Cornell Architecture Portfolio: 2 Years to Complete, what to do?


This is going to be a bit of an odd question, but it's something I have to start thinking about now to find any success, and I'd appreciate any help I could get.

I'm a high school junior who has recently discovered their passion for architecture, and as the #1 undergraduate architecture school, I've chosen to reach for Cornell. My GPA puts me in the top 10% of my class, but no matter how good it is, I feel that all it does is puts me on the starting line. The problem is the architecture portfolio required for admission. I haven't been enrolled in any art classes during high school, and it'd be too late to start my senior year. I'd say that my freehand drawing ability is average, but I intent to improve it over the the next two years. In terms of other medium, I have several friends in painting/photography classes that I could ask for help with creating a portfolio. I've also joined my school's Art Club and Theater Set Design Crew to improve my ability over the next year. However, I really don't know if any of this hastily learned work will impress the Ivy League and get me a spot against others who have been drawing all their life.

If there's one medium of art I can show my talent in, it would be (no laughing please) Minecraft. I've been playing the game since 6th Grade, and have created environments and structures that are recognized some of by the biggest organizations in the game, and enjoyed by thousands of people worldwide daily. Heck, it's actually this work in Minecraft that encouraged me to pursue architecture in the first place. While I haven't created enough content to put in a portfolio, I'm willing to take the next two years to create the best works I possibly can. It's rather unorthodox, and I don't even know if Cornell will take such submissions seriously, but I feel that it's the only chance I have to compete.

So my question then is really what to focus on? How much of my portfolio can I dedicate to Minecraft creations? Should I spend more time off Minecraft and work solely on freehand drawing? How much variety should there be in the mediums I use? Does the portfolio not matter much, and I'm just overthinking it? Should I just give up on Cornell and be content with other architecture schools?

I'd really appreciate any replies, I need all the help I can get! Thank you!

tl;dr- high school junior, want to get into cornell but no prior experience in drawing/painting/photography/woodworking. only design skill is in minecraft, need help on how to start portfolio.

Oct 12, 16 12:56 pm
Non Sequitur


I was going to write a quick WTF and move on, but then again, a very well composed spread or two (max) could be a nice compliment to an entrance portfolio. It's ten times better than a amateur photography section.  With that said, I'd be very restrictive on the game's presence in your application because who knows what old fart is reviewing the docs? Most successful portfolios are built around variety of skills and you need to show you're able to understand the basics of form, composition, light, etc as well as demonstrate intelligent creative flair.

Search for portfolios and look at how graduate students display their final buildings/models and try and emulate those layouts but using your minecraft models.  It could work well, or it could look juvenile.

Thetre/stage design and free hand sketching (esp quick urban studies and not drawn from photographs) are good directions to follow.

Oct 12, 16 1:14 pm  · 

1) Are you sure you want to get into Cornell? Even if you are visit other places.

2) Never too late to take art classes. I picked up painting at 33.

3) Also what NS said. Sounds like if you work at it, you'll have a pretty decent entry portfolio.

Oct 12, 16 1:23 pm  · 
1  · 

I graduated from Cornell's interior design program, which is in a different college so I can't help much in terms of AAP's expectations. BUT, I would say that in general, strong portfolios make it clear not only what you do but how you think. So if you do decide to put in your Minecraft models, work toward that goal, and make it immediately understandable to the reviewer just exactly what they are looking at and how the models came together. Keep in mind that they may be unfamiliar with the game.

I pulled my design portfolio together in my last two years of high school - it was a lot of digital artwork, paintings, and some 3D sculpture. But it was taking my IB Visual Arts class that allowed me to generate all this work. Had I not taken it, I don't think I would have put forward a strong application. 

So, I agree with Josh. Even if it's something entirely new to you, try to take an art class if you can. I went into mine with little experience (outside of my love for Photoshop) and came out with a diverse range of work that showed my growth and potential.

Sandpit modeling (excuse me if this isn't the right term) could be a unique addition to your portfolio that could indicate you have something different to say. But they also want to see you try new things and be versatile, so try to have more than just that.

I agree with your plan to work on your drawing skills. The things you mentioned - painting, photography, art club, and set design - will all be helpful additions to your portfolio and experience. Set design especially. (Side note, there are several cool set design courses at Cornell, some of them I've taken. If you're interested and have questions about that let me know, or I can perhaps put you in touch with the scenic design professor there.)

Don't worry - you can pull this together in two years. My junior year was when I started to figure this out too. :) 

Let me know if you have questions about Cornell in general, as well. It's an awesome place to be. I do agree with Josh (again) on casting a wide net with your applications - you may find other architecture programs you love too. Best of luck!!

