Another M.Arch crit post


Hey everyone - I hope to gain some insight on what I can do to improve my application for graduate schools. I’m putting myself in a vulnerable position here and want to place importance on the fact that I’m not looking for pity or handouts. I have been continually bettering myself since undergrad and want to present myself for my potential as a graduate student. I have developed a rough draft portfolio and a rough draft personal statement that I will be submitting for M.Arch programs in late December of this year - for the Fall of 2020 entrance. I have questions about how to approach both, given my circumstances.

I’ll try be short - I went to a state school, Bachelor of Arts in Architecture, and did poorly to say the least. My cumulative GPA is 2.51 and my major GPA is 2.94. I have been working for three years in local firms since graduating and have been developing, also through personal exploration, my intellectual prowess and technical skills during this time. One of my projects in my portfolio is the only project that I haven’t reworked entirely. 

I hate to make excuses, BUT here they are: during undergrad I worked 50 hours +/- a week during nights, and suffered through my parents substance abuse during this time. It was very difficult to stay focused in school. I also thought that I knew better than my professors, which was a product of my immaturity. I do believe that I have become a mature professional through work and gained respect for the fact that there are thousands of individuals out there that have put countless hours into their craft to succeed in academics. I see myself as someone who is now open to learn and progress the field of architecture through passion and rigor.

In order to present myself in this “new light” ..Should I discuss this in my personal statement or is this “too personal” to share? I’ve read that I should submit this personal family information in a separate document to the admissions committee and try to focus on my high points in my statement.

Also - in my rough draft portfolio, I’ve tried to focus on clear and concise representation of my projects, but things seem to be falling flat.. I’ve noticed a limit on pages for many schools portfolio submissions and I’m trying to find the line between content and white space. I plan on adding a few works that I believe will enhance my portfolio content, but feel like I’m heading down the wrong path. What can I do in my portfolio that would help my projects? Based on my portfolio, do you get a sense of my design style or voice? 

I am obviously not qualified to apply to any ivy schools, so I’m not attempting to judge my worthiness into programs where people have killed themselves to get into, but I do want to be competitive for low-end to moderate schools. 

Any help would be greatly appreciated.

Jul 6, 19 3:20 pm
Gus Melero

Bump as im also a struggling student going through the same stink.

Jul 6, 19 4:31 pm

Your portfolio is stronger than many. The only things I'd say are: I can't read the white-on-grey text at all.  Consider that you can't control on what sort of devices or at what size and resolution this will be reviewed, so you need to make anything that matters very readable (imagine the admissions committee is reviewing portfolios on their phones, on their train commutes.) Make sure to include your sketch/schematic design process for at least some projects - that's as important as the final images. 

Either don't mention your family circumstances and other past struggles at alll, or make it a part of your statement of purpose.  Unless you can do a truly compelling and original tale of overcoming that situation I'd lean toward don't mention it, because "hardship essays" have become so common they're a joke with admissions people. Don't make it a separate document - that will read like a statement of excuses. Your chances are probably pretty good for the tier of programs you say you're applying to.  

Jul 6, 19 5:46 pm

Thank you for the insight. I would rather not write about hardship at all, so I’m glad to hear that. I will reconsider text and info to make it actually legible. Telling a story through process and elegantly showing process is definitely something I need to work on.. thanks for your help!

Jul 6, 19 8:03 pm

I understand your struggle--I'm trying to put together an improved portfolio for grad school too.

I will try to keep comments brief--I second that your white on gray text must be improved since it is not legible as is. I also would recommend putting a resume in before your table of contents. It helps get a feel for who you are and "your voice" as you mentioned in your post. 

I appreciate that you're leaving white space and there's hierarchery to a lot of pages--your approach is good with text description, then process diagrams, then more developed renderings/sections. However, if you just have one image on a page, I have some concerns. If you plan on printing ever, the fold will pose a problem. I do believe some of your renderings need some sort of caption or one word description. I think you can definitely combine some one-page renderings together at the very least.

As far as hardship goes...if you focus your essays on your steps to improve rather than the obstacles you've faced, it will read better. You do a great job of describing how you've improved in your post--expand on that. 

Best of luck in the future! 

Jul 7, 19 6:18 pm

I've definitely considered the resume in the portfolio, and I'm sure I can get that to work if I consolidate some of the renders as you suggested. (I am worried about page count) I don't see myself printing this portfolio in particular, but I am curious about how the spread format will turn out in a Slideroom application submission. Do you know if Slideroom works similar to Issuu with page turns or is it just a static PDF submission?


I will definitely consolidate some of the content though. Thanks for taking the time to look through my work. Good luck to you as well!


So, I went back to the drawing board based on legibility comments and came up with this style to improve legiblity. This is definitely half-cooked and needs some finessing/drawing work, but I hope this reads better?

