The Process Behind a Successful Architecture Portfolio

The Process Behind a Successful Architecture Portfolio

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Types of Portfolios

Depending on the year you are studying in, you will seedifferent kinds of portfolios and you may not be able to judge for yourselfwhich are successful, and which aren’t. We don’t want to focus on a specificstyle or type of portfolio, the possibilities are dependent on your project andthe amount of work you put in.

In this article, we want to guide you on some of thenecessary things you need in your portfolio as well as the extra details thatcan make it stand out to the examiners. By putting in a bit of extra effort,you can take your portfolio to a much higher level. First, we would suggest foryou to look at as many portfolios and projects as possible. This might be in yourown university or in other ones which you can usually find online throughspecific unit websites or at the end of year exhibitions. Ask the otherstudents around university or even someone in your year who’s work you admireor seems to be popular with the tutors.

When you think about it, regardless of which year you’re in,putting a portfolio takes up the entire year and most students will work on ittill the last second. We definitely don’t advise doing this, it not only putspressure on you as a person but can give you a lot of stress that you couldavoid by doing work in advance. If you’re in first year, you might not knowwhere to start – this is why we’ve put together this article. But whatever thecase, if you want to improve your portfolio then keep reading.

We’re going to divide this into two parts: the layout and presentation of your portfolio and the actual work you’ll be putting into your portfolio. We’ve covered some of the design part in our article ‘How to Maintain a Theme in Your Portfolio’ and we’ll be referring to it often, so if you haven’t read it yet, definitely give it a read.

What to Include in Your Portfolio

There are no real guidelines or a handbook on what youexactly need in your portfolio. This is because every university is different,the way they handle things or teach or examine your work. The following ‘pages’or work to include are just a general idea. If, for example, you’re designing apottery factory or workshop, you might want to experiment with various shapesin the form of physical models. This can go as in-depth as you want and is agreat way to show your tutors and examiners that you’ve really thought aboutthe materials in your project. This whole idea would require a few pages toexplain what you’re going to do, images of the models you make etc.

Some units may also have smaller projects they do before the main design project. This is usually to give you an anchor point to get you inspired for your project. It has to link to the design project in some way and may even be a section of your portfolio at the beginning. Make sure that if you do have a project at the beginning that is supposed to link to your design, by the end of the project there should be a clear path of how you got there from the start. There may also be a section at the end for the final part of the design which includes plans, sections, model photographs and final perspective images or illustrations. This could be submitted separately if the university requires in which case you might want to change the size of the pages, orientation or paper quality to make it stand out as it’s the final design.

Having sections in your portfolio isn’t necessary but canbreak down your project into groups of work that each have some kind of purpose.For example a generic order would consist of a site study, then development,then any technical focuses followed by design experiments and finally a series ofimages to complete the project. This is a natural order that is simply organisedwell so that the examiner understands the entire process. Having 30+ pages meansthere is a lot to look at and remember about the project within just a coupleof minutes. But if you have sections, it makes it easier for you, your tutorsand the examiner to understand. The best bit is that once you finish with thefirst couple of sections, you can present these in crits to get feedback and improveit until it doesn’t need to be improved anymore. By the end of the year, youwon’t have to work on your entire portfolio, just the areas you’re currently workingon.

Let’s get down to the basics:

Title Page



Design Drivers

Mini Project (if any)

Section 1 – Brief / Site Analysis

  • Breakdown of the brief
  • Initial ideas
  • Site map 1:1000
  • Site map and route 1:500
  • Interesting areas within the site, analysing a site (can take the form of a map, collage, photographs or illustrations)
  • Site study (3D modelled, fragment, image)
  • Sun path diagram
  • Opportunities and constraints

Section 2 – Design Development

  • Initial sketches / ideas
  • Research (desktop research; articles, interviews etc. or physical research)
  • Design drivers
  • Massing studies / massing diagram (tutorial coming soon)
  • Breakdown of the building function via sketches, initial models, 3D models
  • Case studies
  • Initial plan / section

Section 3 – Initial Iteration

  • Site map with building overlay 1:200
  • Building development (depends on what you’relooking at in your project. Could be to do with the layout of the building,materials, structure, technical aspects etc)
  • Models + photographs
  • Plans and sections (these are your first iteration,so it doesn’t need to be perfect, but some annotation or sketches might help theexaminer understand what you need to work on)
  • 3D model renders / physical model prototypes

Section 4 – (Optional – if you have more development to do / another iteration of drawings that are important to include. Essentially the same as section 3)

Section 5 – Resolution

  • Building Summary
  • Site plan 1:500
  • Plans (well annotated, proper line weights)
  • OPTIONAL – perspective plans, sections oraxonometric views
  • Sectional drawings (showing where the sectionhas been taken from)
  • Elevations (North, east, south, west)
  • Collages
  • Renders (if any)
  • Illustrations / perspective images (if any)
  • Hand-drawings (if any)

As we said, some of the things listed might not apply toyour project depending on what kind of building you’re designing or the sort ofstyle your prefer. There is also scope to add much more and work on certainparts in much more detail if it applies to your project. For example, if you’re looking into a public buildingthat is catered towards a certain community, you might want to do more researchin that area or interview people. If your building revolves around a trade orcraft that you don’t know about, you can explore this as models or further research.

