Architecture portfolio guide

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The Architects Portfolio

An architecture portfolio is one of the most important items an architect and/or architecture student should possess. 

Presented through the careful selection of drawings, images, text and photographs it represents a timeline and record of experience that demonstrates its creators architectural skills, methods and capabilities. 

Without a portfolio it is almost impossible to gain an architectural position within a practice, or an architecture school placement at a college or university.

In this guide we aim to cover all aspects of an architecture portfolios creation and presentation, discussing under the below chapters; what should and shouldn’t be included, design and layout techniques, formats, and methods of presentation.

  • What is an architecture portfolio

  • What your portfolio should show

  • University and College portfolio’s

  • How to create an architecture portfolio

  • Portfolio presentation types

  • What to include in your portfolio

  • Portfolio sizes

  • Ways of presenting your architecture portfolio

  • Architecture portfolio cover pages and examples

  • Architecture portfolio examples

  • Useful links

  • Useful Tools

What is an architecture portfolio? 

An architect’s (or architecture students) portfolio is essentially a tool used to present and demonstrate the skills and services they can provide to a future employer. Whether this is for a position within an architectural practice, or for a private project directly associated to a client. 

The same can also be said for new students who are initially applying for a college or university placement, although here there is slightly more enthuses put upon presenting an interest and passion for the subject.

Nonetheless it is very unlikely that any employment or position will be given without firstly viewing the applicant’s portfolio, as it is simply the only item that can physically provide evidence of their abilities, and provide a certain level of guarantee that they are capable of carrying out the work required.

So like it or not, your portfolio is ultimately what decides whether your application will be successful, it needs to reinforce your resume/C.V, support your interview persona, and demonstrate that you will be capable.

An initial example of how this may be presented can be found here

What should your portfolio show?

An architecture portfolio needs to show and provide the person reading it with a clear image of the range, amount and diversity of your architectural skills, knowledge and current experience. For this reason it needs to (as much as possible) demonstrate that you are capable and have experience in each phase of a projects development.

Your portfolio should be treated as a personal statement and present the type of work you do and the methods used to get there, this showcases how you see things and presents the type of designer you are, it should be populated with your best and most current work, (showing work that is 5 years old does not indicate who are).

The same can be said for the chose of work presented. Be careful to show only the work that you have had the most involvement in, this is particularly relevant for large projects where you may have been part of a team.

Don’t just show the 3D rendering (unless you actually did it) or a picture of the finished building, show the construction detail or plan arrangement you, yourself produced. Show your part and involvement, and honestly state your role.

Sample portfolio

When applying for an employment position, most architectural practices will firstly ask for a sample portfolio to be sent with your C.V/resume. This should consist of two to five A3 or A4 pages (three is preferred), and be a very careful selection of your best and most relevant work.

This is about quality and not quantity, so aim to present one to two drawings or images per page.

If advertising for a position, it is very likely that the practice you are applying to will also receive a high number of other applications, and so at this stage keeping it short will help maintain their full attention, and provide the best chance of getting an interview.

The below sample portfolios provide a great example of the format, size and amount of work to send.

Sample example 01 - Full online version available here.

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Sample example 02 - Full online version available here.

The above portfolio shows how to correctly arrange an A4 page with just one or two images, making it immediately easy to understand, read and print out

Main portfolio

Your sample portfolio has got you through the door, but it’s your main and full portfolio that will ultimately be responsible for proving you’re the right fit for the position.

It should include examples of all the key projects and areas you have worked on and/or have been involved in.

For students entering into the profession for the first time, you should always aim to present key construction details, as well as drawings and representations, employers will want to see that you have a general understanding of all the procurement stages.

For professionals, site experience and completed projects become more important (if available), and always include a sample of your student work …employers are still interested in this.

For both, presenting projects that relate to the employers work will help to establish yourself.

For employment positions that are specific, you should predominately weight and tailor your work to that particular aspect, whilst still showing (although a lesser amount) a selection of the other areas you have experience in. 

The example below demonstrates how to successfully present a varied range of experience in a clear and concise manner, from general plan arrangements through to detailed joinery drawings. The full online portfolio can be found here

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Where a newly licensed architects or architecture interns/assistants portfolio still contains a large amount of student work, you can combine this with your professional experience as shown below. This presents a clear and steady timeline of experience and development. Full online portfolio here

University and College portfolio’s

Most of what is discussed in this article covers the methods and content that can and should also be included in a portfolio used by a student looking for an architecture school placement.

