roles entail, check out AIA's salary calculator to learn more.
Geographic impact on an architect's salary
Your location is a major factor when considering your earning potential for most jobs. Bustling metropolitan and suburban areas with a higher cost of living usually yield jobs that pay higher, too. Conversely, jobs in nonmetropolitan and rural areas tend to pay less, but it also costs less to live there.
Take a look at some of the top-paying metropolitan areas for architects below:
However, even the inverse can be true in some areas. If the supply of workers—in this case, architects—in a populated area outweighs the demand for their services, wages could drop. In nonmetropolitan or rural areas where there aren't enough people to meet the demand, wages could increase. Consider, for example, the top-paying nonmetropolitan areas for architects and their annual mean wages, according to the BLS:
- North Valley/Northern Mountains region of California nonmetropolitan area–$104,690
- South Florida nonmetropolitan area–$102,160
- Massachusetts nonmetropolitan area–$99,420
- Northeast Mississippi nonmetropolitan area–$97,510
- Central New Hampshire nonmetropolitan area–$92,400
Thanks to AIA's salary calculator, we can also get an idea of how architect wages may differ between regions of the country overall. Let's consider the position they refer to as "Architect Level I," which is someone who has a professional degree in architecture, three to five years of relevant experience and is licensed. This role represents an architect fairly early on in their career. Check out the median annual salary for this role in different regions of the United States:
|Region||Median annual salary for Architect Level I|
|Entire United States||$73,620|
|New England (Maine, Massachusetts, etc.)||$78,230|
|Middle Atlantic (New York, Pennsylvania, etc.)||$72,000|
|East North Central (Michigan, Illinois, etc.)||$71,280|
|West North Central (Minnesota, Iowa, etc.)||$71,300|
|South Atlantic (Virginia, Florida, etc.)||$73,620|
|East South Central (Tennessee, Mississippi, etc.)||$72,940|
|West South Central (Texas, Louisiana, etc.)||$71,430|
|Mountain (Colorado, Arizona, etc.)||$74,500|
|Pacific (California, Washington, etc.)||$82,840|
Work environment and salary structure
An architect's salary may also be influenced by their type of employer. The majority of architects work for architectural firms, either as an employee or as the owner themselves. Architectural firms can range in size from a handful of people to huge multinational companies that employ thousands of architects, engineers, interior designers and more.
Some of the largest architecture firms worldwide include Gensler, HDR, Nikken Sekkei, Sweco and AECOM.
In their 2023 Compensation & Benefits Report, the AIA found that smaller firms were more likely to offer higher starting salaries and salary premiums upon licensure. In addition, salary growth from 2020 to 2022 was higher at small firms (16% growth at small firms versus 13% growth at large firms). However, they also found that 69% of large firms reported offering transparent career path opportunities to their employees, compared to 63% at mid-size firms and 54% at small firms.
There are pros and cons to working at both large and small firms. The size of a firm that's right for you really depends on what is most important to you in your architectural career, so there's no single right answer. It's quite likely you may work for both types of firms at some point in your career. Although these may not apply to every individual firm, here are some other advantages to note about working at smaller versus larger architectural firms:
|Advantages of smaller firms||Advantages of larger firms|
|Fewer employees mean you get to do more of everything (design, client meetings, construction site visits, etc.) so it may be easier to develop a wider breadth of skills||Because of the greater number of resources at their disposal, large firms may offer better benefits and more perks for employees|
|On a smaller team, it can be easier to learn from and be mentored by more experienced architects||Large firms may have more opportunities for in-house training and professional development|
|A smaller team where everyone contributes to the project at hand can lead to a greater sense of accomplishment and ownership for the work that is completed||A greater number of employees/coworkers can lead to more networking opportunities and the chance to make more industry connections|
|The experience gained at a small firm may be more useful if you want to start your own firm some day||It may be easier to move up the career ladder at larger firms|
Other types of employers
Some architects may even find work for government agencies. It's difficult to know what these positions might pay, but according to the BLS, the annual mean wage of architects working for the federal executive branch was $105,410.
Motivated individuals who want to work on a project basis for multiple employers may find success as freelance architects. Freelancing your services could provide an increased level of flexibility and a sense of autonomy, but it also means that your income is only as consistent as the amount of work you can get for yourself.
Additional income opportunities
There are several other ways an architect may be able to augment their income by seeking out other paid opportunities in the field. These could include:
- Getting a teaching role at architecture schools (provided you have the necessary education)
- Writing about architecture topics and getting your work published
- Participating in public speaking events, conferences and the like
- Consulting for various firms
Comparing architect salaries to related professions
Building is a structure is a team effort that requires the contributions and expertise of many different professionals, both in the planning phase and the actual construction phase. It can be helpful to know how the salaries of these other professions stack up against architects, especially if you're still unsure what career path you'd like to follow.
According to the BLS, architects have a higher median annual wage than landscape architects, urban planners, interior designers and architectural and civil drafters. Only civil engineers have a slightly higher median annual wage of $89,940. Everyone's salary is dependent on all the other factors we've already explored, however, so there's no guarantee that you'll make more money, say if you decide to be a civil engineer instead.
|Career||Median Annual Salary|
|Architects, Except Landscape and Naval||$82,840|
|Urban and Regional Planners||$79,540|
|Architectural and Civil Drafters||$59,820|
Challenges and their implications on salary
Unlike some careers such as healthcare professions and certain trades, the field of architecture is not immune to economic trends. Recessions—as well as economic booms—can impact the amount of work that is available for architects and positively or negatively affect their earning potential as a result. Your architectural specialization could also impact whether you are more immune or prone to these economic fluctuations.
"Since I graduated in 1991, there have been a few ups and downs in those times which really helped hone what you want to do because you had to figure out what was going to be sustainable over the long run. And certain segments don't fare well during certain recessions," said Christopher Osolin, a partner and principal architect for RHO Architects in Seattle, Washington. "And we specialize in single-family housing, and that has done pretty well over the years. Of course, there have been downturns where it's been a struggle, but we've been specializing in single-family homes since about 1999 and it's been pretty consistent over that time."
Architects have the potential to make a wide range of salaries affected by numerous factors, including experience level, licensure, location and more. By continually investing in yourself, your education and your practice, you can set yourself up for success and improve your chances of landing high-paying roles or starting your own firm that brings in lucrative projects. To get started researching architectural design education programs, simply click Find Schools to begin.
Published: October 25, 2023