When people think “architect,” they think of someone creative, someone with class, and someone with money.  It is a profession with glitz and glamour.  Unfortunately, perception does not always meet the reality. 

The architect must be creative and present well.  The architect must know elements of good design, elements of the law, and elements of proper building construction.  Simply, the architect must know a little bit about a lot of things.  Yet, unless one is named Frank Ghery or Renzo Piano, the architect does not get paid very much.  Certainly, owners of architecture firms can fetch a good salary, but this is the exception, not the rule. 

To put it in perspective, an architect’s fee on a theoretical multi-family building could potentially be six percent of the total budget.  At minimum, design of this building will take months and will include back and forth between the architect and clients.  When the building is finally completed, a real estate agent will come in and charge a six percent fee to sell the units in this building.  Ironically, the architect would never be able to afford the units they just designed. 

Before becoming the principal of a firm, the architect must take their lumps as a architecture student at a design school.  Long sleepless nights will be spent tirelessly working on models and drawings.  Semesters will culminate with reviews in which local architects will generally speak nary a positive word about the projects before them.  Then, with any luck, the student will find a job as an “intern architect.”  The next few years will be spent drawing toilet and stair details.  When the intern has worked enough hours, they will finally have the privilege to take a series of seven tests to actually be called an “architect.”  If the intern fails any of the tests, they must wait six months to test again. 

Once one becomes an architect, they will bear the brunt of the client’s complaints and excoriations from engineers saying their buildings will never stand.  Finally, after years of hard work and rubbing elbows with the right people, the architect may finally be able to put their name on a building.  They have finally become the “architect” that the common person believes them to be.  This architect may not the second coming of Frank Lloyd Wright, but they have finally made it. 

The architect is a different breed.  They love design and love talking about their job.  When strolling around cities, they do not look in store windows to see what is inside—they look at store windows to see how the windows come together. So, the next time you meet an architect, give them a pat on the back.  Do not look at them like they make a lot of money and eat caviar for snack.  They are just like you.  Maybe a little more eccentric.  Maybe a little more stylish.  But, they are every bit as broke as you.