However as provided in the excellent description and breakdown in below video, new and prospective students need to demonstrate that they have the skills, basic understanding and passion for the subject, rather than the physical work to prove it. This as talked about, may mean doing some extra work to boost your portfolio outside of high school / college.

As with the above portfolio example, some students prior to starting architecture school will attend a foundation year or diploma course in art and design. This may be because they a unsure of what direction to take or just want to gain some extra skills and experiance before starting.

This does however make their portfolios slightly more advanced and directed towards the subject, in both the content and the portfolios presentation.

Although highly recommended, on average most students do not do this, and instead continue straight through to architecture school without taking any sort of supplementary course.

The below video provides a breakdown and example of how to prepare a portfolio for this very situation:

How to create an architecture portfolio

For those that have not created an architecture portfolio before or who may be looking for some tips on how to improve their current one. The below 8 stages outline how to best prepare and create a new architectural portfolio:

01 -Choose your projects

You should aim to show only your best and most relevant work, and this may be tailored to the audience that will be viewing your portfolio, and/or be a selection of successful projects and experiences. 

You are (and must) showcase your talent and so careful selection is key, the projects you choose should demonstrate your range of skills, diversity of experience and be available to present in a variety of media’s. 

02 - Select appropriate drawings and images 

As mentioned above, the range of media you choose to present your work is just as important as the drawings themselves, diversification is important in order to demonstrate your varying skills and talents.

When selecting your drawings and images, you should aim for quality not quantity, one well produced and presented drawing or image is much more powerful than 5 average examples.

If you choose to present hand drawings, then make sure that the scanner you use is of high quality. You can take your drawings to print shop if needs be, and have them scanned professionally.

03 - Choose a format

We mentioned here, that your portfolio should be focused on an A3 sheet size, as anything larger becomes too uncomfortable to carry and physically present, and anything smaller becomes too limiting.

A lot of practices and institutions will require you to firstly send either a sample or the full document via email before you get selected for an interview. An A3 document enables your work to be easily printed out to scale, or downsized to an A4 without too much trouble and detail being lost.

Slightly unfortunately, the easier you make it for the recipient to view your work the more likely they are to engage with it …it’s not always initially based on the quality of work.

04 - Create a portfolio template 

Creating a template unifies your portfolio and creates consistency for the viewer, it also makes the whole arrangement process much easier and efficient, as you are effectively creating a concept for your portfolio.

The general arrangement is a personal chose, but be mindful to not over saturate your pages with information, less is more here, and quality over quantity!

In our opinion a simple white background is best, unless a particular project specifically calls for an alternative. But be mindful to not overbear your work.

Programs such as Photoshop and Illustrator can be used to edit and revise your drawings and images, and Adobe InDesign is without doubt the best desktop programme for organizing and producing documents such as these. (Links to these can be found at the end of this article).

Other web based programmes such as Behance, Issuu and Calaméo are also available, however as discussed below they can have severe limitations.

05 - Arrange in a visual format

The order in which you choose to arrange your portfolio in, should run chronologically and demonstrate each of your key skills.

Order and neatness are vitally important, and help to tell the story of your professional development and career to date.

This process does (and should) take time and therefore should not be rushed and left to the last minute. Ideally you want to produce several drafts, and then leave and come back to them, show your peers, ask for opinions and get feedback.

06 - Create a front cover

The front cover of your portfolio will be the first insight into your work for the person about to view it, and it is wise to keep this simple.

The examples featured further down in this article demonstrate what you should aim for and provide a simple aesthetic, that is both interesting and minimal.  It can consist of typography, a graphic, an image, and/or a representation.

The front cover as a minimum should have a title (often just portfolio) and your full name. You may also wish to state the college or university you come from (if a student) and what academic or professional status you are.

The inside cover and neighbouring pages are a good opportunity to place your C.V/resume, this forms one full and concise document, that will be useful both during and after the interview for the interviewer.

07 - Create a file  

Some practices still prefer physical copies of portfolios (often just the sample) to send via post and will refuse to view anything that is not. Others are the complete opposite, and so read the submission requirements carefully.

For those that except digital submissions you should choose one the methods described below. If sending your portfolio in a PDF format, make sure that the file size is no larger than 10MB (15MB max) to enable it to be easily sent via email.

You may wish to send it via WeTransfer or Dropbox to avoid large attachment sizes, however this adds an additional layer of inconvenience for the interviewer, and as discussed above, may move you to the bottom of the pile.

Don’t under any circumstances send Jpegs or PNG’s, this will look extremely unprofessional.

08 - Cover letter

Lastly and to add a professional finishing touch to your portfolio, you will need to add a personalised cover letter to each submission.

