All The Great Jobs For Architects Are In Cities

The good news is all the great architecture jobs are in cities. The bad news is all the great architecture jobs are in cities. 

According to the 2014 revision of the World Urbanization Prospects by UN DESA’s Population Division, 54 per cent of the world’s population lives in urban areas, a proportion that is expected to increase to 66 per cent by 2050. If you don't already live in an urban environment, odds are you will at some point in your life. 

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So am I trying to anger my rural friends throughout the world? Of course not. I would like to explain why I think everyone in architecture should spend at least some time working in a large city. Sure the commuting, traffic, and crowds can be a nightmare. Paying a fortune for a tiny apartment isn't ideal either.

Having lived in Auckland, London, Madrid and San Francisco (in addition to small town America) I understand the pro's and con's of both. That being said, a rewarding and fulfilling architecture career can often be found in large urban environments. Let me cover a few reasons why. 


The number one topic in architecture forums: salary. The big benefit of of working for an architecture office in a city is that the salary will almost always be higher than the equivalent job in a rural environment. Of course the reason cited for this is the higher cost of living.

However, if you are willing to live below your means and skip the penthouse apartment you will be better off financially in the long run. Setting your salary high as early as possible will be a huge advantage throughout your career. 

The highest paid in the architect profession work in the metropolitan areas of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, San Francisco, and Atlanta, Georgia. 

Perhaps most interesting from the above article was, "the best-paid 10 percent in the profession made approximately $121,910, while the bottom 10 percent made about $44,940." 

The top 10% makes almost 3x the bottom 10%! It pays to be the best. 

Firm Size

When working in a large city such as New York or London there are thousands of architecture firms from which to choose. Do you want to work for a sole proprietor in his live-work studio or in an international office with 500 employees?

I recommend that every architect has a variety of employment experiences from large to small offices, there is always something to be learned from both. At the very least you can see what you do want and what you don't. Also it exposes you to a variety of project typologies, potentially sparking your interest for a particular career specialization or entrepreneurial option.

Do you want to work on large scale projects at a big architecture firm? Almost without exception, these type of offices are located in the economic centers around the world.

The good news is that on average the larger firms tend to offer higher salaries. Let's compare using the AIA Salary Calculator:

First, a firm with revenues of 250k - 999k (offices with approximately 1-20 people). As shown below the mean salary for an Architect 3** in this firm size is $70,900.

Now let's compare it to a firm with revenues of $15m (firms with well over 100 people).

In this case the mean salary is $97,300, an increase of $26,400 per year!

While there are certainly exceptions to the numbers mentioned, it will provide a base when addressing your employment location pros and cons.


Interaction with other architects

The local AIA Chapters, for example, in cities have a large membership base so you are going to have the opportunity to meet and share ideas with a range of professionals in your area.

Meeting consultants

Urban areas tend to attract not only a lot of architectural talent but also the related consultants. Many of the top engineers, interior designers, landscape architects and designers in the world can be found in London, Dubai, Shanghai, New York, etc.  


Common sense suggests that if there are a larger number of architecture firms in a given area there will be more jobs. This is obviously an extreme simplification of the employment situation in a given location.

There are many factors that go into the architecture hiring market. As we saw in the recession of 2008-2009 there was massive unemployment in architecture. Particularly due to the fact that one of the driving factors behind the crash was the housing market itself. 

Generally in the case of a job loss it is restricted to only a firm wide problem. Having a variety of employment options in your backyard can offset the risk of losing your job.


The downside to living in an urban center is the relatively high cost of living. However in our example above the additional $26,400 would go a long way to offset the additional expenses. If you are careful with your spending and housing choices you will end up ahead. For example this can be mitigated by finding affordable housing options such as living outside of the city. 

This lifestyle certainly isn't for everyone, but if you are recently out of college or looking for a little adventure this is a solid option. There is little debate that the number of things to do is what draws many, particularly young people, to these cultural centers. 

To get a better idea of what your situation would be, try using a cost of living calculator.

City living as an architect can be challenging and I doubt one article will be enough to convince you one way or the other. However, if you are willing to have an open mind when it comes to your career, great things will often follow. 

**Architect with ten or more years of experience, licensed architect who plans and develops medium- to large-scope projects with many complexities, executes and coordinates projects, and may oversee a large staff of architects and technicians.)

For further reading on architecture job applications and interviews check out The Complete Package.

Thanks for reading, see also my posts on:

How To Stay Motivated With The Architecture Job Search

The Top 5 Architecture Interview Questions

Where To Apply For Architecture Jobs Online

Good luck!

Brandon Hubbard, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP BD+C

Have a suggestion for a future blog post? Please let me know in the comments below.

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