How to Create a Good Portfolio as an Architect
How to compile and shape a portfolio?
What is the ideal medium and format for an architecture portfolio?
Exactly how extensive should your portfolio be?
What is allowed and what isn’t in a portfolio?
These are questions that every architect asks him/herself, whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned one. Of course, there is no such thing as a perfect portfolio for every situation. But you can still learn a lot about creating a good portfolio from the people for whom those portfolios ultimately are intended.
Indeed, people who look at many (architectural) portfolios professionally, usually have a pretty good image of what is a successful portfolio and which one doesn’t quite cut it.
You would be wise to keep that into consideration, because, after all, you create your portfolio with a clear picture in mind and in order to achieve that, your portfolio has to leave a good impression with this group of people.
But, let’s start at the beginning.
What is the Goal of Your Portfolio?
The first question you should ask yourself is not immediately related to the shape or the contents, but the answer to it will ultimately help decide both of them.
That question is, what is the goal of your portfolio?
Although many architects will create just one portfolio which they will work at on a regular basis, it is not a bad idea to have more than one. Actually, you should have at least two portfolios.
One portfolio is strictly personal and you use it as a reference for yourself. In this one you keep track of all your projects in the field of architecture and graphic design, from your university years up till now. In this one you include an extended CV of course.
That seems like a lot of work for a portfolio that you will seldom or never show to anybody but over the years such a complete portfolio can help you save a lot of time. This is after all, an overview where you can quickly take elements from to create a custom-made portfolio for what you need at any given time.
Is there a time in your career where you need a portfolio when you apply for a very specific project? Then you can choose just those base elements from your portfolio that may be of interest for the client and that can be relevant for the project.
Do you want a portfolio that you can use during job interviews? Then you would most likely choose for a more complete overview of your studies and career and you would create a different portfolio.
The big advantage of this approach is that you will be able to convince potential clients with a very specific portfolio. In the best-case scenario, it will appear to them at first sight that your career and the project that they offer are a perfect match.
What is the Average Client Looking for When Hiring an Architect?
There are some misconceptions about this, especially with beginning architects. For years you were judged on your artistic and technical skills at the architectural training, so it may be easy to forget that the architectural office is also just a business that has to run well.
So, what is the first thing that the office which is hiring employees is looking for? They want somebody who can think independently, who is good at organizing and who shows a large growing potential. In other words, for many clients your artistic talents will not be the first selection criterion.
Of course, you have to be qualified for the job, and that includes technical and artistic tools in your luggage. But what architects (and other people in creative professions) sometimes underestimate is the extent in which personal qualities will be the determining factor with a selection procedure.
You will strengthen your candidacy a lot by subtly indicating your personal qualities as an employee or freelancer in your portfolio.
- Did you ever have to coordinate a certain project with a large group of employees?
- Did you ever personally take on an important project?
Make sure that this becomes clear in the texts and illustrations that you use and of course, also on your CV page.
Keeping Your Portfolio Efficient
Architects who submit a portfolio often don’t understand that clients often are inundated by a mountain of portfolios. What you may consider a cute and creative idea, the person at the other side of the table may regard as yet another example of artistic self-satisfaction, which only takes up their time.
Yes, nowadays there are many possibilities to create a beautifully printed or digital portfolio. Make sure to use those if you want to distinguish yourself, but don’t exaggerate with all the whistles and bells. ‘Less is more’ is usually a smart strategy, and it also applies to efficient design.
- Do not choose an A3-format that is very impractical to handle.
- Do not make a scrapbook from your portfolio where pages have to be unfolded, with hidden pieces of art and many other artistic snags.
- If you create a digital portfolio (and nowadays you can hardly escape from that), choose for a simple standard format such as a pdf with a maximum size of 15 MB. Nobody uses CDs anymore, USB drives come with a risk of viruses and ‘portfolio in the cloud’ platforms often stand out because of their difficult navigation and the fact that they download very slowly. That makes them a source of loss of time for those who have to judge portfolios on a regular basis.
