Before you begin your architecture school portfolio



Probably one of the most significant things applicants freak out about is the application portfolio. You’ve been asked to, in a way, do the undoable. They don’t teach architecture in school; your physics teachers seem to think you should be focusing on learning about structural engineering and your art teachers are perhaps a bit too vague. You’ve been asked to:

  • Collate your work and
  • Create something that holds it all together, though
  • Make sure it doesn’t include tons of work on standard architectural practice, whilst
  • Making sure it is inherently architectural

It seems strange to make a portfolio architectural yet make sure it isn’t full of ‘architecture’. This is, actually, a very understandable requirement that schools are setting. It essentially means that your work should exhibit the spatial, material, textural, representational etc. traits of architecture without prescribing to preconceived notions of what you think architecture is all about by just drawing a building. Any project that has nothing to do with ‘a building’ can exhibit these traits, and that’s what they want to see. No preconceived notions.

It’s very easy to take all this and become obsessed by it. The crux of your application is going to come down to the portfolio, however, perhaps not for the reasons you may expect.

For example, one common trap applicants fall into is focusing 99% of their time on the portfolio and only 1% on special tasks assigned by the school themselves. As you know from previous blog posts, some schools such as the Bartlett UCL will require you to complete a drawing task. Their application system loosely goes like this:

  • Submit UCAS (grades, EC’s, personal statement, references)
    1. If this is successful and meets the minimum requirements you can now…
  • Submit a drawing task, sent in the mail
    1. Do this well, and you will be invited to…
  • Attend an interview with your portfolio and your drawing task
    1. Do this well and you’ve now triumphed over 95% of applicants and you’re in.

See the problem? If you spend 1% of your time on the task and 99% on your portfolio, your task may not be up to standard. Which means all that time working on your portfolio goes out the window because you won’t be able to show it at interview.

Special tasks are overlooked all the time. Don’t! You’ll receive the task in the mail late in January/February, after you’ve submitted everything (except your portfolio).  This is when your focus should shift away from your portfolio.

This precursor to the portfolio post is simply to make you aware that, while the portfolio is important, it is equally important to be savvy about the other application materials. Schools structure their admissions in all sorts of hierarchical ways. See What goes into an architecture school application for details.

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