Architecture School Portfolio (10 Crucial Pieces) + Prep Tips

Gone are the days when a prospective architecture student can gain entry into an architecture program in a college or university solely on a high school diploma or its equivalent.

The competition for a place is fierce, and the bar is continually rising.

Today, most architecture school applications need a portfolio – a requirement only for Master’s programs and job applicants in the past.

what to put in an architecture portfolio for university

What to Include in a Portfolio for Your Architecture School Application

Expect to submit a design portfolio that consists of any art or design work you’ve previously completed in school or from any practical experience you have gained to date.

There may also be additional portfolio requirements, but the school usually gives you a specific timeframe to comply after notification.

The specific portfolio requirements may differ between schools, but the premise of what they look for is the same.

Include these ten pieces to increase your chance of acceptance:

1. Freehand Pencil Sketches

Of all the techniques, the freehand sketch is probably the most basic drawing that artists start with.

Even a toddler begins to learn this form of expression by freely scribbling on paper with a pencil in hand.

Include more than one piece if you have. You can add freehand drawings from your schooling years and structure them to demonstrate skills development.

Whether it’s graphite or color pencils, or a portrait or landscape and buildings, this is a crucial piece to present your artistic side as a budding architect.

A designer cannot lose the artform of communicating ideas through freehand sketches – never mind the fact that architecture today utilizes various computer software for design and drawings generation.

It remains the quickest and most effective mode of visual communication in architecture.

2. One Type of Painting

Painting is usually part of the repertoire in an artist’s skills development.

It provides the opportunity to use colors to convey contrast, composition, and bring the drawing to life.

You can utilize many painting techniques to present this piece – watercolor, oil, pastel, spray, etc.

You would do well to include at least one painting, but variations can demonstrate versatility.

A painting, together with freehand sketches, shows the evaluator that you are very much in touch with the various modes of freehand artistic expressions in a world increasingly digitalized.

3. Graphic Design

Lines and geometric shapes are at the core of any design, but they could not be more evident than in the practice of architecture.

The wide range of graphic designs you could incorporate covers the design of logo, product packaging, brochure, name card, marketing, and advertising material – and the list goes on.

Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, and CorelDraw are the common design software architects use, but you may be more proficient in others.

It is beneficial to include a short write-up on the programs you used to produce the design.

Basic skills in design software are useful when undertaking an architecture program.

They provide a good foundation for learning more advanced skills in 3D architectural modeling and digital animation.

Nevertheless, the inclusion of a graphic design work displays your creativity with the play of basic shapes, forms, and colors.

4. Architectural Model

The art and importance of model-making are well ingrained in architecture.

Architecture models help convey ideas that drawings find difficult to express, and architects often use them to great effect.

Architects use model-making to understand and continually develop ideas and to communicate and convince.

Photos of architecture models you constructed rank highly in an admissions evaluator’s priority list of what to look for in a candidate.

Include pictures of the model from different angles and in various scales, and put them in a collage that blends in with the portfolio’s overall theme.

Tech may dominate the more advanced years in architecture studies, but the ability to work with the hands is a valuable skill – at least for you to be seen to have.

5. Photographs of a Craft

Images of a craft you made are excellent additions to your portfolio – you can include them if you don’t have an architecture model or as an addition to it.

A carefully selected set of photographs of a craft made using materials indigenous to a place with a short write-up can do wonders to demonstrate your sensitivity to the local context of the object you created.

Architects do not merely design beautiful-looking buildings, but the awareness and application, taking into account the broader social and cultural contexts, make an architect’s work invaluable to the society it operates in.

6. Artistic Photography

An architect’s creation requires effective documentation that shows it in the best light, and that is where photography plays a huge role in architecture.

You have traveled to places and taken many photographs; it is time to put them to good use.

The collage of photographs does not necessarily have to center only around interesting buildings.

However, it helps if you make buildings – new or old – as the primary focus, so you can add a short description of what you think of the place.

The play of light and shadow, composition, contrast, colors, and perspective are things you get to show through your design of the photography piece.

You can utilize these architectural photography tips to bring your skills to the next level.

Photography is a skill that you get to develop extensively throughout your time as an architecture student, so it’s good to show the school that you already have the proper foundation to start that journey.

7. Computer-Generated Drawings

These drawings are optional, and you do not have to go out of your way to learn CAD software in the short time you have before the portfolio submission date.

But if you already have CAD skills, you can put together a simple set of building drawings that includes plans, elevations, and perhaps a section to demonstrate understanding of spatial relationships.

It does not have to be drawings of a complex building.

You are trying to demonstrate your understanding of the relationships between the various types of drawings in communicating design and spatial flows.

Alternatively, you can produce a set of hand-drawn plans.

This presentation method is inarguably more charming and engaging in impressing the evaluator.

8. Preliminary & Experimental Work

Include the preliminary pieces that led to the final results, if you have them.

Briefly describe what you did in each of them and how they developed into their subsequent iterations.

If they are visually self-explanatory, all the better.

The school is not just eager to see how impressive your completed work is. They are interested in taking a peek into the mind of a potential artist and creator whose work would eventually affect many lives.

