Some undergraduate programs and most graduate programs will require a portfolio. The purpose of this is to demonstrate your potential for what you will learn in an architecture program. Indications of visual thinking and design ability can be demonstrated in many ways: drawings, artwork, sculpture, things you’ve made or built, graphic design, and photography. Architecture projects are not typically expected in this kind of portfolio. In general, CAD drawings alone are discouraged in a portfolio. Unless executed as part of design course, CAD is generally considered a technical skill, not necessarily a demonstration of visual thinking or design. Programs that require a portfolio typically give more specific advice about what to include.
Because architecture is a visual discipline, an individual’s portfolio is often an important consideration in admission decisions and, later, in interviewing for jobs. For admission as a beginning student in architecture, the portfolio should show potential as a visual thinker and personal initiative as a designer. Potential can be demonstrated in many ways, including drawings, fine art work, ceramics, sculpture, graphic design, photography or constructed projects such as stage sets or pieces of furniture. Probably the least significant component of such a portfolio would be CAD drawings from a high school course that tend to demonstrate technical drafting skills rather than potential.
Some programs have portfolio reviews periodically to determine advancement within the program, including the transition into the graduate component of a 4+2 program. Not only would these portfolios show potential, but they would document course work completed to date.
Almost all architecture firms review candidate portfolios in the interview process. In this case, they will be looking for accomplishments, potential, the ability to be part of a team, technical understanding, and communication skills, both verbal and visual. Free-hand drawing as well as digital expertise are typically valued.
While the portfolio has different purposes and audiences, it should be well organized. Labeling should indicate if work was for a course assignment or if it was completed independently; it is also useful to know when the work was completed and the approximate amount of time involved. Students should document and preserve their work. Submission of original items is not usually necessary, although different programs may have different requirements. Visually, the portfolio itself is a type of design project, and will reflect the design personality and organizational capabilities of its author.