This doesn’t need to be an in depth analysis of why you appreciate their work, but at least make sure it is addressed to a singular (and the correct) person.

Portfolios addressed to “Dear Sir or Madam” or “To whom it may concern” are incredibly impersonal and make it very clear that the recipient reading it is just one of many. So please find out who to correctly address it to and provide yourself with the best chance of getting through.

Portfolio presentation tips

Edit, Edit, Edit

A lot of portfolios suffer from an information overload, and as discussed above you must avoid presenting too much information and therefore EDIT your work down. The below portfolio sample is a very good example of overloading a page with too much information.

In spite of it being very well presented, there will never be enough time for anyone to read the text and study all of those small diagrams.

Hierarchy

There should be a clear order to the work your portfolio presents, and for each project you must decide on and draw attention to the most important diagram or drawing and make it be seen first. Then take the viewer to the second and then to the third.

Each section of your portfolio must tell a short story about the projects inputs and outputs, and how they where developed into a finished building.

Scale

Ensure that your portfolio can be read at smaller scales, larger scales are generally fine and rarely required, but an A3 portfolio is very likely to be printed at A4 by the interviewer (saving paper and ink), and so must be legible for it to be successful.

Length

We see a lot or portfolios that are 40 to 60 pages, this far too long and takes too much time to present and read. As shown in the below examples you should be aiming for 15 to 20 pages, (25 at a maximum) of carefully selected and relevant work.

Quality

During the application process you have a short time to convince the interviewer that you are worth a second look.

Aim to present your work via minimal and descriptive text, well weighted and simple line work for plans, elevations and sections, properly exposed and well composed photographs, provide examples of physical models and renders without text (simple and effective presentation is key).

Photographs

Particularly for finished and completed buildings, always use professionally taken photographs by an architectural photographer. Most practices will have these taken for their own publicity needs and website (which you can normally use with their permission), however if not, and if you can gain access, you must do this yourself.

When presenting architecture models, make sure you use a tripod and have good lighting with a solid and plain background. Professionalism is key.

What to include in your portfolio

As you progress through architecture school, internships and the profession, so to must the content of your portfolio.

Starting out and as a student and/or graduate, your portfolio will most commonly consist of academic and theoretical work from architecture school, unless you have gained extra experience outside of your course.

When transitioning from an intern architect / architectural assistant to a newly qualified architect, there should be a greater and more diverse mix of academic and built work experience. Employers understand however that each applicants experience and exposure to live projects will be different.

As a newly licensed architect and as experience grows, so should the amount of live and built projects in your portfolio, and upon reaching a mid-career level and beyond it should be predominately focused on completed projects.  

However aside from the type of projects presented, they should all aim to demonstrate a very similar set of skills, that include:

  • Hand sketching and drawing

  • Creative problem solving

  • Model making

  • Construction detailing (and knowledge)

  • Architectural visualization (showcasing atmosphere, story, narrative)

  • Versatility (showing other interests such as photography, sculpture, furniture design, film making)

  • Visual / graphical communication (software and digital skills)

  • Industry involvement (blog, published work, lectured)

  • CAD skills (general software skills)

  • 3D modelling (general software skills)

If your portfolio is weighted towards one area and particular skill set such as construction detailing for example, then this is what the employer will focus on and what ultimately you may be employed to do. …so careful consideration must to taken to present the skills you want to be hired for.

Portfolio sizes

This is also discussed here in “what to take to an interview”, where we advise that you should base your portfolio templates on an A3 size and in landscape format. If you want to experiment with a square format (keeping similar proportions), then this is also fine, however it does create more work when preparing and printing a final physical copy.

The reason for this sizing is simply because as long as you have been mindful to not overcrowd and cram your pages with information, then an A3 sheet printed at A4 is still easily legible.

An A3 document is also very easy to physically travel with and present.

Ways of presenting your architecture portfolio

There are many ways to present and display a portfolio, and although a physical portfolio is harder and more time consuming to keep up to date, we strongly recommended that the below digital methods are always supported by a hard copy. This is particularly relevant when attending interviews.

Digital portfolios have become the go to method of initial communication and presentation of a portfolio when applying for a college/university placement or an employment position.

…ans as shown below there are a few to choose from, with some being more successful than others.

Web hosted portfolios

Web hosted portfolio sites such as Behance and Issuu are great for quick, instant and most importantly free, online presentation of your work in a digital format.

However when firstly applying for a position, and simply sending a link to your work via an email, they can become far less reliable and may in fact count against you.

