Were my teachers just pumping my tires, being nice, or just flat out lying to me?

I have recently graduated, with an undergraduate degree in architecture. While attending school I felt that I was talented, and had a eye for design. I didn't come to this conclusion myself. I was told repeatedly, in studio after studio, that I was talented, but I am now questioning my teachers compliments. My question arises, because I have applied for multiple jobs, but I have not gotten any feedback. I am also questioning my decision on creating a web-based portfolio.

Jan 17, 14 2:08 pm

School don't mean shit, even if you've got talent.  It's just a bubble that you pay the privilege of inhabiting, much like a nice hotel suite.

Jan 17, 14 2:22 pm

Hey OP:

I don't think they were lying.  I like the cleanliness of your work and you definitely show ability.  It is better than what most undergrads crank out in a 4 or 5 year program, especially in a 4 year program.  You clearly went to one that was more applied and grounded in reality than a fluffy one.  I am not going to go through project by project and critique it, but you have a stylish yet restrained and logical vernacular running through your work. Good formatting, too.  I like the "striping" in your table of contents.

It wouldn't propel you into star status, but it's certainly very good.  Was this a 5 year B.Arch. or a 4 year program?  I didn't look that carefully. 

Jan 17, 14 3:03 pm

it' is a 4 year program 

Jan 17, 14 3:19 pm

Then even better - fewer studios and no thesis.  Looks good.

Jan 17, 14 3:23 pm

More often than not, I feel that people look at portfolios, not to see pretty pictures, but to see good drawings. Whenever I break out my portfolio on interviews, the interviewer always comments on the drawings, and rarely looks at pictures of models and 3d work. Why? It's simple, most small to medium sized firms don't have time for models or 3d design, and building departments take drawings, not renderings. Practical skills are what people look for when they consider hiring you.

Jan 17, 14 3:34 pm

Need to show a lot more process work.

The technical model stuff is competent, but ordinary. Renderings are a bit flat and lack entourage. Photoshop in some people and plants.

Jan 17, 14 3:47 pm


Process is a personal preference.  Some practitioners like it.  Others want to see finished product, and feel it clutters up the portfolio.  If I see a nice finished product, I assume that a lot of thought and many iterations, such as push and shove, went into it.  Also, many people with verbal abilities can explain design decisions well, negating the need for the project's graphic chronology.  Again, that's just generally speaking and not in reference to this individual's projects. When in school, all my process went into the trash can.  I've only had one guy ask me for looser, process drawings, and he was a bad fit - very small studio, bohemian, artsy, alumni club, and with nothing to offer, so I didn't care.

However, some 4 year programs have studios only in the final 2 years, which is bad, and some have studios in the final 3 years, which is good.  For being a product of a 4 year program, it's better than what I've seen these programs let through.  He can kick up the nature of what he produces, either through additional work experience or grad school.  I think his jurisdiction requires the +2 part.

Jan 17, 14 4:08 pm

talent is relative to the other students you were going to school with at the time.

were you a big fish in a small pond or vice versa?

all in all the work seems pretty good.  The boat house looks cool.  I think the fact that you show a model in revit that shows structural and hvac puts you ahead of the game technically from most other 4 year prospective job candidates.  Your talent or lack thereof has nothing to do with the shitty job market.  just keep applying.

Jan 17, 14 4:26 pm

The most important things about showing process work is to demonstrate:

1) Your thought process about design, especially three-dimensional relationships and concept developement.

2) That you can draw well without a computer.

If you want a design-related career in architecture, these two things are critical, regardless of what career stage you are at. Putting process work in your portfolio illustrates them clearly.

However, if you're looking for more of a technical/PM career track, then what you've got is fine.

Jan 17, 14 4:29 pm

Yes, teachers tend to blow a lot of smoke. It’s what they do.

The package (website, portfolio, resume) all seems rough and unpolished. This is your personal brand and the lack of attention to detail reflects poorly on yourself. Architects are detailed oriented people, and there are a number of things that you’ve put forth that drive me insane. To be blunt, I would never ask you in for an interview based on this material. Competition is tough right now; your material stands out for the wrong reasons.

Briefly, some things I noticed:

- Different size font sizes for different job descriptions.
- I call bullshit on anyone who thinks they’re a 10 out of 10 on anything.
- You call yourself a project engineer. I know in architecture there are very clear laws about calling yourself an architect. I imagine this might apply in some respect to engineering.
- You’re seeking an architect position. Are you an architect?
- Descriptions are not thoughtful or well written.
- Fonts in the resume on your site have some serious aliasing issues.
- Lots of grammatical and spelling errors.