9. A Brief Description for Each Piece

Describing your work may not be necessary if it is visually self-sufficient in telling what there is to tell.

Include a brief description only where necessary.

At the end of the piece, the description can include any salient points supporting the work or any pointers to help the reader understand your thought processes.

10. Portfolio Cover

Every great story has a proper beginning and a fitting end.

In portfolio terms, design a cover that will set the tone for the rest of the work you include.

It also functions to entice the reader to explore your portfolio further to understand the architect’s potential in you.

Do not be afraid to allow lots of white space on the cover to draw the eyes to the focal point of the introductory message.

A portfolio title and some information about yourself are the basics to include.

You are not typing a Word document, so make sure you design the typeface and fonts to blend in with the portfolio theme.

For the closing page, you could provide a short explanation describing the concept that drives the portfolio design as you would storytelling.

Use a typeface and color that are consistent with the portfolio as a whole.

Keep it concise and, again, allow white space.

How Many Pages Should Your Portfolio Have?

The recommended pieces above are not in any particular order.

The total number that the school will ask of you may differ anywhere between 8 to 12 pieces, or possibly more if they feel that your first submission is inadequate.

Tips on Creating a Portfolio for Architecture School

Knowing what to include in a portfolio is not enough unless you present them in a way that enhances how they are viewed – in parts and as a coherent whole.

There are nine pointers that you should be mindful of and apply when creating your portfolio:

1. Be Concise with Words

An architecture school portfolio is the polar opposite of an essay.

Keep the use of words to a minimum and, when used, be concise.

Your work should visually convey the ideas with only a few short, descriptive markers to guide the reading and evaluation.

2. Pay Attention to Grammatical and Spelling Errors

It’s a cliché, but watch out for grammatical and spelling errors.

Always review your completed portfolio multiple times to prevent errors and oversights.

The common mistake in portfolio reviews is focusing only on the visual components while neglecting the written words – grammatical errors look unprofessional.

Get another pair of eyes to look through them if you must.

Such errors reflect poorly on you as a person who is not meticulous.

3. Ensure Typeface and Fonts Consistency

Visual consistency assists the mind in navigating more seamlessly and is pleasing to the eyes.

It is good to minimize texts, but they tend to stand out more when some visual elements are few and far between.

Select one typeface design that suits your work style in the portfolio and possibly two to three standard font sizes for hierarchy.

The pursuit of consistency should also extend to the text colors.

Use one color for general text and another for highlight – if that makes sense for your portfolio design.

4. Ensure Formatting Consistency

Beyond the consistency in text design, you need to format the entire portfolio’s visual presentation in a way that no single piece feels out of place.

For example, if you insert short descriptions at the end of a piece, place them at the same corner of each page.

The type of work you include would differ from page to page, but page formatting consistency remains.

5. Create a Logical Order

When you have multiple pieces of work in the portfolio, you need order.

Or rather, you have the opportunity to order them in such a way that tells a story.

Should it be the most important first and finishing with the least significant work, or vice versa, or perhaps some creative reasoning you can come up with?

The decision is up to you, but it’s worth considering.

6. Establish Hierarchy

Visual hierarchy is crucial to guide the reviewer in reading your portfolio.

Use and limit to three font sizes, and provide heft with bolded text sparingly but strategically.

Plus, the simple application of varying image sizes on a single page can inform which visual carries more significance.

Tactics are aplenty, but consider what works best for your work.

7. Avoid Clutter (Less is More)

The presence of white space allows the eyes to rest and inadvertently makes the object of focus that it surrounds stand out more.

It is a breathing space of some sort, but it enhances the viewing of your portfolio when used correctly and effectively.

8. Personality is Valuable

The evaluator is interested in seeing your personality reflected in the various work that you submit.

There is no single best way to design in architecture; the diversity in design minds, styles, and personalities makes architecture such a vibrant and exciting field for many.

Let your personality reflect in your work – and that is more than just fine.

9. Make a PDF Version

Portfolios for architecture school applications are now mainly submitted online.

Convert your portfolio into a PDF copy that balances being small enough file size for transmission and large enough for optimal pixel definition.

10. Backup Your Files

A portfolio takes days of long hours to put together, so always keep a backup copy of the final result and work-in-progress iterations.

The school you apply to may have additional requirements.

If the school rejects your application, request feedback. It will be helpful information for you to improve the next iteration of your portfolio.

How Long Does It Take to Prepare the Portfolio?

The time it takes you to put together the portfolio will depend on the existing pieces and how much you need to touch up to make them presentable.

If you have most of your work in place requiring minor amendments, target to spend no more than a week to complete the portfolio.

Otherwise, let the submission deadline guide you on how much to accomplish.

In any case, you need to complete it, then review and incorporate further improvements before submitting the final copy with the application.

Plan, Execute & Review

Hopefully, you now get a feel for what makes a good portfolio for architecture schools.

Before commencing your portfolio preparation, plan and structure the presentation to demonstrate to the admissions evaluator that you have the necessary competency to learn and perform competitively in their program.

Ask for clarification whenever necessary and, most of all, enjoy the process of putting together your portfolio.

Architecture is art, not accounting. So let your enthusiasm shine through your work.