Although the current financial crisis may make the good times of 2007 feel like ancient history, the AIA has confirmed that architectural compensation enjoyed a stratospheric rise from 2005 to the beginning of 2008.

Not only did the 2008 AIA Compensation Survey find that salaries for architecture positions increased more than 5.7 percent annually during that period—the strongest performance since the AIA began collecting compensation data in 1990—but also that they outpaced the rest of the economy.

Compensation for Architecture Positions Sees Strong Gains in Recent Years
Graphs courtesy AIA

Since 2002, the salaries of architects and unlicensed staff have risen an impressive 29.2 percent while the salaries of all private workers in the U.S. have increased an average of 18.6 percent. By the beginning of 2008, the average salary for an architecture job was $73,400; in 1990, it was only $34,000.

“Architects did some pretty significant catching up,” says Kermit Baker, the AIA’s chief economist. “Architectural compensation, historically, has been quite low. It’s probably still quite low given the educational background most architects have, but it looks like it’s really made some strides forward.”

Architecture Staff Compensation Has Outpaced Gains of All Workers, and Workers at Professional and Business Services Firms, Since 2002

In addition to a building boom, the AIA attributes much of the rise in salaries to recent consolidation in the industry. “Large firms, with 50 or more employees, control a much larger share of the architectural profession than they did a decade or two ago,” says Baker. “They are the compensation setters for the profession. If larger firms are paying a certain amount, smaller firms really have a lot more pressure to raise compensation commensurately or risk losing their good employees.”

Of course, there’s one big caveat: The report “doesn’t take into account any of what has happened in the past year,” says Jennifer Riskus, the AIA’s manager of economic research. Although she’s heard anecdotal evidence of principals cutting their own salaries, freezing employee raises, and trimming bonuses, architects will have to wait until the next compensation survey, due in two years time, to see exactly which way salaries are headed right now.

Read more economic coverage in our special section, Recession Reports.