Architecture Applicant?

Making the best sketches for BArch portfolios.

What to consider when making and including quick drawings.

A sketch made by Frank Ghery as an example for sketches to include in an architecture school portfolio for applications to BArch programs at Cornell, RISD, Pratt and SCI-Arc.
Frank Gehry. Casabella 673 1999, 58

A strong portfolio is a key component of a high school applicant’s journey towards pursuing a Bachelor of Architecture (BArch) program at renowned institutions such as Cornell, Pratt, Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), and the Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc). Within this portfolio, sketches hold a significant role as they provide insights into an applicant’s creative process, technical skills, and interest in architecture. In this comprehensive guide, we will delve into the importance of sketches in an architecture school application portfolio, explore the types of sketches to include, and provide practical advice on how to effectively incorporate them.

1. The Significance of Sketches in an Architecture School Application

A portfolio serves as a window into an applicant’s aptitude for architecture. Among the various elements that comprise a stellar portfolio, sketches play a vital role. Sketches possess a unique ability to capture the essence of an idea, showcasing an applicant’s artistic talent, design thinking, and visual communication skills. They offer glimpses into the applicant’s creative mindset and their capacity to translate abstract concepts into tangible visual representations. Furthermore, sketches exhibit the applicant’s thought process, ability to observe and analyze the built environment, and their aptitude for understanding spatial relationships. As admissions committees review portfolios, well-executed sketches can leave a lasting impression, setting an applicant apart from the competition.

2. Types of Sketches to Include

a) Observational Sketches: Observational sketches showcase an applicant’s ability to keenly observe their surroundings and translate these into a recorded form. Whether it’s landscapes, buildings, or everyday objects, focus on composition, proportion, light, and shadow to demonstrate a keen eye for detail. Identify one thing you want to record in each sketch and let the success of the sketch ride on whether that one thing has come through without the need to use words.

b) Conceptual Sketches: Conceptual sketches serve as visual explorations of initial ideas and design thinking. These can include rough diagrams that illustrate spatial relationships, circulation patterns, and design concepts. Demonstrating the ability to visualize and effectively communicate architectural ideas is crucial in this category.

d) Architectural Elements: Incorporating sketches focused on architectural elements, such as facades, building sections, or interior spaces, showcase the applicant’s understanding of construction techniques, materiality, and the integration of the various ingredients of the built world. These sketches demonstrate a comprehension of how components come together and show a greater level of insight than if you were to simply just draw a building from afar. Remember: buildings are not objects. They’re spaces, composed of elements. 

3. Presenting Sketches in the Portfolio

a) Organizational Structure: The flow and organization of a portfolio are critical in presenting sketches effectively. Begin with a compelling introduction that contextualizes the portfolio’s content, followed by a logical arrangement of sketches that showcases your (the applicant’s) growth and development. Consider creating sections based on project themes, ensuring a coherent narrative throughout the portfolio.

b) High-Quality Scanning/Photographing: To present sketches professionally, use high-resolution scanning or photography. Capture the work accurately, paying attention to lighting, framing, and color accuracy. Presenting sketches in their best form enhances their impact and showcases the applicant’s attention to detail. This may require some Photoshop work (levels, color balance, etc.).

c) Annotation and Description: Accompany sketches with concise annotations and descriptions that explain the intent, context, and thought processes. Try to keep these to no more than 50 words per sketch. For project descriptions, these can be longer.

A sketch made by Eric Mendelsohn as an example for sketches to include in an architecture school portfolio for applications to BArch programs at Cornell, RISD, Pratt and SCI-Arc.
Eric Mendelsohn. Architectural Forum Apr 1953, 119

4.Tailoring the Portfolio to the Target School

a) Research Each School: Thoroughly research the more practical application aspects of the schools you are applying to. Understand their specific requirements, preferences, and focus areas. Tailoring your portfolio to match these preferences can significantly increase your chances of acceptance. Some schools may also have additional requirements or specific guidelines for the portfolio submission. Take note of any specific formats, sizes, or mediums that are requested. Adhering to these guidelines showcases your attention to detail and your ability to follow instructions: an essential skill for an aspiring architect.

b) Highlight Relevant Projects: When tailoring your portfolio for each school, select and emphasize sketches that are most relevant to the institution’s focus areas or specialties. For example, if a school has a strong emphasis on sustainable design, include sketches that demonstrate your understanding of environmentally friendly practices and concepts. By aligning your sketches with the school’s specific interests, you demonstrate your ability to contribute effectively to their program.

c) School Pedagogy: Pay attention to the design sensibilities associated with each school. Review their past student portfolios or visit their campus if possible to gain a better understanding of their preferred visual language. Incorporate sketches that reflect these sensibilities, demonstrating your ability to adapt your approach and align with the school’s design ethos.

To Summarise

In conclusion, a well-crafted architecture school application portfolio requires careful consideration of the sketches included. Sketches serve as a powerful tool to showcase an applicant’s creativity, technical skills, and design thinking. By including observational sketches, conceptual sketches, design development sketches, and architectural elements, high school applicants can demonstrate their diverse capabilities. Presenting the sketches in a well-organized and professional manner, accompanied by annotations and descriptions, enhances the portfolio’s impact. Tailoring the portfolio to each target school’s preferences further increases the likelihood of standing out among the competition. Remember, your portfolio is an opportunity to showcase your unique perspective and interest in architecture. Invest time and effort into creating a compelling collection of sketches that reflect your true potential as an aspiring architect.

If you’d like help developing your portfolio for architecture school, send us a message.

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