Do you feel underappreciated as an architect?
Well, you’re not alone.
A lot of architects, especially those in the early and middle stages of their careers, find themselves in this boat.
Thousands of architects worldwide work long hours but earn relatively low salaries.
Especially considering the extra hours they work and the multiple tasks they perform.
What a shameful ending for such a hard-working career.
According to recent research, the average architect salary was approximately $72,000.
The study has also concluded that the highest-paid, most experienced architects, who have gained experience and practiced architecture for years, earned over $119,000.
However, this definitely is not true for all architects.
There are a few elite architects who understood the game before the rest us.
They certainly read Robert Kiyosaki’s “The Cashflow Quadrant” book.
These architects who've broken the bank didn't just stop at being great at architecture.
They got their hands dirty with Marketing, Sales, and Business strategy.
That’s how they made their money.
So let's see how they did it.
Top 10 Richest Architects and What They Did Right
Let's get to the meat of the matter.
That's what you came here for.
You've probably heard of architects like Norman Foster, Frank Gehry, or Zaha Hadid.
These aren't just names in a textbook, they're empires in the world of architecture.
What sets them apart isn't just their groundbreaking designs but their ability to turn those designs into profitable ventures.
Watch how these starchitects broke through their basic architect salary to be among the richest in the profession.
The listed rich architects did not quickly grow their basic architect salary into a high wealth.
They worked their way through gender and racial challenges.
They proved themselves as successful engineers and artists.
We said that the average annual architect salary is around $72,000
However, these architects broke this rule and earned ten to twenty times more than that.
Let’s see who’s making more money here:
Starting from the “poorest”.
#10 David Adjaye
We know that the world that does not celebrate the black architectural identity.
But even so, Sir David Adjaye became one of the richest architects in the world.
And one of the most famous, as well, after being knighted by the Queen in 2017.
Adjaye is known for his commitment to the environment and for creating sustainable structures, including The National Museum Of African American History and Culture.
Ghanian-British architect gained a net worth of $10 Million from his well-known public building designs.
- Nationality: Tanzanian
- Date of birth: September 22, 1966
- Famous design: Stephen Lawrence Centre in London, Moscow School of Management Skolkovo in Moscow, Francis Gregory Library in Washington DC, and Sugar Hill Housing in New York
- Net Worth: $10 Million
#9 Kongjian Yu
Founder of one of the best Chinese architectural firms, Turenscape Company, Kongjian Yu made a net worth of $15 Million starting from a basic architect salary.
Through the past 20 years, Yu has been a leader in the recreation of the Chinese Urban Planning field.
Yu is not only the founder of his firm, but he is also an ecological urbanist, an urban planner, a landscape architect, and a professor of landscape architecture at Peking University.
His projects include the Qinhuangdao Red Ribbon, Haikou Fengxiang Park, and Quzhou Luming Park.
- Nationality: Chinese
- Date of birth: 1963
- Famous design: Houtan Park for Shanghai Expo, the Red Ribbon Park in Qinhuangdao, and Shipyard Park in Zhongshan
- Net Worth: $15 Million
#8 Kengo Kuma
What distinguishes Kuma is his commitment to locality.
He often collaborates with local craftsmen and uses indigenous materials, ensuring that each building is deeply rooted in the culture and ecology of its place.
This deep respect for local traditions and environments gives his architecture a sense of authenticity that's increasingly rare in our globalized world.
In summary, Kengo Kuma is not just an architect but a philosopher of space, advocating for a more sustainable and humane approach to design.
His body of work serves as a compelling case study in how architecture can be both locally rooted and universally appealing, making him a standout figure in contemporary design.
- Nationality: Japanese
- Date of birth: August 8, 1954
- Famous design: Kengo Kuma is widely recognized for the design of the Asakusa Culture and Tourism Center in Tokyo and the Nagasaki Prefectural Art Museum. More recently, he gained international attention for the design of the National Stadium for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
- Net Worth: $20 Million
#7 Renzo Piano
His firm doesn't just design buildings.
They consult on how to make those buildings fit into a city's broader vision.
That's a whole new level of service offering.
Renzo Piano started a little before the basic architect salary—the starchitect’s father was a construction worker. Piano savored many of the profession’s principles and foundations and had practical experience in the field from a very young age. According to The Explorian, the Italian architect’s net Worth is $45 million. His known projects include Hermes Maison in Tokyo, The Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, Morgan Library in New York, and NEMO Museum in Amsterdam.
- Nationality: Italian
- Date of birth: September 14, 1937
- Famous design: Centre Pompidou
- Net Worth: $25 Million
#6 Bjarke Ingels
Running Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG), one of the world’s biggest and most successful architectural firms.