Oct 12, 16 2:38 pm  · 

I would recommend strongly against focusing your portfolio heavily on Minecraft.  You could use that for one 2-page spread, out of something like a 12-spread total, but anything beyond that is likely to peg you as someone of limited, though intense focus, who doesn't really have much idea what architecture as a profession is about.  Not that you're supposed to have much idea about that at your stage, but it would be better to come across as more well-rounded, by including other media, and more variety.  Yes, the portfolio is very important.  A little less so for getting into an undergrad major than for getting into grad programs - but still as important, if not more, than any other factor.

Nothing against Cornell, but its B.Arch program is routinely ranked #1 mostly because nearly all other universities that once had comparable B.Arch programs (in terms of rigor and competitiveness) all dropped their B.Arch programs decades ago, and now solely offer 4+2 programs - i.e. a 4-year non-professional undergrad degree, followed by a 2- or 2.5-year M.Arch degree.  The 5-year B.Arch is still generally the fastest route to a professional degree - but usually at the expense of a broader liberal arts background and more opportunity for electives and inter-disciplinary mix. There are plenty of threads here and elsewhere about the relative pros and cons of each route.  Either way can be the right way - just know what you're getting into.

Oct 12, 16 5:17 pm  · 

Thanks for the replies all of you! Really enjoyed reading them!

I should clarify that I'm not especially dead set on Cornell yet. Out of the B.Arch programs, Cornell has a great reputation and an incredible alumni network that I'd love to be a part of (not to mention that it's pretty close to my current residence), hence why it's my reach right now. Of course, I have been looking into other schools and programs, but at the very least, I don't want to limit my future options; if I don't start working on the portfolio now, then I won't even have a chance in the process.

(Also super excited that a Cornell alumni commented on the threat! If I ever have any questions in the future, you'll definitely be hearing from me Ayman!)

By the sound if it, Minecraft models are something I can add but not rely on. I'm glad that it wasn't totally dismissed, but I guess it's too unorthodox as a medium to really count on. I'll definitely be looking around for art classes in my area, and practice more sketching in my free time. Thanks again for all the feedback!

Oct 12, 16 9:43 pm  · 

I hate Minecraft, but my kids love it.  I've seen some of those models and they are spectacular- I buy books for my kids and tell them to do something like this instead of using it as the elementary school version of Call of Duty.

I say if you have good models, you've got good models.  Make the best of them- present your best work and present them well.

My advice is free and may suck as a result, but how seriously can you take the advice of people who haven't modelled anything like you're describing and have only prepared a portfolio ONLY using traditional mediums and did it 10 years ago- the veritable digital stone age...

Oct 13, 16 4:08 pm  · 

Cornell alum here too - whats said above is good advice - 2 pgs max for minecraft - keep portfolio varied, try out a lot of stuff the next two years.

Also go to:

Increases your chances of getting in and you can already test if you like the program ahead of time. Great fun!

Oct 17, 16 8:02 am  · 
Sam Apoc

I've never played minecraft, but believe it or not, I've actually had a client show me his ideas for his building modeled in minecraft.

My understanding of it as a medium is that it's pretty limited in terms of scale.  Believe the smallest blocks are 2 feet square?  If so, that's pretty limiting in terms of how much detail you can really show.  That model shown above of the Eiffel tower is pretty impressive though.  I'd be interested to see what you've done.

Oct 17, 16 11:15 am  · 

Hi BuiltBot,

It's my opinion that the work you've done in Minecraft could significantly set you apart from the work of every other student who is applying to any program. That you have a specific interest sets you apart from the colossal amount of sameness and requirement satisfying, box ticking portfolios that schools usually see.

This isn't to say that the minecraft models in themselves are sufficient. But you've asked the question about how to approach the portfolio with two years to go. I think those who have recommended limiting the work in minecraft to 2 pages or spreads are undermining an incredibly interesting opportunity.

I think you should - and I think everyone should - approach the portfolio as a design project, or almost a mini thesis. Could you study the minecraft models you have made through novel and interesting drawing methods? Almost like a mini PhD by Prior Publication: why not? Critique the work you have done by drawing it and studying it from different points of view. Get into the nooks and crannies of it. Study architectural drawings from the most radical schools of architecture and the most practical ones and see how you could apply these methods of drawing to the work you have done.

Be extremely ambitious and create a brief for yourself that you can execute over the next two years. That your models have been used by many people is certainly a unique selling point to the committee, capitalise on it while also using it as a method to improve your modes of representation!

Jun 5, 20 6:56 am  · 

They're probably close to graduating by now...


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