Have worked in CD phase, nothing to add to portfolio.


Hi everone, 

Since I graduated from Architecture school (almost three years ago), I've worked in relatively large firms where most -if not all- of the work I've done has been in the CD phase of any given project. Initially, I thought this would give me the experience I would need later on in my career as an architect, but now I realized that I have nothing but construction documents to add to my portfolio. 

My next steps are applying for a design-centered postgraduate program, or looking for a new opportunity as a designer. Both of these require a strong portfolio, so I'd like to know if anyone has had a similar experience.

Thanks for your comments. 

Mar 8, 18 2:12 pm

yeah, do competitions.  I'm sure you have plenty of projects from your undergrad to include also.  There are so many ways to remedy this. 

I think admission officers are interested in your own project than those you worked on in a firm.  We all know as young practitioners, you are barely responsible for firm projects aside from taking instructions and drafting etc, in most cases.  Too many include fancy rendering done by an arch viz firm and which they had no part in aside from plans they worked on etc.

Mar 8, 18 4:37 pm

But do those fancy renderings work? Is it ethical to include them?


No where as much as your own projects ... Those who include them do write or explain exactly what they worked on. More often than not they had little to no part in those renderings as its outsourced. Personally I think projects done at firms are usually brushed aside. Admission officers are more interested in your ideas and your thought process.


It's interesting how this is probably true for a portfolio for grad school, but not so much for job application one.


I included the projects I worked on, typically a very small as-built money shot, some sort of CD working drawings showing the money shot, and the project architect's sketches (parti's if there were any)  as a 1/2 page of a 2-page (11x17 in total) spread.  The other 1/2 of the first page was my own conceptualized version of a parti, including any slight adjustments I wanted to emphasize.  On the right page I'd include redline edits of details, and a perspective sketch or two, as well as vinette photos (4 or 5 along the bottom) of materials etc.

The whole idea was a before/after   his take/my take   concept of the nuts and bolts of architecture I had to work on.  I think it helped that I worked at a firm that at least locally was considered a 'design' architect, so I had something to work with beyond yet another POST or AMLI multi-family building.

In the end, all of my ideas would have been more expensive to implement by far.  *shrug*  I got into grad school, graduated, and have moved on.  I didn't get any $$ for a gra position or anything though.  YMMV

Mar 8, 18 4:53 pm

Can I ask which school/program you attended?


Georgia Tech. They've got a lot of Harvard alums running their program, so expect similar styles and standards. However, I wouldn't call it a difficult school to get into.


I'll check it out. Thank you!


Oh, and when I got out, my work with CDs definitely got me my next gig, though by then I had done a lot more permit sets on my own during school (houses that don't require architect's stamps).  Basically my second job was at intern rates for someone who could nominally produce their own sheets and pretty much work on auto-pilot through 50% CDs.  Fast forward and with 10 years of experience, I'm still not in charge of any 'design' decisions, but roughly 70% of my time is spent on my own jobs entirely on rehab projects (mostly schools).  Sadly, there just isn't that much theoretical design work when spending $10 mil replacing the roof, mechanical, all restrooms, all flooring, painting, doors, etc as well as adding prefab canopies at the bus stops, adding a small wing of maybe 6 more classrooms, adding prefab playground equipment, etc.  I've also never used my stamp yet... but maybe one day.

Mar 8, 18 5:00 pm

I know. I'm almost now convinced that pursuing an education in design is merely for self-fulfilment.

Sometimes the details can be worthy of a mention in a portfolio. Otherwise make some projects up to add to the portfolio. 

Over and OUT

Peter N

Mar 8, 18 5:02 pm

Thanks, Peter.


If you worked on the CDs, it's not dishonest to include finished photos and renderings along side some details. As long as you make clear what your role was, it's fine. 

Portfolios are introductory conversation starters, if you get to the interview then the conversation often happens with your portfolio lying closed on the desk, in my experience.

Mar 8, 18 8:27 pm

This is not exactly related, but do you know if you have to get legal authorization from the office where you produced the CDs to use them on your portfolio?


