Architecture Pin Up: How to prepare for a winning design review

...for most students one of the most nervous moments of their architecture school experience
Architecture Crit & Presentation

An architecture pin up or design review, is for most students one of the most nervous moments of their architecture school experience.

Few people enjoy them, and why would you? A whole semesters (…sometimes a years) worth of hard work all boils down to that one moment …there’s a lot riding on it.

In this post we want to highlight the key areas for preparing for an architecture pin up and design review, as we feel this is the most important part of the process. You simply will not be able to deliver the best presentation you can without good preparation.

The key areas include:

  • Presentation layout
  • Printing
  • Time management
  • Pinning up
  • Rehearsing
  • What to wear
  • Eating
  • Arriving on time
  • Listening

But first…

What is a pin-up in architecture?

In the context of architecture, a “pin-up” refers to a formal or informal presentation or review of architectural designs. This can be in a studio, academic, or professional setting. The term comes from the tradition of literally pinning up drawings, diagrams, and renderings on a wall for critique and discussion.

Pin-ups can vary in formality and structure. Some are more formal, with a set time for presentation and a panel of critics. Other times, they may be informal, with work simply being displayed for peer feedback or self-review.

These presentations play an essential role in the architectural design process. They offer an opportunity for architects, designers, students, and others to discuss ideas, receive feedback, challenge assumptions, and refine their designs.

Architecture Pin Up

What is the pin up process like for students?

The “pin-up” process for architecture students generally follows these steps:

  1. Preparation: Students spend time creating drawings, diagrams, renderings, and sometimes physical models that communicate their design idea. This includes plans, sections, elevations, perspectives, and conceptual diagrams, and may also include details, analytical drawings, and other types of images. These are often printed out on large sheets of paper for presentation.
  2. Pin-Up: The physical act of pinning one’s work onto a presentation board or wall space. This is where the term “pin-up” comes from. The layout of the work is very important, as it needs to tell the story of the project in a logical and compelling way.
  3. Critique: Once the work is pinned up, it’s time for the critique (often referred to as a “crit”). This is when professors, peers, and sometimes guest critics will review the work. They’ll look at the design, the drawings, and the overall presentation to offer constructive feedback.
  4. Discussion: During the crit, there is typically a lot of discussion. The student explains their project and thought process. Critics ask questions, provide insights, suggest improvements, and generally help the student to see their work from different perspectives.

In some cases, as you’ve mentioned, the review can be done without the student present. In this situation, the focus is completely on the material that’s been pinned up, without any verbal explanation from the student. This places a lot of emphasis on the clarity and effectiveness of the visual presentation.

While the pin-up and review process can be nerve-wracking, it’s also a very valuable part of architectural education. It’s a chance for students to learn how to present their ideas, handle critiques, and think critically about their own work. It’s also an opportunity to see what other students are doing and learn from their projects and presentations.

What makes a good pin up?

In order to produce a strong pin-up presentation, you should focus on the quality, legibility, and organization of your drawings, paying attention to how they can tell the story of your project without verbal explanation.

We would also add:

  1. Clarity: Your drawings and diagrams should be self-explanatory. Avoid ambiguity, ensure the scales and orientation are clear, and the main aspects of your design are easy to comprehend. Think of your presentation as a silent storyteller.
  2. Hierarchy: Not all drawings are equally important. Decide which ones are your key drawings and give them more space on your board. The way you place and size your drawings communicates to the viewer what to pay attention to.
  3. Consistency: Maintain consistency in graphic style, line weights, and color palette across all drawings. This helps tie the presentation together and makes it visually appealing and professional.
  4. Narrative: Arrange your work in a way that tells the story of your design process. This could start with site analysis, initial concepts, development sketches, and finish with the final design represented in plans, sections, elevations, and 3D views or models.
  5. Details and Sectional Views: Including detailed drawings and sectional views can really help to show the complexity and thoughtfulness of your design. It can be very helpful to show how different parts of your design come together.
  6. Context: Show how your project fits into its surroundings and responds to its context. This could be through site plans, context elevations or rendered views.
  7. Rendering Quality: Spend time on producing high-quality renderings if they are part of your presentation. They can help to communicate the atmosphere and materiality of your design.
  8. Design Process: If possible, showcase your design thinking and process. This could be through sketches, study models, or iterative drawings. This gives a sense of your journey and how you arrived at your final design.
  9. Annotations: Although the drawings should speak for themselves, well-placed short annotations can guide the viewers through your design and highlight important aspects.

Remember, your presentation board is a representation of your design thinking, process, and outcome. Invest time in it and remember to step back from time to time to look at it as a whole. Ask yourself if it communicates your design effectively and adjust as necessary.

Lastly, don’t forget to breathe and relax. It’s normal to feel nervous about this, but remember you’ve worked hard and learned a lot. Use this opportunity to showcase your growth and your creativity.

Good luck!

Architecture Pin Up

How to prepare for an architecture pin up or design review

Presentation layout

You should plan your presentations layout early on in the projects development, in order to decide on sheet formats and size. This also then provides a guide for how much and what work needs to be produced.

The appearance of your presentation is very important, it must look attractive and be well considered. It must not be a jumble of randomly arranged sheets resulting in you having to jump between pages.

The layout must follow and show your projects progression and story, it must have a beginning a middle and an end. This not only provides you with a guide to ensure you present your work in the correct order, but also allows it to viewed and understood in your absence. Think of your presentation as a short narrative.