- Looks like a template. If you use a template, at least make it your own..
- Lose the polls… there not appropriate for what you’re trying to communicate.
- The goals / achievements narrative is poorly written and overly verbose. It needs serious refinement, proofing, and editing.

Portfolio Plates
- Renderings are poor quality. They are low res, poorly exposed, have tons of tiled textures, etc.
- The layout is not orderly, and is overly cluttered. The line motif is extraneous and odd. Focus on providing a clean layout where the focus is on the images and text. Beautiful portfolios can be made by focusing on layout, type, and image selection. Edit, edit, edit.

Best of luck.

Jan 17, 14 4:39 pm

Nick, ok, so you went to Cal Poly SLO and your portfolio looks real clean, fairly tasteful, and easy to read.  Don't use it this as an opportunity to one up the guy.  Moreover, there are people on here who present designs for civic centers and airport additions in their portfolios.  In yours, there is little of anything that is larger than Philip Johnson's glass house. Or is it Glass House?

OP, your projects are what they are.  You can work on the formatting, including some color changes to change how it's viewed, and that could help.  You can pick and choose the comments from above, and incorporate what aligns with how you want to come across.  Mostly, I would get a local mentor who, in person, can calmly and helpfully guide you through the changes you might consider making.  Also, through additional work and grad school, people can keep morphing.  It seems that people's work gets better with each academic year or with time in the field, in a lot of cases.  Big difference in FLW's work from the blah Winslow House to his later works, no?

By the way, Nick, thanks for not having a single affirmative thing to say about the OP's portfolio.  And I'm being facetious.

Jan 17, 14 5:04 pm

^ Nick Thanks for looking through it thoroughly, I really appreciate it. I know it needs some polishing and editing. Your comment about project engineer made me laugh, because I am not an engineer, but in the company that is what they title the job as.  

Jan 17, 14 5:11 pm

@observant --- Just trying to not blow up his tires. I am certainly not trying to one-up anyone; I'm not sure how you got that opinion, and it certainly wasn't my intent. I apologize if that's how it came off or if my comments weren't constructive enough or delivered on a silk pillow.

By posting  work to a public forum in this manner, I assumed they were asking for a critique. Not being honest and pointing out red flags which were easily observed at quick glance isn't helping anyone.

Jan 17, 14 5:18 pm

Dear Nick Ladd,

Welcome to Archinect - Your comments are spot on. Enough said.  If you're ever on this side of the pond [UK] let me know.  Would be great to have you involved with my students.

Best wishes,


Jan 17, 14 5:57 pm

Hi John Fick...I think it's very gutsy to throw your portfolio and resume out there for all to see and comment on.

The spelling/grammatical errors in your resume are a huge unforced error.  On your resume alone I count 7 definite mistakes, and another 3 questionable items.  I'll bet there are similar problems in your portfolio too.

You're also inconsistent in whether your job descriptions are in bold or not, and whether you use an ampersand or hyphen between dates.

Because of these mistakes, you're sending a message to potential employers that you're careless.

Even one mistake like this on a submission is enough to eliminate a candidate from consideration at our office, but the good news is that this is easily fixed.

I also agree with other posters on suggested improvements on portfolio layout, etc.  But if you don't do anything else, fix the spelling/grammatical stuff right away, and have someone who knows their stuff proofread everything for you.

Jan 17, 14 6:21 pm

Observant - how come you're insinuating that 4 year degrees are less qualified than B.Arch?  I did a four year and for my fifth year I went into working in the professional world (No problem finding jobs).  From all the portfolios I've viewed (my firms have received a lot of them), there is no way to tell the difference between 4 and 5 year Bachelors, I'd even dare to throw some M.Archs in the mix ;P.

Nick is spot on.  His portfolio might not be the most stellar but it's a vast improvement to the OPs.

John don't get complacent at some of the positive comments.  I see potential from your portfolio but I feel you have a long way to go before being considered "talented". 


  • Way over designed. All you need is a nice clean layout.  If you're going to go the designed route make sure it's simple and functional first.
  • So many types of font and sizes and your text is all over the place.  Think of the reader's eye movement.  At the moment it jumps all over the place to read headings and back to reading the piece of info. 
  • This one is a pretty good example of something simple and elegant. 


