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NEWS ANALYSIS: A shocking new survey reveals just how depressed salaries in private practice are – and which sectors command the highest pay packets

The AJ can exclusively reveal the findings of a major new survey into architects’ salaries, showing how poorly the profession is paid – particularly outside London.

The research, which was carried out by recruitment firm 9B Careers, suggests that architects in search of higher pay packets – especially those employed at senior levels – should look beyond traditional architectural practice.

Those in the profession who remain in private practice for more than 11 years can expect their salaries to peak, on average, at £53,000.

Such an architect can earn roughly £20,000 more working for a developer and a staggering £30,000 extra if employed client-side.

Architects with this level of experience working in government hit an even lower pay ceiling than those in private practice, earning an average of £49,833 – scant reward compared with the £84,800 architects earned in-house with clients.

Salary survey graphs salaries by years of experience

Salary survey graphs salaries by years of experience

Salaries by years of experience

Matthew Turner, founder of careers advisory service buildingonarchitecture.com and the AJ’s career coach says: ‘It makes sense that the range of career options for architects has expanded beyond working in a small business run by other architects, given the changes in how the construction industry commissions design work over the past decades.

‘The salary difference is perhaps explained by the level at which architects slot into the pay grades of other types of organisation. Working client-side takes a certain kind of architect, but these figures show that this can be a canny choice financially.’

Since the recession, architects have dropped their fees and did not ramp up when they got busier

Property and architectural business consultant Lucy Mori says the findings make for ‘depressing reading’ and ‘added weight’ to the concerns of the future of the profession.

She also believes the underwhelming pay packets for those in practice are a result, in part, of the failure of architects’ fees to bounce back to the levels seen before the economic crash. 

Mori says: ‘Since the recession, architects have dropped their fees and did not ramp up when they got busier and the economy picked up.  

‘Developers and contractors think architects are “cheap as chips” and now expect no more than 10-13 per cent construction contract value on all consultant fees. This means architects are getting on average 3-4 per cent on large commercial projects.’

Salary survey graphs salaries by sector and experience

Salary survey graphs salaries by sector and experience

Salaries by sector and experience

The survey, she concludes, shows a profession that is struggling to adapt to a changing world, and calls for architects to add new skills and a fuller service, including valuation, costing, investment appraisals and project management. ‘While architects focus on offering design services whose value cannot be quantified easily, I fear their fees and salaries will continue to stagnate,’ she says.

Robert Firth, business coach and president of the Royal Society of Architects in Wales agrees that the report, which garnered responses from 1,200 architects, students and architectural technicians, poses some hard questions for the profession. 

‘When will the majority of architects value their real worth?’ he asks. ‘When will business be taught to young architects? When will architects cease undercutting each other on fees? Is the profession of architecture transforming itself into a subcontractor service?’

Compared with other professions requiring equivalent amounts of training, architects seemingly get a raw deal. According to the respected Robert Half salary survey, newly qualified accountants working in financial services can expect to receive between £48,500 and £78,000 a year. NHS consultants on contracts introduced in 2003 start on £76,001 and can expect to receive £102,465 after 19 years’ service. 

The Lawyer’s 2016 salary survey found that even newly qualified legal professionals earn between £39,000 and £124,000. Firth adds: ‘How sad that the evidence of these figures points towards architecture being one of the lowliest rewarded in terms of earnings of all the professions.’

To make the most money in practice, the advice is to head towards the bigger firms as there is also a strong relationship between the size of practice and average salary levels. 

Salary survey graphs salaries by size of practice and position

Salary survey graphs salaries by size of practice and position

Salaries by size of practice and position

Firms with below 10 staff pay 7.3 per cent less than the average, while those with a head count of more than 100 are top of the pay charts, at 6.9 per cent above the average. Interestingly, however, at partner and associate level, those very biggest firms pay less than firms of 66-100 staff. What is more, the wages reported at these firms either correspond or surpass the pay set out in the recent AJ100 median salary data.

One apparent anomaly is the revelation that firms of between one and 10 staff pay their associates more than directors and partners – an average of £59,000 compared with £50,239. 

Caroline Cole, founder of architectural consultant Colander says these figures may not fully reflect take home pay ‘once dividends and profit share are added to the mix’. She adds: ‘Sole traders and the partners in some of the smaller practices tend to balance salary and dividends to maximise tax advantages.’

As in many professions, there are also big regional differences in pay. According to the survey, architects in Northern Ireland and Yorkshire are paid around 20 per cent less than the average wage for architects. The figures are not much better for those in Yorkshire (-19.8 per cent), Scotland (-17.7 per cent), and the North East (-16.2 per cent). Only those working in London and the South East get more than the average: 3.8 per cent and 2.9 per cent higher than the average respectively.

This is probably not a new trend, however. ‘There is nothing unexpected here,’ Cole says. ‘Across the board, architects in London and the South East have always been paid more and those in Northern Ireland and the more northerly regions (with the exception of the North West) have always tended to be paid less.’

Salary survey graphs salaries by region and position

Salary survey graphs salaries by region and position

Salaries by region and position

Paul Chappell, 9B Careers’ founder, who commissioned the data, adds: ‘Although the report showed a big salary divide between London and the rest of the country, when these are compared to living costs, some of the regional practices are offering quite attractive salaries. 

‘In many areas there is also a shortage of architects around five years post-Part 3 and practices are competing to employ the best staff.’

