Principal Architect: Job Description, Salary and Career Outlook

Principal architects require a significant amount of formal education. Learn about the training, job duties and licensure requirements to see if this is the right career for you.

Principal architects are trained as architects, but hold management positions within an architectural firm. This is a senior position that you can work up to after completing a bachelor's or master's degree in architecture. To be successful as a principal architect, you must have excellent communication and leadership skills, in addition to being a talented designer.

Essential Information

Principal architects lead all design work at an architecture firm and may be founders of a firm. They develop relationships with related professionals and with clients. They also manage the work of other design professionals. Architects must be licensed. Licensure requires one to hold a professional degree in architecture, have a specific amount of work experience and pass a national registration examination. Principal architects typically have many years of experience.

Required Education Professional degree in architecture, either at the bachelor's or master's levels
Other Requirements State architect's license
Projected Job Growth (for all architects, except landscape and naval) 7% from 2014-2024*
Median Salary (for all architects, except landscape and naval) $76,100 (2015)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

Job Description for a Principal Architect

Principal architects are licensed, experienced design professionals who hold senior management positions at architecture firms. According to the American Institute of Architects (AIA), principal architects are often the co-founders or partners of a firm who have previous experience working together (www.aia.org). It's common for firms to be structurally organized around their principal architects, with each developing a different base of clients and managing a separate group of employees.

Principal architects are responsible for developing customers and nurturing professional relationships. On each project, the principal works with the client to determine goals and is ultimately responsible for delivering final schematics. They also deliver construction documents to building contractors.

Throughout the process, a principal architect manages the work of other professionals. They may utilize architect interns and drafters to research building codes, make schematic calculations, and draft technical materials. Typically, the principal delegates day-to-day contact with clients to a project manager, who may be another architect or a drafter.

Salary for a Principal Architect

According to the AIA 2015 compensation survey, the average annual salary was $91,300 for architects with at least 10 years of experience. In May 2015, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that the salary range for the middle half of architects (except for naval and landscape architects) was $58,870 to $97,760, with the median wage at $76,100 (www.bls.gov).

Career Outlook for a Principal Architect

The BLS projected employment for architects to increase 7% from 2014-2024. In 2014, the BLS estimated that there were 112,600 employed architects, excluding those in naval and landscape firms. However, the AIA reports that competition is fierce in the world of architecture, and positions in firms are tough to find and acquire.

In summary, a principal architect normally holds a leadership position within an architectural firm. They work with clients, delegate duties to staff, and may have organizational responsibilities within the company as well. A bachelor's or master's degree in architecture is required, as is professional experience as an architect. Job growth should be as fast as average in this field through 2024.

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