- Also avoid sharing your portfolio solely via Google Drive or other cloud solutions. Clients and architectural offices like to be able to create an archive for future use and that is difficult to do if the links don’t work after a while.
When choosing the form of your portfolio, imagine yourself at a typical job interview or introduction discussion. How much time can or will the interviewer spare to look at your portfolio? Ten minutes already is a lot and in real life, most people already have made a first judgement within the first three minutes, that is very difficult to be altered afterwards.
Can your portfolio portray a good image of your work and your qualities in a short time? Then your portfolio is efficient.
Take Care of the Smallest Details in Your Layout
Even though we earlier made the remark that you should not go overboard with the external design of your portfolio, of course that does not mean that you should not take care of the contents into the smallest details. After all, you are an architect and your eye for graphic design, balance, detail and attractiveness must be confirmed by your portfolio.
Pages that contain too many graphic elements make an overview impossible. Pictures must speak for themselves and should only rarely have a caption.
One can have too much of a good thing and that certainly goes for a portfolio. And that’s exactly the reason why it is a good idea to create different portfolios for different purposes; this way you can limit yourself to just the relevant projects and information.
Also, be consistent with the layout. It is tiresome for a reader of your portfolio if every page seems to choose for a different concept.
Choose for one line and style that you can maintain for your entire portfolio or at least try to be consistent throughout.
For a potential client or employer, the content of your portfolio contains much valuable information. Based on that they form their first impression about how carefully and professionally you work.
Based on the digital edits that you have applied to pictures and graphic elements they will also judge your digital skills.
Pictures, Illustrations and Sketches, but Carefully Selected
Text cannot be avoided in a portfolio, but you would do well to restrict the pockets of text to an absolute minimum. Of course, that does not apply to the page of your CV, even though you try to keep that as concise as possible.
However, in the rest of your portfolio it is no use to include long texts. They are seldom read and certainly not the first time that somebody skims through your portfolio.
So, you should count on your pictures to catch your reader’s attention. If they find the pictures interesting enough they will (every now and then) also take the trouble to read the captions.
Choose your pictures in the function of the story you want to tell.
If a picture distracts from your story, then do not include it in your portfolio. Even when the picture may have been an important illustration with a certain project, you cannot expect from your reader that he or she can process the entire story within a few minutes.
So, stick to the main lines.
As far as the drawings and sketches is concerned, the largest obstacle is often that you have to achieve a good and graphic image of them so that they do not get lost between the other graphic elements and pictures.
Opt for scans with a high resolution, remove non-essential elements as much as possible from the sketches and check with every step if they will be sufficiently clear for someone who will look at your project for the first time.
Do not exaggerate with the number of sketches and drawings, but do select a number of them because they most certainly are important.
Do Not Forget a Personal Touch …
Are you a passionate photographer? Do you design furniture in your spare time? Or are you a visual artist?
If your hobby can be linked in one way or another to design and architecture, then do not hesitate to refer to it in your portfolio.
If you cannot link your hobby to your shown achievements, then you can possibly use the first or the last page of your portfolio for that.
Again, choose illustrations that reflect your personality and your interests as well as possible.
…And a Number of Theoretical Works
Sometimes there is doubt with beginning architects about the question if they are allowed to include many projects in their portfolios that they have worked on during their education.
No need to doubt about that. As a beginning architect it is not possible to show any, or just a few concrete projects, yet.
Also, your potential client or employer is certainly interested in the theoretical concepts that you have worked on as a student. Namely, those reveal a lot about your personal interests too.
The importance of a good portfolio is not to be underestimated, especially not for those who seek a new turn in their careers, or for independent architects who make themselves available for new assignments. Sometimes the competition is fierce and it will be thanks to your showcase, i.e. your portfolio, that you can distinguish yourself.
There is not one single way to create an impressive and distinctive portfolio, but whoever puts the above tips into practice, will hopefully see his or her portfolio end up high on the pile. So, work structured, make the difference and showcase your experience, talent and personality in a clever way, then results are certain to follow.