For this reason we prefer physically pinning work up and arranging it as a collective, rather than slide by slide via a projector or screen.

Don’t forget to consider where and how you present your models, they should form an important part of your presentation and offer an alternative media that almost never fails to excite and captivate its audience.

Printing

Different colleges and universities have different requirements for how your work should be presented, but a lot of them require your work to be physically printed. Which when compared to digital presentations is far better, as your work can be viewed as a whole, rather than in slides.

The size of your sheets should have already been worked out when you designed the layout of your presentation, but be mindful that A4 sizes are really not suitable for this type of presentation and A3’s should only be used to show single images. It’s best to stick to A2 and A1 paper sizes, landscape, portrait, square …up to you.

Before printing your presentation you should always print a draft set first, even if it’s a smaller size, as there will always be things you notice that can’t be seen on your screen.

Final printing needs to occur at least 24 hours before your pin up (at the very minimum), preferably 48, this provides a small buffer of time to re-print something if you need to make some final adjustments.

You also need to bear in mind that your whole year group and even years above and below are likely to be printing their work at the same time, so there may be a queue. One way around this is to use a designated printers outside of your architecture school, which can also be a bit cheaper.

Once printed, keep your work safe and out of harm’s way, there is nothing worse than damaging a freshly printed set of drawings. Drawing tubes are excellent for this (we recommend one here) and if they are mounted then use a large hard backed portfolio case like this one here.

Time

Giving yourself enough time in-between finishing a project and its critique is key in delivering a good presentation, you want to be aiming to use the last day for only pinning up and/or organizing your slides, along with giving yourself a buffer for any emergency printing.

This leaves the evening relatively stress free and allows you get a good amount of sleep in readiness for the next day.

Though this is obviously a lot easier said than done, and it’s all too easy to leave everything to the last minute. However in every year group there are always a select few that manage to be finished before everyone else, and these are almost always the best students and ones who gets the best grades.

We should all be aiming for the best possible result, and with a little forward planning and time management, it’s quite possible.

Pinning up

Once you have your work printed, then the next stage in your preparation towards the design review is to pin your work up.

We like to do this the day (afternoon) before, as if you pin up too earlier there may be a risk of your work getting damaged during the very busy period with everyone else also trying to do the same thing.

Additionally there should be little than can go wrong at this stage if you have followed the above steps, so you have a little time.

In terms of arrangement, you will already have the order and layout resolved (we set ours out in CAD) and so print a copy of this out to guide you.

Your work needs to be evenly spaced out, straight and aligned, a 2cm gap between each sheet is a good start, and you may want to use a tape measure and spirit level to assist you with alignment.

The pins you use are also important, there is nothing worse than a miss match of sizes and colors. So buy a good set, and keep them in a pot so you can reuse them for future presentations.

We recommend any of these push pins

Note that each presentation sheet should be pinned on all four corners …please don’t leave loose edges, it looks terrible.

Lastly, and once everything is up and you’re happy with it, don’t forget to leave your area tidy by removing any spare pins and bits of paper, and may be even give it a sweep. First impressions are everything.

Rehearse

With your work now pinned up and organised, it will be the perfect time to run through your presentation. You should have organised it so that the start and finish runs left to right or up and down the wall, telling the story and showing the projects process’s.

Starting at the beginning and if you need to, make a few notes on the important points that each sheet address’s to help prompt you during your presentation. When under pressure and normally a little bit nervous, it’s easy to forget key facts.

Try to also highlight where you think the weak points of your project are, and plan your answers around any potential questions you may be asked.

What to wear for a pin up and design review

What to wear for an architecture pin up is a common question and one that architecture school’s don’t often supply any guidance on, which leaves it slightly open to individual interruption.

The short answer is ‘smart casual’, but on the day you’ll notice a full array of appearances.

Some students will simply wear what they wear on a day to day basis, some will still be in what they were wearing the day before, some will be smart, and some will be scruffy. 

What you need to remember is that first impressions count, and if you dress appropriately then at the very least you give the impression that you’re taking the presentation seriously, and are more likely to gain your audiences interest from the beginning.

You are there to represent your work it the best possible light you can, so dress appropriately and sensibly.

Breakfast

On the day, make sure you wake up in time to have a good breakfast. Setting yourself up for the day ahead is vitally important, and you need to give yourself the best possible chance of doing well, starting with breakfast.

If you’re presenting in the afternoon, this means lunch as well!

It’s easy for nerves to take control on the day, but don’t let that stop you from eating and drinking plenty of water.

Arrive on time

This is all about making the presentation day as stress free and easy as possible, and arriving on time is one of the first elements that could throw it all off balance.

Aim to arrive early, and first check that your presentation is all still how you left it (sometimes things fall down) and then go get a coffee …start the day relaxed.

If you’re all set and you see someone struggling, help them out, you are all in this together.

Listen to others

Often the presentations are split into groups and project units to ensure that the review day runs as efficiently as possible, and this can mean that you may find yourself sitting and watching others present (sometimes for the whole day) before you are up.

So be patient, and try to learn from their presentations, don’t talk whilst they are presenting and aim to watch everyone.

There will be a lot to gain from studying how others present, and also the chance to get to know the guest tutors that are often invited to critique you with your full time tutors.

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