Bjarky Ingels started as a young aspiring architect and artist.
Ingels worked on almost all projects and inspired the more youthful generations through his architectural documentaries.
The Danish architect, with a net worth of $17 Million, is considered the youngest among the world’s wealthiest architects.
- Nationality: Danish
- Date of birth: October 2, 1974
- Famous design: VM Houses/The Moutain
- Net Worth: $30 Million
Not bad for the youngest architect.
#5 Richard Rogers
Rogers turned his name into a brand by focusing not just on aesthetics but on sustainability, a buzzword that's converted into big bucks.
Like Piano, with whom he collaborated on the Centre Georges Pompidou, Rogers also focuses on how buildings fit into the larger urban landscape.
His work often involves transparent materials and exposed structural elements, inviting the public to engage with the building and its surroundings.
This isn't architecture for architecture's sake; this is about making buildings that work for people and cities.
- Nationality: British
- Date of birth: July 23, 1933
- Famous design: Richard Rogers is renowned for his role in designing the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, alongside Renzo Piano. Another landmark project is the Lloyd's of London building, which is an iconic example of the high-tech architectural style.
- Net Worth: around $40 million.
#4 Santiago Calatrava
Ever heard of architect-engineers? That's Calatrava for you.
By diversifying his skill set, he's been able to command higher fees and take on a broader range of projects.
Calatrava’s architecture is known to be imitating nature and living organisms—his successful projects are World Trade Center Transportation Hub in New York, Twisting Torso Tower in Sweden, Milwaukee Art Museum, and Hunt Hill Bridge in Texas.
Mainly known for his bridges supported by single-leaning pylons, Spanish painter, architect, sculptor, and structural engineer Santiago Calatrava earned a $80 million net worth utilizing all his talents.
- Nationality: Spanish
- Date of birth: July 28, 1951
- Famous design: The Milwaukee Art Museum, Turning Torso tower in Malmö, Sweden, The World Trade Center Transportation Hub in New York City, The Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge in Dallas, Texas; and his most significant project, the City of Arts and Sciences and Opera House, in Valencia
- Net Worth: $80 Million
Also Calatrava is known for understanding not only the engineering or architectural world.
But also for understanding the legal, business and finance worlds.
His lawyers are quite savvy on that.
#3 Frank Gehry
He took architecture and made it sculptural, but he didn't stop there.
He turned his unique style into a brand that's sought after by cultural institutions around the globe.
Considering the architects who have left a stigma in contemporary architecture, Frank Gehry pops up to mind automatically.
The geometric abstraction of his buildings makes his work recognizable worldwide.
His success made him a celebrity, a star architect, and one of the wealthiest architects in the world.
Even though he made a fortune, the Canadian architect is still practicing architecture to our day.
- Nationality: Canadian
- Date of birth: February 28, 1929
- Famous design: The Guggenheim Museum
- Net Worth: $100 Million
#2 Zaha Hadid
The late Hadid broke more than glass ceilings.
She disrupted the whole industry and proved that you could be an artist and a savvy businessperson.
Even after she passed away and she will go to her heirs, the ever-so-popular Dame Zaha Hadid is definitely among the list of the richest architects in the world.
The starchitect was the first woman to win a Pritzker Architecture Prize.
She was appointed as a Dame by Queen Elizabeth II.
Hadid went fast from being a paper architect with a basic architect salary to being a professional leader.
She left her mark in many cities worldwide, and her projects earned her a $215 million net worth.
- Nationality: Iraqi
- Date of birth: October 31, 1950
- Famous design: The Riverside Museum
- Net Worth: $215 Million
#1 Norman Foster
Lord Norman Foster is the most prosperous architect in the world, with a net worth of $240 million.
He founded his well-known architectural firm Foster + Partners back in 1967, and he is known for his sleek glass and steel structures.
His most notable projects include the Citic Headquarters in Hangzhou, China, and the Swiss Tower RE in London, England.
- Nationality: British
- Date of birth: June 1, 1935
- Famous design: Gherkin, London’s financial district
- Net Worth: $240 Million
These guys make 100x more than the average architect.
How is that possible?
These architects capitalized on more than just their design skills.
They recognized that to be truly successful, you've got to wear more than one hat.
That’s why you need to be part marketer, part salesperson, and full-time visionary.
The Importance of Diversifying Skills
You're might be a great architect, but let's face it:
Designing alone isn't enough to put you on the path to wealth and success.
The industry is evolving.
These architects didn’t make their fortunes just drawing the best blueprints or modeling the best 3D renders.
It was not just about who can design the best architectural design.
It was about who can market themselves best.
Who can close more deals.
And who can manage a project from start to finish without a hitch.
Foster, Zaha, Gerhy, Rogers… they all learned some new skills.
