What makes a good architecture portfolio?
Stated simply: a portfolio is an amalgam of you at your best so that employers can get a peek at your true potential.
While a solid architecture resume is largely a statement of your abilities, a portfolio is proof and thus, in many cases, is the deciding factor for a recruiter’s decision to hire you or somebody else.
Beyond the apparent importance of including visuals and design illustrations, there are various factors to consider in making an architecture portfolio as strong as it can be.
What is a perfect portfolio design for architects, and how can you come as close as possible to creating it?
What should an architecture portfolio include?
1. Employer Targeted Approach
When your portfolio demonstrates that you put extra effort into customizing it for a specific potential employer, that extra effort is not likely to go unnoticed.
Take the time to research the firm to which you are applying. Carefully note their specializations, project types, and architectural niche(s) so that you know what information in your portfolio will catch the employer’s attention.
If the firm specializes in one type of architecture and yours is another, it will be okay not to adopt this targeted approach.
Explain in your cover letter that you are looking to gain experience in another type of design for a valid reason (say, to get a comprehensive practical experience in pursuit of the architect’s license).
2. Create a Theme and Narrative
A theme and narrative are not restricted to novels. In an architecture portfolio, you convey a narrative through visuals.
It is good to arrange your designs chronologically with a central idea connecting everything (the theme).
As an architect, you have the fortunate opportunity to turn your job application into an outlet for storytelling by developing compelling and inspiring visual attributes.
Ultimately, your narrative is going to guide the recruiter through various, chronologically sorted stages of development in a few of your most highly-praised design projects.
Of course, the main character is you, so remember to allow your artistic voice to reflect in your portfolio’s presentation.
3. Have a Cover Page
A cover page serves a crucial purpose in your application by serving as the first personal introduction that an employer will have of you.
Your cover page must be concise, impactful, and an overall apt description of yourself, along with a portfolio title that succinctly alludes to the type of architecture contained within.
Like with the first page in a novel, keep the wording to a minimum to provide the maximum effect. In other words, there is no benefit to adding information merely to fill in the extra white space once you have nailed down your introduction and title.
Lots of white space is good here.
4. Visual Formatting Consistency
The word “streamlined” may have been hammered into your ears relentlessly, but it is for a good reason.
Formatting is the medium between the recruiter’s eyes and your designs, so make sure that it facilitates easy scrutiny rather than compromising it.
Your portfolio’s content is varied, but a consistent format helps pull them together as one cohesive compilation.
Before calling completion on your portfolio, look it over to ensure that your eyes can gaze upon all the information in a consistent and comfortable pattern.
Adjust your formatting if they can’t.
Don’t save the best for last if you want it to be seen.
As with the moment you step through the door (or turn on the webcam) for an interview, first impressions matter the most.
Not only do you want to choose your best designs, but you will also want to select the designs most relevant to the employer’s needs (for example, urban designs for a city-based firm that does commercial projects).
It is not a scientific experiment, so it is okay to cherry-pick the data that shows you at your creative best.
Alternatively, start with your most recent projects. Show how you have progressed in your career as an architect.
6. Short with Quality over Long and Dull
As with an architecture resume, one of the worst things you can do for your chances of getting hired is by boring the recruiter with monotony and redundant details.
Choose the projects in your repertoire that are both relevant to the employer’s requirements and indicative of your peak creative output. You can never replace the usefulness of a few high-quality examples with a dozen mediocre ones, as the latter is a recipe for rejection.
How long should an architecture portfolio be?
Anywhere between 6 and 9 pieces of design is optimal. But if you don’t feel that you have that many strong designs, it is better to omit mediocre ones to not detract from the few good ones.
7. Focus on Design Visuals, Limit Technical Drawings
Technical drawings are excellent and, in many ways, the keystone of modern architecture. But they are not particularly impressive in terms of visual appeal.
Drafting skills are part and parcel of communicating an outstanding design. But ultimately, wowing the recruiter with artistic renditions of your designs is a more effective attack plan.
8. Include a Brief Summary of Each Project, plus Key Points
Within the narrative of every project you present, make sure the potential employer knows the purpose, details, and thought processes involved with development.
Give the recruiter background knowledge of the design motivation, the source of your inspiration, and how it all came together.
The quality of the words you use is far more important than quantity, so be sure to ascertain that you do more showing than telling with each design.
This approach works if you were the designer for the project.
If you weren’t the designer but one of a few who took part in its success, including key points or features of the building development would make more sense. They can include the type of structure/facility, stories, square footage, project location, and year constructed.
The sketch or 3D visual does not tell the recruiter this information.
For the latter approach, be descriptive but concise.
9. Include Personal Artistic Work
Architecture is not limited to the projects you’ve had a role in while working.
If you have a notable skill in painting, sketching, photography, model-making, or any other artistic pursuit, include it in your portfolio because it will inevitably give you an edge over competing portfolios that are strictly buildings.
It is especially true if the firm is hiring an architectural designer.
Applying the appropriate architectural photography tips will help you present photographs of buildings and your artistic work in the best light.
10. Include One Best Project from Architecture School
If you did not produce your best work while still in architecture school – or have one you are incredibly proud of – there is no need to include any in your portfolio.
However, if you do, choosing one project that you were involved in while still a student (perhaps your final project) gives the recruiter an idea of your development as an architect.
Choosing one school project also enables you to demonstrate your unbridled creativity before being subjected to the various conditions and guidelines imposed by working for a firm.
11. Include a Freehand Sketch
In a world of computerized rendering and machine-produced art, a recruiter is going to want to see how far your unaided skills in sketching can take you before you enlist the help of software.
It is where a freehand sketch can be intrinsically useful, showing what you are capable of as an architect when stripped down to just a pencil and paper.
Do not underestimate the impact of showing your freehand drawing skills in winning a designer’s role. The bosses value them immensely, and you could potentially get more exposure in dealing directly with clients.
12. Ensure Visual Consistency Between Resume and Portfolio
You should treat your entire application as one unit. Visual consistency is the key to connecting all of your materials as one, high-quality application.
What is visual consistency, and why does it matter?
For the same reason your portfolio has a theme, your application should have one as well. If your resume features a minimalist look with a black, white, and gray color scheme, your portfolio should have that same look.
Likewise, suppose your portfolio features traditionally-styled designs with a tan and beige color scheme.
In that case, your resume should have a similar color scheme with an appropriate font – such as Garamond, in this case – to create an overall aesthetically-appealing application package.
13. Have a Hard and Soft Copy on Hand at All Times
Preparation is tantamount to success. Your portfolio, no matter how exceptional, is useless when inaccessible.
Worse yet, building a portfolio is hard work; imagine hours sunk into composing the perfect presentation all lost due to a critical hard drive error or computer crash.
The easy solution to always having an accessible soft copy?
Save it to the cloud with a platform like Google Drive or Microsoft OneDrive, so that not only can you relieve yourself of the risk of losing everything. You have the files accessible from anywhere you have an internet connection for prompt presentation upon request.
Additionally, invest in a quality external hard drive so you have a local backup copy.
However, be aware that most employers demand a physical hard copy of your portfolio, so make sure to bring one with you to an interview.
Do not compromise your designs’ details by using low-quality materials to print out your portfolio at the last moment, which leads to the next point.
14. Ensure Quality Print
Think of investing in a quality print as investing in a career. It is one of the best investments you could make.
There are plenty of businesses specializing in this type of work, and they are well-paid because demand is high for a good reason. Companies like Vistaprint, GotPrint, or a local business provide the necessary equipment to produce business-grade portfolio prints.
The cost associated with these services is well worth it when it translates into landing a higher-paying job in architecture.
15. Take Note of the Particular Delivery Methods for Each Employer
This tip is one of the more straightforward components of an architecture portfolio, but just because it is easy does not mean it is any less important.
After all of the hard work you devoted to the other aspects of your application, you probably do not want the effort to be wasted simply because the employer fails to receive your portfolio.
To ensure you do not jeopardize your chances, take careful note (writing it down if it helps commit to memory) of the form of submission requested with each posting – be it through an email, a shared link, or an online submission form.
Do not assume that any two employers are alike to be safe.
16. Be Prepared to Answer Questions During the Job Interview
As with presentations you gave while enrolled in architecture school, be prepared for scrutiny by doing your best to anticipate inquiries. Prepare thoroughly before attending an architecture job interview.
Conduct an interview with yourself, or enlist the help of friends, to get a sense of the interviewer’s questions. Alas, while preparation is enormously beneficial, you can’t possibly anticipate everything.
The most effective effort is to familiarize yourself with your work as much as possible, specifically with the designs you chose to include in the portfolio.
With everything else in place, you have the makings for a successful portfolio and, thus, a successful application.
All the best!