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Top 10 tips for preparing your architecture portfolio

Updated: Jul 2, 2021

If you have started researching university applications for architecture courses, you will have noticed they are a little bit different from those for other subjects. They require you to submit a portfolio alongside your other application materials, such as transcripts, personal statement and reference letters.

You might have completed High School courses in Art or Design, which will provide a good foundation for an architecture portfolio. Is there something else that you should add? If you have been wondering about this, continue reading, this article is for you! We have prepared the top 10 tips for preparing a stunning architecture portfolio ahead of your university application.

  1. First and foremost, adhere to the guidelines provided by each university that you are applying to. When you have ensured that your portfolio is compliant with their requirements, come back here and continue reading, implementing the points from the advice below that are relevant and don’t contradict the portfolio requirements of the school you are applying to. If you are applying to more than one university, make sure that you understand the specific requirements for each of their applications – it might seem obvious but it is not uncommon for applicants to overlook this!

  2. Do include your High School work, but don’t limit yourself to just that. The admissions panel who will assess your portfolio and potentially interview you, want to see that you are committed about studying architecture before offering you a place at the University of your dreams. This means that you are able to respond to a brief set by your High School tutor, but also that you are able to come up with your own challenges for yourself, and that you never stop learning and being inquisitive about architecture. To demonstrate this, it is important to combine work that you have done at school (for example, any art projects that you did guided by your school teachers), alongside self-initiated projects (for example, if you have taught yourself how to draw in perspective). If you have developed work with a private tutor outside school, do include it as well – this is very valuable. Your portfolio should state, in a small caption, in which context each project was developed.

  3. Learn the difference between art and design, and include self-initiated design projects. Think about a small challenge for yourself. For example, do you live near the ocean? Try to design a small shelter for sunbathing by the sea. Do you live in a busy metropolis? Give yourself the challenge to design a small bus stop. Start small, and consider what would be needed for this design to be feasible and buildable. The admissions panel won’t mind technical errors, as long as they can see your drive and your commitment to making a difference to design, that you learn from each mistake, and that you have sought to research the right solutions to the best of your ability.

  4. Use a variety of media and show process. Depending on the modules that you have taken in High School, you might already possess a variety of skills, ranging from painting, observational drawing, computer-assisted drawing or model-making. Utilize these skills to visualise your designs in multiple ways. Taking the previous bus stop example – don’t just draw it, but try to visualise it using a maquette, made from cardboard or wood. If you include any maquettes in your portfolio, do not send the original works. Instead, photograph them and include them in your digital document as images, carefully annotated. Don’t include only finished works, but also show your design, thinking and research process.

  5. Demonstrate an understanding of scale. Especially in your design projects, it is important that you show you understand the size and scale of your architectural visions. You can do that by adding measurements on your drawings, or by including human figures in your drawings and maquettes.

  6. Reference the work of other artists, architects and designers in your portfolio. The admissions panel at the University of your choice want to know that you are curious about the world around you, including the work of international artists, architects and designers. They also want to see how their work has inspired your own. Thankfully, it is now very easy to follow other practitioners online, particularly on social media. Don’t limit yourself to artists or designers from your home country – set your eyes further afield and gain an understanding of international art and design, too.

  7. Curate the tempo of your portfolio. When you create the layout of your portfolio, it is important to remember the following rule. Pages with lots of little images and captions create a sense of speed in your portfolio, highlighting the process that has gone into creating your projects. Pages with few full-bleed images (one or two), slow down the reader and make them reflect about your work, inspiring a sense of awe towards more completed pieces. Make sure to combine “fast” pages with lots of little images, with “slow” pages where one can slow down and admire your work.

  8. Make sure all work is carefully annotated. Every project included in your portfolio must be annotated. It is especially important to include the title of the project, date, scale (as explained in point 5), and, last but not least, whether you did this project on your own, with colleagues, and/or under the supervision of a tutor, teacher or mentor.

  9. Keep you file to 15Mb, and 15 pages, at most. The university application portal is likely to have its own file requirements. These are there to ensure the admissions team can open your file with ease, so it is important that you adhere to the guidelines provided. In case they have not provided a maximum file size or a maximum number of pages, make sure that your file does not exceed 15Mb, and that there is a manageable number of pages – 15 is a good number.

  10. Ensure that your file can be opened on another computer. The last thing you want is that the admissions panel open your file and are not able to access its contents due to a technical error. Send the file to a friend or relative via email and let them check that the file can be opened and is working correctly, before uploading it onto the university application portal. Bonus points if you print it in greyscale to make sure it is readable even then – in case the admissions panel decide to print it for themselves ahead of your interview.

From everyone at Global Arts Education, good luck with your applications!

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