Why should you care?
Well, the architects who've made it big understood that architecture isn't just an art.
It's a business.
They're not just architects, they are business-oriented architects.
What separates them from the rest is their ability to diversify their skills, to see beyond the drafting table.
They know how to:
- build relationships
- pitch ideas
- manage budgets
- and even dabble in real estate.
It's time to break the chains of the traditional mindset and evolve.
Skill diversification doesn't mean you're diluting your craft.
It means you're strengthening your arsenal.
You and I are going to have a hard time making those numbers we say before.
But we can probably make a lot more than we do today, if we learn a few new skills.
Skills You Should Learn Today
There are skills that you may have been taught at university that are probably worthless to you.
I'm going to propose some new skills that will help you make a lot more money as an architect.
Here they are.
Understand your value in the market.
Learn the basics of finance, budgeting, and even a bit of investing.
Your designs might be masterpieces.
But knowing their market worth amplifies your negotiating power.
Think social media, SEO, and personal branding.
You can design the most beautiful structures, but if no one knows about them, what's the point?
No, this doesn't mean you have to become a pushy salesperson.
It means knowing how to present your ideas convincingly and close deals effectively.
Mastering the art of persuasion can win you not just projects but also long-term clients.
The project isn't done when the design is complete.
Efficiently managing resources, timelines, and people is a skill that will set you apart.
This isn't just about schmoozing at industry events.
It's about building genuine, mutually beneficial relationships with people in and out of your field.
The key here is the integration.
Don't silo these skills; integrate them into your architecture practice.
Your designs get better when you understand your client's business model.
Your business mindset sharpens when you're in sync with market demands.
Everything is interconnected, and understanding these interconnections is your ticket to the big leagues.
I know, taking the first step can be daunting, but it's crucial.
So, here are some rock-solid steps you can take today to kick-start this transformative journey:
Take a Business Course
Invest a few hours each week to learn the basics of business management, marketing, or finance.
You can find a plethora of courses that fit your schedule.
My tip: Start with your first Sprint
🎓 Start building your architecture business with the Business Challenges. It will help you understand the basic business principles to start small and grow fast.
Consult a Financial Advisor
Even if you're not raking in the big bucks yet, understanding how to manage and grow your money is critical. So get some professional advice.
Set Measurable Goals
Whether it's landing two new clients this month or growing your online following by 25%, set achievable yet challenging goals.
My tip: Stop guessing and start growing.
🎓 Tired of setting goals but never hitting them? Take control of your professional future with the Business – SMART Goals Challenge. Learn how to set achievable goals that move the needle, keep you focused, and finally get you where you want to be in your career.
Join a Mastermind Group
Being around like-minded professionals can be a game-changer in multiple ways.
Often, when you're deep into your own work, it's hard to see the forest for the trees.
A colleague who's on a similar path but perhaps a step or two ahead or behind can offer insights you might not have considered.
They can help you spot pitfalls before you tumble in or see opportunities you might have missed.
My tip: Surround yourself with people who share your aspirations.
🎓 We all have goals, but reaching them can be tough, especially when distractions and procrastination kick in. Join the Global Architect MBA Program and you will be in the company of like-minded professionals can serve as a powerful accountability mechanism.
Sometimes, all it takes to solve a complex problem is to look at it from a different angle.
And that's easier to do when you're surrounded by people who approach challenges with a mindset similar to yours.
These aren't giant leaps but baby steps.
Yet, these are steps that most architects overlook.
By starting here, you're already ahead of the game.
I don't know how far we can go as an architect designer.
But we can certainly do is to earn much more with your profitable study of architecture.
How much would you like to earn this year?
And in 10 years?
And in 20 years?
Are we going for the million dollars or not?
You're already good at design.
Now it's time to be good at running it like a business.
Don't just aim to be a great architect.
Aim to be a financially successful, emotionally fulfilled architect.
Hope to see you on the richest architects list one day.
Whenever you're ready, there are 2 ways I can help you with:
1. If you're still looking for traction in your architecture business, subscribe to the Wisdom for the Modern Architect Newsletter. Every week you will get actionable ideas, mental models and resources to help you build a profitable business.
2. In case you want to level up your business, you can get Full Access to the Global Architect Roadmap, and unlock Challenge & Solutions with all the resources and tools, exclusively reserved for our paid members, by Upgrading your Membership.
See you around,
Anecdote of the Week
I am from Bilbao, in the Basque Country, North of Spain.
And the pictures you saw up there are taken my me.
We are so lucky to have many of these architects in our city.
I have to say that our public agencies have paid a lot for these architects.
But the truth is, many of these architects have transformed our city in an unimaginable way.
Deeply, I am proud that we spent that money.