  • Same comments as above about the unnecessary vector work which busies up your pages.  In InDesign, I would recommend unchecking the hyphenate box.  I prefer words to not be broken up and it maintains the same look (non justified).    
  • Your plans look nice but very default Revit. I feel the textures (dirt, bricks, ect) aren't as elegant as they could be.  The line wights are too heavy or they are just distracting (dirt) and could be replaced with a light color.
  •  Renders all thrown on to page 11 and not given breathing room is a shame.  Post process them to make them stunning (Something beyond a flat horizon, maybe some scale figs). Repeating texture maps are really apparent and detract.  Look up photography composition rules (3rds) to make sure your renders look good.  Example: The top left  render should not crop off the roof of your building. Bottom left looks unbalanced.  Look at levels in Photoshop to make the images pop. 
  • Page 15-23: Inconsistent font (white with black border).  The images are merely Revit Print Screens, uninspiring.  The design itself looks like you figured out how to make a wavy roof in Revit and tacked it onto a warehouse/office building, floor plan is a mess(Hallways steal a majority of the exterior envelope!?!)
  • I like the Allied Sustainable Architecture project. Images could be cropped better but I like the materiality.
  • Your chair is also cool but maybe try and take the pictures with a white sheet or in the context of it's use. 

Main points to try and mend: Consistent text, less graphic clutter.  Let images breathe.  Whitespace. Refine your plans, sections, and elevations. 

TED: I want to come to the UK!

Jan 17, 14 7:39 pm

Observant - how come you're insinuating that 4 year degrees are less qualified than B.Arch?  I did a four year and for my fifth year I went into working in the professional world (No problem finding jobs).  From all the portfolios I've viewed (my firms have received a lot of them), there is no way to tell the difference between 4 and 5 year Bachelors, I'd even dare to throw some M.Archs in the mix

I am not insinuating that they are less qualified.  I am merely saying there is one less year, so fewer studios.  With a B.Arch. the tea bag steeps longer, beginning with some intro work the first year.  The longer you are in a a-school, the more time you have to think in that mode, as well as spend summers doing grunt work in a firm or traveling to analyze and understand architecture.  With the BA or BS, the studio sequence may start junior year, or hopefully sophomore year, so all I am saying is that I am "less forgiving" of a 4 year person than one with the 5th year, all things being equal.  Four year programs can have some dumb-ass projects and leave one disappointed or, depending on the school and the studio, can tackle some meatier design issues.  Regardless, if you are looking for someone to do production work and move a mouse around in front of a computer screen, which is what most people do anyway, the 4 or 5 year degree is moot.  That's why all this highbrow cattiness over portfolio content is sort of ridiculous to me, unless it's for grad school.  We all know there is a ratio is 3 : 1 ratio of production/management : design horsepower in firms to begin with, at the very least.  Construction drawings and C.A. take way longer than design.  Many architects are project managers their whole careers more so than designers.  I'd say if someone is looking for a +2 spot at an Ivy, then the portfolio is not as competitive or would have to be redone.  Last year, we saw some good portfolios with substantial projects in them.  However, some of them were given glowing praise for what I thought was excessive color and crowding of exhibits, especially diagrammatic and process concepts, to make the building designs appear slicker.  I remember a few like that which I would have preferred would have been more minimalistic.  Yet, they reported offers from Ivy schools, Virginia, Michigan, UBC, Syracuse, and others. For the workforce (AutoCAD or Revit), this portfolio shows he can do the drawings required in a work environment.  God only knows they've hired people with less in the way of both a portfolio and a formal education before, and still do so today.  If he approaches a design boutique, he may not get the job.  If he approaches a multifaceted architecture firm, then why not? 

Jan 17, 14 8:32 pm

I was quite surprised that a school in my metro area started studios junior year.  I did 4 years of studio for my BS. I feel I entered the profession at the right time. I had competed tectonics and was interested in how architecture is taken from the computer to the built realm.  Now, I can take both experiences into grad school to create more informed projects.   

I would say the industry allows for such a large inconsistent experience range.  Yes, some people can be mouse pushers.  Personally, my first firm the people in charge were very very hands free and so the interns had to do everything from SD to CD.  Through that experience, I feel that the individuals who are drafting need to know how to design to be able to draw and come up with clever solutions.  At the current firm, we work as a team.  I'm the only unlicensed person and the projects are collaborations with us all sharing drafting, design, ect duties.  Even during CA, one needs to be able to come up with design solutions while working with the GC/Millworker/fabricator in the field.  

