At one point or another, every architecture student or graduate has a portfolio of their work that they have agonized over creating. I had one – maintained it for several years too – it was the tool I used to land my first AND second jobs. I was convinced for years of the importance of my portfolio – it represented me and my unquestionable “genius.”
As I have matured (re: gotten older) I have come to realize that a young architects portfolio is not what they think it is and it won’t be evaluated in the way you think it will. I wrote a post in September 2010, titled “Design Studio: Top 10 Things You Should Know” and for today’s purposes, I want to highlight the #4 item on that list:
4. Your portfolio has a 3-year lifespan (max)
Yes, your portfolio is important and you will use it at various points during school and your early career to leverage it into something you want. Just realize that at some point in the early future, you will be embarrassed that you thought your work was so great when it clearly sucks. Your portfolio will find a home in some closet with other items of diminishing importance because you will discover that the purpose your portfolio serves isn’t what you thought it was. It isn’t to show off some awesome creative project you designed, it’s about illustrating your proficiency in the various skills of the trade and demonstrating that you know how to think and process information. Think about it – unless you want to be the render guy, do you really want the only message your portfolio to send is how great you can render? Because guess what? You’ll be the “render guy” when you finally land a job if that’s the message you put into your portfolio.
Most people who read this list understood what the message was – although some people got their feathers ruffled because they either are the render guy or want to be the render guy (good for them, not the point of the message). The idea of what a portfolio is was the point, the message you want to convey, the skill sets you want to highlight … create the portfolio that moves the conversation where you want it to go. If you want to be the render guy, put a lot of renderings in your portfolio. If you don’t want to be the render guy, don’t put a bunch of renderings in your portfolio. Easy.
The key to having a successful portfolio is to think about how it will be viewed, what messages you are sending based on the content you are providing, and to consider how much time someone will actually be looking at your portfolio. I can promise you it won’t even be a fraction of what you think it will be. The work you spent weeks or even months agonizing over and trying to skillfully articulate in the forms of diagrams, plans, perspectives, collages, etc. etc… won’t be looked at for more than a few moments when it crosses my desk. I’m looking for the tone, trying to see how your brain works, how you process information, how you articulate information – not the specifics of the content itself.
If you are coming out of school and all you have in your portfolio is school projects, you should reconsider how your portfolio is organized. As I look through your portfolio, I don’t know how much of the work you are presenting is of your own creation, how much came from others, what sort of hand in all of this did your professors play? The portfolios we see that resonate the best with us are the ones that pay attention to some non-studio work, or design interests. Do you like photography? Showing some of this sort of work tells me something about how you see things. Maybe you have some other sort of hobby – we had someone submit a portfolio not too long ago that had highlighted the process she went through as she restored a classic car. Nobody in my office knows anything about restoring cars but we ALL took notice of this and we walked away thinking about the dedication it takes to restore a car; the attention to detail, the research that went into solving a problem where you can’t just go down to the local store and buy the part you need. We ALL remembered that portfolio.
So as you are putting your portfolio together, think about the message you are trying to convey – what do you want to person looking at your work to know about YOU and spend less time focusing on what they think about your “Terraforming Lifestyle Pod on the Dark Side of the Moon Habitat Research Station” project.
Best of luck –