You will also need to remember to cut down as you go. Yes, your portfolio pages need space and clarity and you really shouldn’t bombard the pages with too much text or images but at the same time, having an entire page for each of the 10 sketches you have drawn might be too much. Remember, the examiner will spend less than a few seconds on each page and will eventually focus more on the last section. If your tutors can help you to go through portfolios (extremely helpful before and after a portfolio review or crit) and go through each page, add on sticky notes or remove pages entirely so that you’re constantly editing and improving the flow of work. You can absolutely do this yourself but just make sure you’re not printing the ‘final’ version each time until you’re absolutely sure that a page is fully complete, fits well and is understood better with the pages before and after it.

Portfolio Design

We’ve covered a bit of portfolio design and the importance of having a theme or structure in your portfolio in the article ‘How to Maintain a Theme in Your Portfolio’ which I’m sure you’ve read by now. The things we covered there included a colour scheme, setting out your pages in advance and planning your pages. We’ve already given you the basic structure, so at the start of your project all you have to do is set up your portfolio on Adobe InDesign.

Usually, at the beginning of the year it takes a couple ofweeks before you actually get the brief for your project or even speak to yourtutors. Add in the generic introductory lectures and ‘site walks’ and you’vepretty much wasted 3 weeks. After my first year, I realised we need to getahead of the game. Students were often surprised to hear how my portfolio was donea couple of days before the deadline, giving me time to finalise the lastfew images or make sure everything works in a cohesive manner.

Setting aside an hour a day during that weird start of the year period could help you plan out your portfolio. Think about it aesthetically or practically. If you want inspiration on different layouts or themes, you can have a look at our Pinterest board. If you’re thinking budget wise, maybe moving from an A1 portfolio to an A2 portfolio seems like a wiser and lighter option. Make all these decisions now instead of getting frazzled later on when the work really begins.

If you’ve been given the brief ahead of time, definitely researchthe hell out of it. Make a mood board, sketches, a Pinterest board and brainstormthe different routes you could take with the brief. Look at past projects orsome of the reading material you might have been recommended. Ask students inother units to see what their brief is like – anything can create a boost of inspirationas long as you’re not waiting for your tutors to tell you what to do next. Takecontrol and stay ahead as much as possible.

Portfolio Organisation Methods

We don’t have to tell you repeatedly. Organisation is KEY. Organisingyour portfolio can get a bit hectic once there are other projects or essays orcrits to prepare for. We would suggest keeping an online version and obviouslya physical copy. For the pages you’re currently working on, it could be a goodidea to print them out unfinished at a smaller scale like A3. Then, wheneveryou have a tutorial or crit, you can hand your tutors the page and explain whatyou’re doing and why. This is way better than showing them something on acomputer screen because they can physically write or draw on it and give youadvice that helps.

Similarly, if you’re completing your portfolio by hand, you’llrealise just how much time it’s taking up. If you’re thinking about savingmoney for title pages or pages with just images on them, that’s reasonable.Whenever you finish a page though, scan it in and add it to your InDesign fileso you can re-order if needed or edit and actually be able to see the pageswithout having to take out your huge portfolio and search for the page.

Lastly, every couple of months, or even every month, sitdown and go through your portfolio and see if anything can be improved. We get toostuck in the work we are presently doing that we might forget about the work we’vealready done. The entire project needs to make sense and be successful. Lookfor any ideas that didn’t work out and go back and edit this or comment on itat a later stage. I like to plan the pages I’ll be putting up for my crits thenight before by drawing them out in my sketchbook. It saves some time becauseyou can have a think and re-order on your sketchbook, then actually go and pickout those pages and keep them ready for the next day. Your portfolio order won’tbe messed up either because you have a digital copy that reflects the physicalone.

Knowing Your Portfolio

Lastly, we want to emphasise on the importance of actually knowingyour portfolio, it’s something to take pride in but it also needs to bememorable in some way. At the end of the day, you know your project best, andby the time the year is over you’d have presented or explained your ideas somany times that it’s stuck in your head – which is a great thing! Write anawesome summary that is short yet descriptive and intrigues the other person toknow more about it.

The decisions you made regarding the look or contents aredefinitely your own, but a bit of guidance never hurts and could actually lead youto better results. Studying architecture is all about getting better as youprogress till you’re happy with your work and designs. If you want to see moretutorials catered towards specific portfolio pages, leave your suggestionsbelow in the comments. Have a look at our other related topics as well. Good luck!

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