This is firstly because you become solely dependable on the host site your portfolio has been uploaded to, and then secondly you are relying on the recipient being willing to click on your link, and it not being blocked by the practices IT systems (which is often the case).

A lot websites that provide online portfolio services are also littered with advertising and/or make it very difficult to physically print copies of work out. This is obviously not the first impression you want to give and will almost certainly put you at the bottom of pile.

Lastly and predominately because it is the easiest and cheapest solution, a very high number of applicants use this service, and therefore your portfolio is not as distinguished as it could/should be.

PDF

Exporting and sending your portfolio via a PDF attachment, is another common method of portfolio submission.

This provides you (the applicant) with far more control over its formatting and presentation, and also makes it as simple as possible for the employer to receive and view it.  

You should however be careful to keep your file size down and even firstly introduce yourself to the recipient, so they can expect a large attachment to be delivered.

…Some architects and institutions do not like or except attachments.

Portfolio app’s

App’s such as “portfolio for iPad” and Minimal Folio provide a simple method to present images and videos on your iPad or tablet.

This can be a good presentation method for a one to one conversation and when presenting on the move. However as a primary method it falls short due to the requirement of needing the app to view it.

Self-hosted website

The best, most reliable and professional method of presenting a digital portfolio is via your own website, where it can be easily shared, found and updated with a range of text, imagery, video and audio.

For architects in particular it is hard to exist in the modern world without one.

There are many templates and platforms to choose from, but for ease of use and design squarespace is by far the best. 

Architecture portfolio cover pages and examples

A successful cover page should entice its audience to pick up and read your portfolio, and above all else provide a small glimpse into the type of applicant you are.

This will provide the person about to view your portfolio (or perhaps they are choosing which ones to read in general) with an early indication of the type of work inside, and your level of design and presentation skills. This, if done well (as these examples demonstrate), can put you at the top of the pile and in front of the other applicants.

The below examples show three very successful but different approaches to this:

Cover page example 01

These cover pages all show one singular image of the applicant’s primary project in the centre of the cover. The image has been carefully positioned and scaled so to not overbear and crowd the cover, yet still provides a powerful presentation and insight.

They tempt the viewer with just enough information …asking the portfolio to picked up and read.

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Cover page example 02

These examples are graphic lead and minimal in appearance. Although they give little away in terms of what’s presented inside the portfolios, they do show a strong sense of special awareness and care for proportion. Indicating that the applicants work will also share these characteristics.

Cover page example 03

The third and final presentation method is a full page arrangement, that can consist of either a visualization, drawing, photograph, or even a solid block of colour as shown below. This style of presentation is easy to get wrong if the type of image chosen and/or its arrangement is not considered correctly.

But we feel the below examples successfully capture how to do this in a variety of ways.

Architecture portfolio examples

These portfolio examples have been chosen for their successful presentation, arrangement, and variation of content.

They have been presented using and encapsulating many, if not all of the points we have discussed above and provide a well-rounded, clear and concise document of work.

Portfolio example 01

This first portfolio example is from an architecture student from University of Dundee in the UK, and is a brilliant example of both presentation and content. She demonstrates skills starting from a projects inception all the way through to construction, covering all the various attributes required to complete them successfully.

These include; site analysis, design development, various graphic and presentation techniques, plan, elevation and sectional drawing, construction knowledge and model making.

She has even expanded and gone onto share non architectural (but still strongly related) graphic design work, and personal pursuits such as photography, and design competition entries.

All of these accumulate to show that she is a very well rounded and knowledgeable applicant, with a strong desire and passion for architecture and everything that surrounds it.

Portfolio example 02

This portfolio is by a student from the University of Waterloo in the USA, and shares many of the above portfolios successful features, but presents them in a slightly different, more coherent and organised manner.

As mentioned throughout this article, it’s important to carefully organise each page and arrange your projects so they are clear and only show your key and best work.

This portfolio is expertly laid out and arranged, making it very easy to read and understand each project.

Portfolio example 03

This final example again shares and summarizes the strong qualities of the above portfolios, with good content selection and careful arrangement, but also shows the benefits of maintaining a continuous graphic and presentation technique that ties the whole document together.

Each page is related, but also clearly showing something completely different.

Useful portfolio links

Pinterest - pinterest/architecture-portfolio

Issuu - www.issuu.com (search architecture portfolio)

President Medals - www.presidentsmedals.com

YouTube - Cover page design / Cover page examples / Portfolio creation

Useful portfolio tools

Portfolio preparation and production:

Online portfolio submission:

behance

issuu

calameo