Need Help for M.arch I Portfolio



I want to apply for Master of Architecture but I am struggling to prepare for my portfolio application. I have been searching on the internet and it seems like most sample portfolios have some sort of professional works included. I don't know how a non design background portfolio should look like since I have a non design background major. Does anyone have any suggestions? What should the portfolio look like? Is it okay if there is no professional architectural works included in the portfolio? 

I can hand draw  but have limited ability to do digital works. I am currently finishing my bachelor degree in urban studies.

Thank you in advance.

Sep 19, 17 9:08 pm

As oddly as it sounds, professional work is not a necessity - I would even say it wastes space if it's the typical "boring" designs.  I went to a competitive grad school and no one cared at all that I could detail a wall (our systems studio was a joke and a majority of professors hadn't seen the inside of a firm much longer than I had). 

Don't stress over creating an "architecture" portfolio - think of it as a creative endeavor.  Have fun.  Since you are in urban studies, use projects that you did for class (spruce them up or refocus the work) or invent a project that has some dope GIS viz like something that Sasaki would do.  (Photograph some feature of your town that could use an intervention and lay them all out on a page like Sasaki does textile buildings and then draw out your intervention.) GSAPP example.

If you're into steam bending or finger painting, include pictures of that to show that you understand composition and craft. Include smaller photos of process, cause the final thing doesn't mean anything without showing your work.  

Fold some paper and create an origami "building" or mess around with Rhino/Sketchup and create "geometric studies".  Random person's portfolio that is sort of the idea that I found quickly.  If you know python, try some tuts using Rhinoscript and make some cool looking stuff

Collage some shit together to create some pseudo-intellectual piece either using photoshop or trace paper and magazine clippings: example 1, example 2

Most important thing is to not use a bunch of random junk lines and stuff thrown around the page.  Typography! Pick one font with many weights and stick to it or pick two that go together.  Display the images in a clean way, don't cram things in, look at white space and page composition and hierarchy. And have fun. 

Sep 19, 17 9:58 pm

Thank you so much for your insightful ideas, SpatialSojourner.

It seems to me that the work should be more like an artistic portfolio rather than an architecture one, which is somewhat doable for me. One quick question, what program should I use to create a portfolio that looks professional?


Sep 22, 17 12:24 am

Hi there, 

I've got a bachelor's and master's degree in biomedical science but I've always wanted to do M.Arch. With my rubbish portfolio on some ideas of imaginary structures like a garden bridge (in hindsight that was the last thing one should do), I didn't get into UBC & Calgary last year. 

Wonder if you guys have any good advice on what to start with for someone without proper training in design and visual arts? 


Sep 25, 17 5:03 am
Non Sequitur

You seriously want to jump into a 3y M.arch after 2 other non related degrees? How much of the profession, or building construction, do you know? Just trying to gauge against the typical laymen romanticizing of architecture. Anyways, one big problem with portfolios is that people think: I'm applying to architecture, I might as well show them architecture". That is the wrong approach. You need to demonstrate creative thought process, an understanding of depth and scale, and a control of composition... regardless of the medium.


Just a bit of background information about myself : I've always wanted study architecture since day one, but back then I couldn't get into the B. Arch (RIBA part I equivalent), somehow got into the biology programme I hated. Afterwards the master's programme in Biomedical science offers me a handsome scholarship on top of the virtually free tuition - so much I can now afford to do an M.Arch abroad.


Thanks for reassuring my gut feeling bout how my previous portfolio failed, in hindsight that was some of the stupidest things I've done.

Non Sequitur

No worries. I failed my first entry portfolio too with similar assumptions as you made (this was back in 2002 thou). Take up a few life drawing classes through your city art program and start carrying a sketch book. Draw what you see quickly freehand and see where it takes you. A good urban sketch drawing or two goes a long way for non-arch background applicants.



I am in the same situation as Tiosnoor. However, Tiosnoor is lucky enough that at least his/her academic background is somehow related to Architecture. 

My field of study was in Fine Art. And the only thing that makes me relevant to Architecture is my speciality in spatial related installations, experimenting with materials and colors to create sensual type of spaces for audience and so on. 

So, the question is I am not sure if my art works, which do not have straight forward architectural visual affect would fit in to architectural portfolio? 

May 25, 18 8:56 pm

The answers to your questions were answered in this thread. If you lack the awareness and reading comprehension to realize that then I'm sorry, you won't make it very far in architecture.


Oh just an update - eventually I got offers from UBC, Toronto & Calgary this year - as my second attempt. I know these aren't top-tier schools are rather easy to get in, but apparently my irrelevant background wasn't that much of a disadvantage. Would like to thank SpatialSojourner & Non Sequitur for their suggestions. 

May 26, 18 10:33 am
Non Sequitur

You're very welcomed. What school did you choose? UBC is, in my opinion, better than Calgary and miles above UofT.


I eventually opted for UBC. Very excited about getting back to school again!


Hi Borispmchan, I am in the same stage as you previously as I am preparing my portfolio. What would you say were the major changes made for your second attempt? Also how wondering how UBC is going for you so far as that is definitely among the top of my list for consideration. Would be great if you could help provide some insights. Thanks in advance!


Don't know if it's a universal formula, but in my latest iteration of my portfolio, I tried to make it more coherent by sharing a common theme. I also showed the developmental process of how I derived the final artwork from the original concept. I would say include a bit of model/sculpture and drawing, photography is a bit tricky so I only included like 4-6 - I treated them as a series of paintings so they're far from technically perfect but more like studies of a certain phenomenon. My first semester in UBC is quite pleasant, they give you lots of room for exploration, the teachers and classmates are very supportive in general. I do y


I do think the workload is a bit heavy, but I've never been to design school before, so it's probably comparable with other schools. I still managed to get at least 5 hours of sleep a day, while many didn't. They said the first semester is the toughest one so the next one should be better.

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