To me it feels wrong to divorce the design aspect from architecture.   

Jan 17, 14 10:04 pm

Now that I actually look at the portfolio, I agree with much of the commentary above.  It feels clunky to me, not bad per se, but you just need to keep studying good portfolios and refining your work and developing your idiom.  It will come if you keep at it but like they, Rome wasn't built in day.

Jan 18, 14 9:37 am

Were my teachers just ... being nice, or ... lying to me?

These are the only two possibilities?  Maybe they were telling (their opinion of) the truth, and complimenting you.

That leaves the very real and uncomfortable possibility that the jobs you're applying for are from others, not them.  These others may have different opinions of your work, not to mention lots of other things to worry about.

Tough lesson in life: It's not all about you.  Once we learn and accept this, life gets much easier.

Jan 18, 14 11:22 am

@John Fick

what is this? First guess is a chicken coop or compost bin?

Jan 20, 14 9:31 pm

Its a Green House with multiple functions: Composting, raised planter, and the roof opened up gives more square footage to collect rain water.   

Jan 21, 14 2:41 pm

I also went to LTU for my undergrad degree. Who did you have for studios?... that might explain things. Also, where are you applying (geographically) and how many apps have you sent out?

I think there is a lot of valid criticism here, and the comment about technical proficiency being your strong point is true.

I have always been bothered by people including their skill levels. It's just asking for dishonesty. Also, technical ability does not always reflect in output. You may be an 8/10 at rendering in Revit, but it doesn't mean that you know how to make an attractive rendering. I prefer to let people just look at my work and judge for themselves. If they really want to ask... they do.

Jan 21, 14 9:17 pm

I would like to second Nick Ladd's points with regards to Mr. Fick's portfolio. I don't think the comments are too harsh but instead provide valuable lessons on page design, something I've had to learn on the job when quickly compiling concept design packages for clients. Don't crowd the page, let each element stand out, and show evidence of the thinking behind each project, such as process sketches and analytical diagrams.  Use a sophisticated color scheme--for example, a neutral (gray, black) with a color (red, blue, orange, green) and that's it (Nick does this in his portfolio)--and an understated font with no more than 3 sizes.  Somehow Times Roman doesn't project an image of cool modernity that some of your work seems to convey- study the graphics found in the major design magazines.  One thing that would help this portfolio is something that seems to get too little attention in our design schools: composition.  Understanding balance, symmetry, scale, proportion, solid & void, lines, edges, how the eye perceives a page (or a facade, for that matter) are all valuable things that always occur on every project. Mastering the art of composition doesn't necessarily make something  beautiful, but it does guarantee that the work will be pleasing. Your portfolio should at least be pleasing to those who see it, while the work samples cleanly presented will reveal your personality more fairly than trying to craft your own graphic design language.  Remember you are being hired to carry out duties expected of an architect, not those of marketing coordinator.

Jan 23, 14 11:36 pm

...And yes, your teachers were, in my opinion, "pumping your tires". It's okay to appreciate their compliments, and their encouragement  does help you continue to strive harder from project to project, but teachers should have a frank discussion with their students about the high level of competition that will be encountered after graduation.  Every student should keep a watchful eye for what's out there, what students are doing in other schools, and wondering how you measure up to that standard, not the ones set by the teachers in your program.  I hate to sound kind of like a champion for the elites, but it would be of benefit to look at the presentations done in the top 20 architecture schools, because that is who you are going to compete against when looking for jobs. Architecture jobs have become more scarce, and that one firm that used to hire interns from the local technical college next door without much thought now has to consider resumes and portfolios from people all around the country. 

Jan 23, 14 11:53 pm

Wow, total douchefest in here. Sure, it behooves the op to offer honest criticism, but there is also something to be said for a little congeniality.

Jan 25, 14 12:40 am

^people are not taught that in school...

Jan 25, 14 10:57 am

Yea that resume drives me insane.  That looks like a resume a computer engineer would make.  It's needs a much more sophisticated look and less is more when it comes to the design.  Think of the scene from American Psycho where they are analyzing each other's business cards - that's the level of sensitivity to font and design that you need for the resume.  

Jan 25, 14 3:36 pm

I would disagree with you about the "computer engineer" comment. I think the note about sophistication is more accurate. Like I mentioned in my previous comment concerning the "skills" section of resumes, I think there is a difference between knowing how to work design software and having developed the appropriate taste to use it effectively.

Jan 25, 14 4:26 pm

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