moonlighting more than an 80s sitcom


I’m surprised the term moonlighting is still used as it appeared to be an archaic term when I was coming out of school in the early 1990’s. From brief research, its earliest meaning refers to a legendary protest resulting in nighttime illicit activity.

There was always the debate whether one should take an opportunity to do work on the side, outside of their normal day job, to either supplement their income, develop additional relationships or to take on an interesting type of work that may not be happening in their office. I have had a friend do work for me on the side for years, which means he is moonlighting. I’ll leave it to him to answer my questions below, but I’m glad to have his help and he’s working under my supervision.

I don’t have an absolute position on it, other than I would clearly caution someone before deciding. These are questions I would consider.

  • Do I have the experience to do this project?
  • Am I responsible for this work or am I working for someone else?
  • Do I really have the time to commit to this project and give it the attention it deserves?
  • Am I bringing liability to the office where I currently work?
  • Does my current boss permit or approve of this additional work outside the office?
  • Do I care if my boss knows?
  • Do I need the money instead of the time?
  • What advantage will the result of this project bring me?
  • Am I doing this work because I am unhappy at my day job?

In my early post college days, I recall family members and a few friends asking me to help them on projects. They paid me little, if anything, I did the work and we moved on. I don’t know if they thought they were really helping me out or if they thought they could get design work done at extremely reduced rate. My experience level paled in comparison to now, but I believe they got a good deal. Looking back, I don’t think the additional money made any difference in my life or budget, and the work was not more interesting than the work that I did during the day, nor did it lead to anything more interesting or lucrative. That was my basic experience; I turned down opportunities later in my career.

It’s hard to condone or condemn the practice solely on my own experience, but I caution young professionals from taking on this kind of work, especially until they gain more experience. They don’t know what they don’t know. If one is compelled to work outside of their office, I would enter a competition or create a project that they could use to market themselves. Unless one is miserable at work, they might consider bringing that project to the firm so their employer sees them contributing to the overall life of the firm. Maybe you can be a rainmaker.

Otherwise, be careful. There are more interesting things to do under the moon than work round-the-clock.


Read below and see if my friends have a different point of view. #Architalks

photo 1 credit: dlsteele01 First Quarter Moon via photopin (license)
photo 2 credit: dfirecop 1938 Buick Roadmaster – Moonlighting via photopin (license)

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

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

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.

Kyu Young Kim – J&K Atelier (@sokokyu)
Dancing in the Moonlight

Keith Palma – Architect’s Trace (@cogitatedesign)
The Howling

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

Mark Stephens – Mark Stephens Architects (@architectmark)
Architalks 28 Moonlighting

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

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

Jane Vorbrodt – Kuno Architecture (@janevorbrodt)
Crafted Moonlighting

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

moonlighting more than an 80s sitcom

4 thoughts on “moonlighting more than an 80s sitcom

  1. It depends on the circumstances.

    Today I am sitting in my parent’s house in northern Wisconsin, high up on a bluff overlooking Lake Michigan. The house is 22 years old, yet never fails to inspire! It won an AIA award in 1997, and was published in magazines and newspapers. Yet, I designed it before I had my license or an office!

    As a “legitimate” architect (licensed, insured, available during business hours) , I would hate going up against “moonlighters”! Their fees were often 1/3 of mine, and they bring down the perceived value of the market! Some people appreciate that their architect is available during business hours to respond to construction and municipal issues. Some just want to get a cheap set of plans. They are spending an enormous amount of money on their construction project, yet fail to see the value in hiring someone who is legitimate. It’s their project and they can risk the costs that construction complications can cost.

    The case you referred to about a friend doing contact drafting for you – I would not consider “moonlighting” as they are helping you – the architect of record – and not putting their client or themselves at risk.

    The we come to friends and family…. What young architect doesn’t want to do something on their own? The question is….can they actually do the job in a timely and proficient manner? I spent many late nights coming up with the schematic design for my parents house. Their were wads of bum wad thrown about living room of the small apartment we lived in. I can remember many mornings, after working until 2am the night before and getting ready to head to my real job, telling my wife, “This design sucks!” and starting over -again that evening! I finally I got it. (as an educated architect, you know when you have something and when you don’t!) I made some presentation plans and a color rendering, and showed it to my parents a few weeks later. My dad said, “I like it!” A week later he called me and said “Now let’s get the damn thing built! I want to start construction as soon as possible!”. Luckily, one of my friends had been laid off and was doing the “accidental entrepreneur” gig. He agreed to charge my dad $25/hour. This was no “builder house”! The design was post and beam, barrel vault, with a 26′ high window wall! It still took him and me about 4 months to complete the CD’s – and it was a through comprehensive set of 13 sheets. I could never have done that on my own!

    In summation: Realize your limitations – Your clients have no idea what it takes to do a thorough set of drawings – if need be collaborate with a legitimate firm who can handle day-to-day issues. Explain to your client the difference between you – the moonlighter- and a legitimate firm. In most cases, when someone pulls the trigger to hire an architect, time is of the essence. Make sure they understand the time involved and your availability! Understand your stat’e practice laws. As an unlicensed, out-of-state designer, I was still within the law of the state of Wisconsin when I designed that house. But, had this been a small commercial building, I would have been out of my league.

  2. Lee, nice post, as usual.

    You mentioned design competitions as an alternative to moonlighting. As a much younger man I found and competed in a couple of such contests. I remember a senior Architect at the time commenting on not having the energy for extracurricular work.

    I see his point now.


Please leave a reply, and consider sharing this with a friend.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.