Journey of an Architect is a blog started by Tim Ung to share his architecture and design ideas through speculative projects. His posts focus on his design process, thoughts, struggles, and successes throughout his journey.

An Alternative to Moonlighting as a Young Architect

An Alternative to Moonlighting as a Young Architect

Three years after graduating from architecture school, I became a licensed architect in New York State and I shared my excitement with all of my friends. During dinner with a good friend of mine, I shared the news with him and he joked about designing a building for him in the future. A month later, we met at a bar and he asked me to be his architect for a building that he purchased. Although I was thrilled to work on a project with my good friend, I was faced with the dilemma of moonlighting as an architect and found an alternative solution that worked in favor of both the firm where I’m employed and me. Here’s an alternative to moonlighting as a young architect told through my short story.

Letting my friend know that I can’t moonlight

After talking to my friend about the building that he just purchased, I asked him questions about what he envisioned being in the space. As he explained his idea for renovating the building and creating a local restaurant in a low income area, his excitement grew and he began explaining some of the design features that he sees in the renovated space. He then talked about the apartments upstairs and updating them to cater towards the younger generation. Finally, he shared his interest in purchasing another building and hiring me as the architect for its renovation!

With excitement in the air, I knew that my friend had wonderful plans to redevelop deteriorating buildings in a poverty stricken neighborhood. Although I didn’t want to turn him down, I knew that my firm wouldn’t allow me to moonlight and work on the project on my own time. Although it was hard to let my friend know, I knew I had to tell him that I can’t take on my own projects while working at the firm. In addition, I also enjoy my employment at the firm and I’m constantly learning how to make architecture a reality, asking questions relative to business operations, and turning to the senior architects and project managers for advice.

So, I forewarned my friend that he might not like what he’s about to hear and I explained the concept of moonlighting to him. I told him that moonlighting is when an architect is employed by an architecture firm and takes on his or her own clients outside of business hours and works on their projects in the evening. This is generally done for compensation and the projects are typically on a smaller scale.

After explaining the concept of moonlighting to my friend, I told him that my firm does not allow any of its employees to work on any architectural work outside of the firm. To work at the firm, we also had to sign a non-compete clause stating that we would not go after the firm’s clients if we resigned. I explained that this meant I couldn’t work on his project on my own and if I brought him into the firm as a client, then we wouldn’t be able to work together for a period of time if I left the firm.

I knew my good friend would be taken back by all of this information and that he’d be unhappy, but I also knew that it had to be done. However, I also thought of an alternative to moonlighting that would allow me to be his architect and also work in favor of the architecture firm.

Discussing the project and negotiating with a partner

Fortunately, the architecture firm where I’m employed is organized in a way that allows everyone to mingle with one another. We’re all friends with one another and we’re invited to speak with the partners about any issues or ideas. So, I told my good friend that I’d like to speak with one of the managing partners at the firm about his project and explain its significance to me. I’d also negotiate with the managing partner and come up with terms where I would work on the project on my own time, use my architect’s seal for the final construction drawings, keep my friend as my client if I left, and split the compensation as negotiated.

My good friend was excited about this proposition and was more than willing to bring his project into the architecture firm!

So, I setup a meeting with the managing partner who is also my mentor at the firm and told him about my friend’s project. I explained that it would be a project that benefitted a poverty stricken neighborhood because it would be one of the only restaurants in the area. In addition, if my friend purchases another building in the area, his plan is to turn the ground floor into an organic grocery store to alleviate the food desert in the area.

Then, I explained my attachment to the humanitarian aspect of the project and expressed my interest in bringing the project into the firm. I discussed the fee that I negotiated with my friend, I’d be the one to seal the final drawings, work on the project on my own time, keep my friend as my future client, and that we would split the compensation at the rate that we negotiate.

After laying out these terms and conditions, the managing partner was more than willing to take on the project. In fact, we moved onto discussing potential structural, mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and fire protection consultants that would be able to work in my good friend’s project budget.

Although I was nervous to talk to the managing partner about my friend’s project, I knew that the only bad outcome from the discussion was that he would say no. However, seeing that he was excited to help me grow as an architect by letting me take on the project under the firm’s supervision made this a great decision.


After working on this project with my friend, I’ve found it to be a very enjoyable experience and being able to ask others quick questions about details for the project helps me feel confident that I’m providing a great design and future renovation to my friend. Although the project is currently on hold as we wait for historic tax credit approval, we’re excited about our design and we can’t wait to develop it further!

Ultimately, as a young architect, you’ll eventually find yourself in a position where a potential client has a project that they would like you to work on while you’re employed at an architecture firm. You’ll be faced with the decision to bring the project into your firm, moonlight if allowed, or leave the firm and pursue the project on your own. Remember that there are always alternatives and you’ll know if the solution you choose to follow is the right one by the feeling in your gut.

Never make a decision that makes you feel like you need to hide or keep secrets. Always choose the path that makes you feel optimistic, happy, and willing to share or ask for advice from your peers.

ArchiTalks #28

This post is part of the ArchiTalks blog series where a topic is chosen for fellow bloggers to interpret and write about. This month's topic was "Moonlighting". Check out some of the other posts from this series by clicking on their title below!

Bob Borson - Life of An Architect (@bobborson)
Should Architects Moonlight?

Jeff Echols - Architect Of The Internet (@Jeff_Echols)
The Ironic Blasphemy of Moonlighting and what Architects are Missing Out On

Lee Calisti, AIA - Think Architect (@LeeCalisti)
moonlighting more than an 80s sitcom

Lora Teagarden - L² Design, LLC (@L2DesignLLC)
Moon(lighting) changes with the seasons

Collier Ward - One More Story (@BuildingContent)

Jeremiah Russell, AIA - ROGUE Architecture (@rogue_architect)
hustle and grind: #architalks

Michael Riscica AIA - Young Architect (@YoungArchitxPDX)
Moonlighting for Young Architects

Stephen Ramos - BUILDINGS ARE COOL (@BuildingsRCool)
Architects do it All Night Long

Brian Paletz - The Emerging Architect (@bpaletz)
Starlight, moonlight - tick tock

Jeffrey Pelletier - Board & Vellum (@boardandvellum)
Is Moonlighting Worth It? Probably Not, But We All Try.

Keith Palma - Architect's Trace (@cogitatedesign)
The Howling

Jim Mehaffey - Yeoman Architect (@jamesmehaffey)
Moonlighting: or Why I Kept My Dayjob.

Gabriela Baierle-Atwood - Gabriela Baierle-Atwood (@gabrielabaierle)
On Moonlighting

Ilaria Marani - Creative Aptitude (@creaptitude)
There is no moolighting. It's a jungle!

Thoughts on finishing Micro Housing China

Thoughts on finishing Micro Housing China

5 Reasons why architects need to take time off

5 Reasons why architects need to take time off