The survey does provide interesting food for thought for Part 2-qualified architects who are wondering whether it is worth progressing to Part 3. On average, Part 3s were paid around £3,850 more than Part 2s with the same number of years’ experience in practice. Turner says: ‘Rather than bemoaning the fact that the fees architectural practices can achieve – and, consequently, the salaries they pay – feel like a downward trend, these figures hint at ways in which architects can upgrade their earnings.’

However, Chappell sounds a note of caution, warning that academic progress alone is not enough to earn more. He says: ‘I imagine the vast majority of these salary increases arose from moving jobs, rather than as a direct consequence of gaining their qualification.’

In terms of the future trajectory of salaries, the uncertainty of Brexit makes predictions difficult.

Hellman aj hybrid architect.jpeg

Hellman aj hybrid architect.jpeg

The Hybrid architects by Hellman

But Chappell thinks the referendum result has already changed things. He says: ‘Before the referendum, the architectural jobs market was particularly busy and salaries appeared to be rising at their fastest pace for a number of years. Following the result, however, the jobs market has seen a dramatic split. As a number of practices continue to rapidly expand, at the same time a growing percentage are seeing projects put on hold and recruitment cut.’

Whether or not the Brexit vote has played its part, architects’ fees have flatlined during 2016. The Fees Bureau’s 2017 fees index calculates an index level using the year 2000 as a baseline of 100. While fees jumped from 101 to 109.3 last year, this year’s figure is only slightly up, at 109.7. 

According to Fees Bureau director Aziz Mirza, falling building cost inflation has masked a drop in average fees for architects ‘led by downward fee pressures from private housing new build and office clients’.

Assael Architecture founder John Assael calls the situation ‘depressing’. ‘Rises in fees on private housing have averaged a fraction over a 1 per cent increase over 15 years which is less than inflation,’ he says. ‘Other private work and public sector fees show less than a 0.3 per cent increase over 15 years so fees are actually on a steady downward trajectory.’

Assael sums up the gloomy mood among many architects caused by the salary and fees situation. He says: ‘The average hourly rates are so low that I can’t understand how many architects survive. If I were a solicitor like my twin brother the rates would be at least double and, in some London firms, treble. Architects need to get much tougher … or give up.’

READ NEXT: Architects’ fees stagnating again, according to new research

Comment on salaries

Adrian Dobson, RIBA executive director members

RIBA architects’ earnings data broadly confirms these trends. For example, the RIBA Business Benchmarking survey 2015 provides very comprehensive regional salary data, and shows very similar levels of regional variation.

Salaried architects with 5+ years post-registration experience earned on average £41,000 in London compared with £35,000 in NW England, and there were similar differentials for associates and directors. The RIBA Fees Bureau Architects Annual Earnings and Employment Survey 2016 found that median earnings for all architects was £45,000, whereas central Government architects received £56,000 and in-house architects £69,000, but relatively few architects are employed in these sectors.


Readers' comments (6)

  • I'd be intrigued to know how many architects work client side. I suspect not many and that they are mostly senior roles which is why the average is high.

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  • Paul Chappell

    Certainly there are far fewer Architects working client side and the best salaries generally only occur after a number of years experience. Although salaries are sadly still lower in practice, the one encouraging thing to come out was the benefits firms are trying to offer staff now. I think there have been some big improvements in this area compared to 10 years ago.

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  • Paul Chappell

    It will however be interesting to see how many people start working on contract over the next few months. There has been a noticeable change in this regard and employers are preferring to limit their commitment until things become clearer.

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  • MacKenzie Architects

    London distorts the figures, as ever. That's not to criticise London, architectural management there is much more refined because they are working with high-paid lawyers, specialist consultants, financial people and developers, so learn how to demand better remuneration -or (in reality) better payment for additional or abortive work. They also get paid better for unbuilt projects. The profit is effectively all in the planning approval.

    For the rest of the country, most architects would be terrified to ask their clients for the correct fee for the service. It brings great shame on the Institute that nothing is done about that to maintain standards and protect these artists in their garrets.
    In another century, they would have formed a closed-shop union to look after each other if things got completely out of kilter.

    This is a continuing problem for the RIBA.Are they looking out for Architects' interests, or not.
    They should be pushing the architectural schools into basic skills for running a business for a living, not as a charity. They should be pushing for CPD to ensure anyone wanting to start up a business, has the competence to do so.

    Traditionally in this country, it is not a major simplification to say that the most profitable practices do the least and worst designs.

    Architects make more money for other people, than any other sector apart from the few bankers who are capable of approving business loans.

    I have lost count of the millions my office has made for people; that's why I'll eventually leave the profession (when my wife finds out), and just do it for ourselves.

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  • Certainly there has been some move to encourage architects to take up other related training in project management and other related fields. However, architecture is a very important activity, and we should not lose sight of the amount of hard work and training which goes into producing architects. There needs to be more joined up thinking from allied professions. RICS tends to shadow a lot of we do, and they have their own preferred systems, so trying to do everyone else's job does not necessarily produce good architecture, and the profession must stand up and be counted.

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  • When local authorities engaged architectural directorates, and employed people in house, it appeared that the remuneration was better and younger graduate entry people got trained properly in the running of jobs and technical detailing, as time was set aside for this purpose. Since the private sector has dominated matters, we now live in a different age and yet many of the problems which we face now, are cyclical and require solutions which traditionally, architects made important contributions to.
    Housing for example, is a topic which is very current, and important, but we worked through an era where housing was largely done by architects, who ran with the job through to completion. Now we have developer housing, where the architect does not seem to be involved in the technical process but that schemes are produced for planning applications and there appears to be very little follow through. I am sure that architects would do better than this if they were the market leaders.

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