Why architects are underpaid?
I recently put out a video where I talk about a controversial topic - are architects underpaid and if so why.
I recorded the video 3 times in the span of 3 months and I'm still not quite happy about it.
So I’m gonna write down my thoughts in a more structured way here.
1. Why I think I can talk about that.
I am an architect. I have studied in two European countries and I have worked for 4 different companies in 3 countries. I have many peers who are currently around the globe and I’ve talked to many people about what payment is received by architects and what quality of life they can afford.
2. How much do architects make?
In the video I used the UK as an example for 2 reasons: availability of statistics on the topic and a good culture in architecture - many big and famous companies, good designs and massive production. Still architects there are paid around the average salary for the country:
In my home country of Bulgaria there is no real statistical data and even if there was it wouldn’t be too close to the truth since still many people are in the gray sector - hired on the minimal wage, but given more under the table. Also the actual architectural design of buildings in bulgaria is widely being neglected in favour of the cheapest way of getting the most out of a building design.
But does the quality of design reflect on architects salaries?
That would mean that architects working for famous design studios or the so called “Starchitects” would make more than architects working for mass-production architecture and construction companies. Whereas in reality if there is a difference it is the other way around - architects working for construction companies make more than architects working for design studios.
Why is that?
3. Attitude towards the profession
Architects have a tendency for a specific attitude towards the profession and this tendency is created in the universities. The tendency is about neglecting the importance of payment and admiring the design. They feel like they should not waste the opportunity given to them to work for their idols just because of greed. The greed here is to make more money than someone who didn’t spend 6 years in uni and didn’t learn 6 professional programs, design, sociology, structures etc.
Psychologists say the feeling of significance is one of the driving forces behind humans behaviour.
So being in architecture schools where long hours become the standard (and are seen as a standard later at the office), doing sketches, models, learning how to use software on your own time, and talking about what makes a great design, idolizing some BIG names and companies.
Then there are the professors and lectures. You bring them a design and of course it’s a bad design - you’ve only made a few. Nobody is an accomplished master before they do a certain amount of work. And the professor has to point that out of course. They have two ways of doing it. One way would be, if their ego doesn’t need pumping, to just talk and explain why this doesn’t work and what to look after and research. The other way is to convince you that you suck and unless you work your ass off there’s no way of fixing that and you should consider probably changing direction in life.
And that makes people try too hard to prove themselves and cherish some famous names because of their “Genius Design”.
Now good design is a thing and regarding architecture it’s seldom the product of a single mind.
But crazy shaped buildings in the style of Gehri, Zaha and others are something else. And it is a vast topic on its own which I might discuss another time.
So that attitude of deifying design and big names gives you a huge ego boost once you start working for someone of that rang, or even for someone who’s not just doing mass-production architecture.
And you want to prove yourself. You stay late. You agree to do everything.
You don’t need more money - you wouldn’t have the time and energy to spend it anyway.
So when the manager comes and asks “Hey guys, I know it’s Monday, but can you do this thing we didn’t know about for the delivery on Thursday?” you agree.
People agree and they stay till the small hours.
And then they complain. But in the way they complain there is something else. They half complain half brag about how hard they worked and how they sacrificed so much which makes them significant. Important. They saved the great design from the Big Bad Deadline.
Where in reality the thing the manager asked for was not that important. If it was it would have been known for a lot longer, and if it wasn’t then this is a management fault.
But then the managers assume that that kind of job gets done in 2 days, so it’s cool. Next time we’ll do it again. Nobody said “No, I’m not gonna do it”, “No, there’s not enough time”, nobody complained (just a little grumbling that’s it).
And it’s the same about the money. When nobody complains that’s it. Nobody would give you more if you are expendable, if there are others who’d be happy to be in your seat for that same amount.
The doctors and lawyers usually have strong unions that don’t allow for such things to happen to them. But they also didn’t get that low self confidence in school.
For them it’s actually quite the opposite - most lawyers are taught they’re elite, they will be paid well, because they’re important and everybody needs them.
Which brings me to the Universities again. Did they provide you with the proper skills you need after graduation?
4. How valuable are your skills as an architect in reality?
How different are you from someone who just learned how to use Revit in a few months time? Did you even learn how to use these programs in Uni? Or did you just scribble sketches?
Architecture is taught in different ways in different countries that’s for sure.
My education in Bulgaria was a lot more technical; it actually includes both what’s in the Architectural and Architectural Technologists programs in the UK. But still the skills that landed me jobs were the skills I learnt in the evenings on my own because of my own personal passion for them.
And these skills are not exactly what architecture is. These skills are what I teach now - using Revit and Dynamo. Valuable skills, no doubt about it, but architecture is definitely not the software.
That said when you have no experience and you’re fresh out on uni you better know the software. Nobody would let you design with pen and paper. Even if you manage to get into design architecture you would still need to show your design in the appropriate means.
But in general there are far fewer design jobs than technical. At least as of now.
AI and machine learning are getting into the AEC industry and my prediction is that
In 5 or 10 years apartment buildings would be designed with automated tools.
Nobody would sit there and check if there is enough room between the door and the bed, or if the number of apartments is optimal for the footprint. This will all be automated and architects will work on things like materials and appearance. But that would mean, all these bees that now diligently check for clashes and optimize the layouts and then produce drawings are going to be made redundant. So they better amp up their skills.
But this is just my prediction. It is grounded in reality and tools I’ve seen working today. So take it with a grain of salt, but still bear that in mind.
There is going to be a next video and a next article about what to do to get a better salary.
Feel free to check out my Dynamo from Zero to Hero course which is on promotion till the end of May. It is a complete 10 hour course which teaches everything you need to know to start using Dynamo successfully.
Thanks for reading!
Enjoy the spring!
See you next time!