12 Architecture School Portfolio Tips
Getting a job or internship at an architecture firm doesn’t only depend on your skills as an architect (or student). The way you present your skills plays an essential role. At a time of great professional competitiveness and with resumes becoming more globalized, assembling a portfolio may seem like a chore and often very involving: Which projects do I list? What personal information do I add? Should I include my academic papers in professional portfolios?
Brazilian architect Gabriel Kogan has shared with us a list of twelve tips on how to build a good architectural portfolio, ranging from graphic design to the type of personal information and content that should be included in your resume. Read his guidelines after the break, and if you have any other tips share them with us in the comments section.
1. Just Say “No” to Stand Alone Resumes
Never (ever EVER) just send your resume without a portfolio of your work. That’s rule number one, without a doubt. Plain text resumes are rarely looked at and won’t stand out when compared to others. Where you graduated from is much less important than your actual ability in the profession.
2. Your Portfolio’s Presentation is Just as Important as Its Content
Visual composition can make or break your portfolio. This shows your grasp of an essential skill: graphic design. Even portfolios with amazing projects tend to be overlooked or become invisible when compared to ones with more attractive presentation. Very cluttered pages can hide content. The images need to breathe. Do not overload your portfolio with a lot of information to make it look more full: the more concise and attractive the layout, the better. Usually the people looking over these documents can tell what information is relevant and what is just filler. The font, margins, structure and proportion of a page say a lot about your ability as an architect as well.
3. Include Lots of Personal Information
An architect’s work is multidisciplinary. For virtually every practicing architect it is important to have general knowledge that transcends the technical design or building project. Personality is critical to the job. If your poems are good, if your drawings are cool, if you write well, if you like art, if you take great photos; there is no reason to hide any of that in your architecture portfolio. Offices almost always seek architects who think for themselves. In addition, this information can make the portfolio more fun. They should also appear visually. Your photo ID or a selfie of a group of friends on the beach aren’t really appropriate, but a photo – even abstract – that shows your personality and how you present yourself or represent your interests may add a nice touch: images that reflect, most importantly, your personality and your interests.
4. A Long Portfolio Isn’t Better Than a Short One
On the contrary. Some offices receive dozens of resumes a day and so it is important to be short and sweet; straight to the point. Portfolios with lots of pages are rarely looked at fully. Put your best projects first. Close with something attractive too, but the first impression is the one that counts. If you have many projects that you think are good, don’t put them all; only the best of the best. Mediocre projects – ones you aren’t proud of or have any doubts about – leave out, they may have mattered to you, but don’t hang on. It’s better to have two excellent projects than 10 average ones. It’s better to have two excellent projects than two excellent ones plus 8 mediocre ones. There is no rule for the number of pages, but a 40 page document already seems too long. Remember: at first the document will be looked at for no more than one minute before being passed on.
5. Choose Projects that Work with the Office’s Profile
You need to make slightly different portfolios for each place you’re applying to. Certain designs, for example, may suit some offices, but would get thrown out of another. Study the company, get to know little of their philosophy and create something unique for them. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t include “unusual” projects. On the contrary, offices are usually very open to new architecture styles, as long as they are well-founded. Be careful not to mirror projects of the office where you’re trying to work. Few things are more annoying to an office to than to see a copy of a project or their “style” in a portfolio they receive. Being original and thinking for yourself are fundamental characteristics.
6. Attach a PDF With a Maximum of 15 Mb
Online platform portfolios are not cool. Again, online platform portfolios are not cool. They’re always very slow and with interfaces that are difficult to navigate. It is important for the office keep the file on their server because in the future they may be interested in something that there was no opportunity for in the past. A PDF makes it easy to search your portfolio. Sites with their own domain and architectural visual programming can be very well received, but do not replace the old PDF. Google Drive and large file sending platforms should be avoided.
7. Make Your CV Page Appealing
Despite its limited importance compared to the works and images, the CV page should contain clear data. Which city do you live in? What languages do you speak? What software do you use? This information can be placed in an exciting fashion, with infographics, for example. Your ID number, Social Security Number, marital status, home address and the like are irrelevant data and therefore don’t need to be included in an initial contact. But be sure to put information about foreign language! This is often a necessary skill for offices doing work abroad, and its absence could make your portfolio immediately eliminated.
8. Theoretical Projects
Nothing shows an architect’s potential better than theoretical and academic projects. University is the time to create the start of a portfolio and these works are worth a lot. Worth as much as real projects, by the way. Research on architectural history or the like, when fully developed, demonstrates fundamental knowledge for day-to-day projects. Demonstrate the intellect behind a process and more sophisticated analytical capabilities. Architecture is becoming more and more about research, therefore a mastery of theory is crucial. It should be evident – obviously and succinctly – in the presentation of your work.
9. The Inclusion of Technical Drawings Can Help, but Can Also Distract
Submitting a portfolio isn’t that same as submitting construction drawings. You don’t need to explain everything thoroughly, with plans for all the floors and dozens of sections. But it’s important to get the general idea of the project (the concept) and to show your skills. If you are called for an interview, then take something more detailed. Including many drawings, and particularly, many technical drawings, can only hold your portfolio back; It takes up valuable space. It can be charming, however, to include a 1: 1 or 1: 2 architectural detail that shows your attention to the construction and the precision of the design, but without exaggeration.
10. Duties for Each Project
Be clear and truthful about your contributions in each project. The real contributions! Even if you were an intern, put what you’ve really done, “detailing frames,” “preliminary project concepts,” “compatibility”, “supervisory work”, etc. This will show your actual experience. Architectural design is always a collective work and therefore, even on work of your own jobs, you probably didn’t do it alone. Be honest.
11. Cover Letters
The text in the body of the email is important. It should be brief and attractive. No big speeches. In any case, this is also an area to be a little less impersonal. Honest and poetic letters are better than very formal letters. In fact, nothing sounds worse than formal letters. Unless you are trying to get into an office with hundreds or thousands of employees (in this case, all of the recommendations in this article don’t seem to work well in general). The famous letters of recommendation from other architects are falling out of favor. They’re almost always written by the architect himself and just signed by the architect making the recommendation. These letters should only be included if the office asks for them within the process. Also, be careful not to forward the same e-mail to all offices that you intend to look for a job at. E-mails with “fwd” in the title or an open list of addresses are usually deleted before the process even begins.
12. Most Importantly, Always Tell the Truth
Don’t invent or exaggerate anything in your portfolio or resume. Honesty is the best policy. You can even get a job, but lose it afterwards because you lied. The truth comes out quickly. Just be yourself.