It's best to ask, but as far as I can tell, so long as you're honest about your exact role, it shouldn't matter. The design may belong to the firm, but they'd have to be supreme assholes to deny you use of work that you performed as part of your job.


Some firms are supreme assholes, in my opinion. But yeah, I see what you're saying. Thank you!


I think junior associates are usually the bigger assholes as they're trying to move up the ladder and want principals or directors to think they're looking out for the company, basically kissing ass while throwing interns especially under the bus xD There was a particular one at the firm I interned in .. Luckily I was warned by a female colleague that at the end of the internship he likes to trap interns by asking questions casually on if they're keeping a copy of the CD for portfolio purposes. If you say 'yes', he goes and reports it to HR. xD I just transfer all the files I need to my HD and shut up.  The same asshole tried to blame it on me when some folders got moved around accidently by someone.  It was ridiculous as I'm sure the firm's IT department digitally tracks and backups every file, which computer made changes to it, with which logged in account, at what time etc etc.  I just let it slide seeing as how I was the intern and there for a few months only.  Looking back, it was not a good idea to let it slide.  Not speaking up is almost like admitting you're guilty.


That is unbelievable! Why would you go after the interns anyway? They're probably the weakest member of the team and the ones that can't defend themselves. Speaking up IS important. Thank you for sharing.


I've known cases where firms get started by ex employees taking all of the promo material with them to use for marketing. The same folks then keep tighter guard on their own information and, in at least one case I've heard, sued their own leaving employees for trying to do the same thing.


That sounds like a petty thing to do. But I guess it means that you can pretty much take anything from your job and get away with it.


You don't. If they get angry, they're being petty. Just make sure you list the entire team and attribute credit for renderings and photos. Future employers will see you're a team player and respect the efforts of others. 

Mar 8, 18 11:49 pm

I have nevet asked because I don't want to get fired while I'm trying to quit before I have another job lined up. But make sure you're above board and make damned sure to keep confidentiality if the firm has. You don't want to be the person who loses a future contract, even for a former employer.


Great insight! Thank you!


I like to make it part of my salary/ benefits negotiation when starting a new job, or immediately after being hired. Just say "I will be archiving and cataloging design documentation, construction documents, and construction photos and finished photos for my portfolio throughout my employment here." Is this a problem? And they will say "no problem at all," because if they are trying to hire you they probably need someone to do some work soon.


Yeah, there's no way they can say they have a problem if you're honest from the beginning.


Honesty only truly works if everyone is honest. Cover your ass.


Hahaha. I will. Thanks.


Whenever I work "only" on the CD phase of projects I try to put photographs of the construction phase in my portfolio, best if they include key design features that I worked on and helped to translate into built reality, combined with a clear drawing / detail and perhaps a rendering or model shot to show design intent. Spin it so your efforts helped push the design forward and your CD work was done with the approach of a designer looking to execute ideas, rather than a technician trying to value engineer all the architecture out of it. Also, always clearly state your personal contribution (that's just common sense really) even though no sane person will ever believe you did it all by yourself.

Mar 9, 18 4:57 am

I think this approach will be really helpful for me. Thanks!


The AIA has a policy on letting team members use work for their portfolios, you can search for it. If a firm doesn't let you use stuff it might be for good reason (client privacy). If they are just being jerks and are AIA members you can report them to the ethics council. If they aren't AIA members you could still use their stance as a guide if what's reasonable to take and use.

Mar 9, 18 9:34 am

This is a great tip. Thank you!


Why don’t you ask to participate on some projects that are in the concept or SD phase? In my experience big firms typically like to accommodate staff that are interested in trying different hats. It might take a little persistence, and patience but possible.... if you’re interested in a “designer” career path I would recommend finding pathways in the office rather than going back to school. Especially if you’re at a lager office, im sure there are many opportunities available. Just my 2 cents... 

Mar 23, 18 1:20 pm
Noah Walker

That's funny, typically when I interview someone I go straight to the construction documents part of the portfolio.  I can really learn a lot about a candidates knowledge and skills there.

Mar 24, 18 4:06 pm

Block this user

Are you sure you want to block this user and hide all related comments throughout the site?

  • ×Search in: