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On the condition of the architectural profession in the context of earnings of young architecture students

15 of April '21

Piotr Zbierajewski in A&B 04/2021

In recent years, we have observed a paradoxical and consequently dangerous phenomenon. On the one hand, our profession is perceived as elite and prestigious. On the other hand, architects arę one of the lowest paid professions in Poland. Why is this̨ happening and why is there an ongoing mass exodus of young architects to other industrieṡ?


It is well known that an architect in Poland earns mostly lousy money. A number of pathological market behaviors in the last thirty years have led to this. The system change, the devaluation of the zloty, all contributed to Poland's economic growth. After the gray post-war years, everyone finally wanted to own their M4. It might have seemed like great times for architects, especially given the number of potential commissions. Unfortunately, however, there were still few Poles who could afford such homes or to modernize what the typical Pole already had. It turned out that this then small number of architects had to start fighting for clients. The easiest method was adopted, i.e. the "cheaper than others" principle.

As it later turned out, this was a fatal strategy.

The free market has it that it is easy to mess it up. People have no idea what they are really paying for, so they are often surprised by the amount. There will always be someone who takes more or less. I go on the assumption that you should value your work. I've learned that it's not worth doing "for a portfolio". - Damian Jakubowski, architect, 29 years old, 5 years of experience

and continuing

In the following years, the situation became even more complicated. After joining the European Union, Poland had to adapt the public procurement market to EU conditions, which is not necessarily a bad thing, after all, the same system works in other countries. Unfortunately, in Poland the share of price in the tender offer began to rise and became much higher than in other countries. It got to the point where design studios were basically forced to offer the lowest possible design rates, well below profitability.

Between 2000 and 2010, another bad development began to emerge - the undercutting of salaries in design competitions. The Society of Polish Architects (SARP) subscribes to implementation competitions in which the first place prize is roughly 0.01 percent of the price of the project. Recall that this concept basically freezes the project aesthetically, volumetrically and functionally. Of course, in the case of implementation at further stages of work, such a project matures and there are quite a few changes, but the overall vision basically remains the same. It's as if individual clients ask multiple studios to submit their concepts for a single-family home to them, and the studio that wins is promised fifty zlotys for its work with the option of doing further construction and detailed design. This is selling concepts for basically nothing. Bottom line: participating in design competitions simply doesn't pay off. The risk is too great, and the remuneration will not compensate for the studio's time outlay. Only a few players in the market can afford to do such things.

Many employers here, too, will probably say that the blame for low rates in architecture lies with other participants in the construction industry, who are trying to get the signature of some authorized architect somewhere on the left. Yes, such situations do happen, but very rarely.

After 2010, the phenomenon of design underpricing intensified, the country seemingly became wealthier, but architects also arrived. And despite the fact that we are still one of the countries with the lowest (!) number of architects per capita in the entire EU, the struggle to get more projects continues. By the same method as in the 1990s - undercutting prices for projects. The last two generations of clients lived in the belief that a multi-discipline project from concept to detailed design is a cost of two-three thousand zlotys gross with VAT. So we have a double problem: architects are increasingly underpricing their work, and clients are convinced that this is how much an architect's work costs.

Here we come to a paradox: on the one hand, the architect's profession is considered very elitist, is associated with high salaries and great responsibility, and on the other hand, the same Poles are ready to pay more for a kitchen countertop than an architect for the entire project.

A kitchen floor cannot cost more than an architect's service. - Piotr Szybilski, architect, 31 years old, 6 years of experience

In such a situation, it is difficult for offices to provide adequate salaries. Most likely, the same studios use illegal software, and in many cases employees have to bring their own computers to work. This is also one of the reasons why it takes so long to implement BIM in Poland - companies simply cannot afford it.

On the earnings of the young in their late 20s.

So we come to the problem of the earnings of young architects in design studios. There are not many studies of earnings in our industry. Especially the detailed ones, taking into account a breakdown by city size, province, studio size, employee seniority. In recent years we have had three such studies, all private.

If young architects recognized these forces in the market (demand for being an architect), they would save themselves a lot of jobs... - Karol Gniazdowski, architect, 29 years old, 6 years of experience

The latest - from 2021 - is a study by Hays. It shows that architects earn several thousand zlotys a month. The company is an intermediary in the international employment market, so the report includes job offers from Germany, the Netherlands or the UK. Offers in Poland, on the other hand, concern managers of gigantic and extremely rare projects, comparable in scale to stadiums.

In 2017, a report by Sedlak & Sedlak was published, which discussed the earnings of workers in the architecture market in a little more detail. It wrote that half of architects earn (this is about 2017) between 3.5 and 6.5 thousand zlotys gross. 25 percent below this range and 25 percent above it. The median was estimated at PLN 4.5 thousand. We are, of course, talking about architects with licenses. The average earnings of architectural assistants, i.e. those who are just gaining experience, was 2.9 thousand zlotys gross. These are much more realistic figures, although the range is still quite large.

The best study was a student initiative. The magazine "Rzut" published an issue (1/2018) in 2018 dedicated to the architectural profession. In it, we can find a study on the earnings of young architects prepared by the team of this magazine and Maciej Frąckowiak in cooperation with the Bęc Zmiana Foundation. The research sample was a group of 1,200 people under the age of thirty-five.

contracts among young architects (up to the age of 35),
data based on a survey of "Rzut" (1/2018)

pic: Piotr Zbierajewski

The report shows that young architects then worked according to the following distribution of contracts: employment contract - 35 percent; work contract - 26; commission contract - 10; employment contract + work contract - 10; 21 percent were self-employed; and as many as 7 percent had no contract with an employer. During the first year after earning a master's degree, the average regional salary was about 1,714 gross. In contrast, the average salaries in design studios on employment contracts, depending on experience, were distributed as follows: 2 years after graduation - 2600 zlotys gross; 3 years after graduation - 2700; 5 years after graduation - 3000; 10 years after graduation - 4000. After the aforementioned 5 years, the work contract and mixed contract reached 3500 zlotys gross, and after 10 years it was 4300 for the work contract and 5000 zlotys for the mixed contract, respectively.

Salaries in Poland (in PLN) in studios among young architects (up to 35 years of age),
data based on a survey of "Rzut" (1/2018)

pic: Piotr Zbierajewski

Architecture is still presented as a prestigious profession. A clash with reality and the question of real wages in the industry for many young architects is a painful shock. Low salaries and civil law contracts are a taste of the first years of a career. - Aleksandra Gryc, architect, 28 years old, 5 years of experience

The "Throwback" report contains more interesting information, such as that 31 percent of people (out of a sample of 1,200 people) believe that they had to learn the profession from scratch on the job (in the context of the knowledge they got from college), or that 46 percent of those surveyed occasionally have to perform work-related duties on weekends, while almost 20 percent do so very often. 68 percent have overtime, with only 19 percent of those 68 getting extra pay for it.

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