I haven’t added resume or process to this yet, but did add a little bit more content.

Next go around I’m going to focus on process work, then content layout and then improving individual drawings within the portfolio. And then I’ll likely repeat that cycle until I’m ready to submit.

Please let me know what you think
Jul 9, 19 10:24 am

I personally don't like the Resume within the portfolio from the above comment. I'm probably one of the few but i think it looks forced and is more like 'hey accept me, here's all the awards i got in school' rather than letting the work speak for itself. But just my opinion. When you go to submit your applications resumes if asked for, tend to be a separate upload links. Also when attending interviews for jobs and such I would reuse the portfolio I had printed. 99% of the time they wanted to keep the resume and would return my portfolio after viewing.

Some nitpicky comments I would use if it were my own...

I'm not sure about the cover, it seems random and doesn't draw me in because there isn't much design to it. Personally, i wouldn't list the school you are trying to get into on the cover, just stick to the information that already pertains to you. I also don't like the email on the cover, maybe move that to the back? 

The black line boxes you use on many pages commands the attention away from the projects. I wouldn't say to eliminate them if it follows a flow for you but maybe revise to be a little differently represented. 

A lot of your projects look pretty good, but i think the way you are presenting them here doesn't do them justice. All of your projects read the same way: you have basic simple diagrams and then renderings there's no drawings for in-between, I almost feel like there needs to be something else in there...

Real nitpicky: On the Altbox project you use the same little rendered diagram to show 3 different sides and the structure its a little redundant but doesn't tell me much. Putting four different views of the same thing in this case isn't helpful. 

I think this is good to start with. You definitely don't have the pages overloaded which is the best place to start. I almost feel like it lacks drawings though. Like pure line drawings from the computer with details. There's something about being able to understand an architecture work by looking at a line drawing with linewieghts. They are similar but they read more clearly than rendered objects which you have a lot of. 

Points to focus: Lacking context for your projects, color (i've seen some really good black and white ones but I feel like its not doing any favors. its like straddling the line of being BW but still hanging on to some muted colors.)( I would play around with it. Its not bad but it falls flat in a way i'm not sure I know how to fix... 

More Nitpicky :)  :take out the wall section, take out some of the text, more drawings. 

The best thing I like the most is your hand drawings. I would utilize those to your advantage. 

Good Luck! also kudos to you for posting it! I've always wanted to do it. to but never did!

Jul 10, 19 4:51 pm

Hey thanks for the feedback, I appreciate it! So, unfortunately that school requests that the email, and program name are on the cover so I can't take that off. I think a recurring theme surfaces when asking for feedback, and it's the process work. The only issue is that I can't find any examples of portfolios that I like that represent process work in an eloquent way... but I do agree that I need more line drawings! Does anyone have any good examples of process work in a portfolio? I have been looking to this portfolio for inspiration recently:​ I wish my portfolio could look half this good... but I've also noticed that there are almost zero instances of hand drawings/process. There are some concept models, line drawings and diagrams, but none of them look like process work to me... they look like curated finals but still get the job done. Maybe the fact that their graphics are phenomenal take that need for more process work away!? Anyway, thanks for the feedback I'll definitely use it and keep iterating!


When putting each project in there think about the process for that specific project. The process (in my case anyways) was different for every one. Sometimes I had a lot of study models as process, sometimes I had a lot of computer diagrams, sometimes I had a lot of hand sketches. In that portfolio ^ there actually is a lot of process! I can see the development of the projects through a beginning point to the more finalized point. Process doesn't have to mean simple drawings, or even hand drawings. If its simple and clear then great, but if its not clear as a simple drawing or sketch then you may need to beef it up with more details. Think about how to convey your overall idea in the least amount of drawings and continue on from that. I know in yours you had a lot of little simple diagrams but many times they didn't tell the viewer much. Your hand drawings were a lot more clear than the computer diagrams in this case. In other words when you had a project and you started to present it what was the first thing you said...convert those ideas to a drawing/quick model/sketch as a start to your process work. You should be able to understand the basic evolution of the project without reading a single word on the page.


Easier said than done! I will keep working on the process work, thanks for the feedback


Once big thing is showing too much is always not good, I would focus on the projects that are intriguing and going to sell you, not projects that are going to make a reviewer turn the page or shut the portfolio. Which that being said, project 1 is super intriguing and actually makes me want to look at it, same with your stone sculpture ( depending on schools your looking at, but this is super nice as far as a formal study, process, way of thinking working, etc....) i would start and end with these.

2.i would take out your professional work, use it as a selling point on your resume unless you think the school is interested in it, (im not 100% sure but i dont think Toubman would care). It only clutters the otherwise decent and interesting projects. 

3. Project 3 would focus on its geometry and formal aspects, (i.e how did you come up with the roof, ect (this project is also nice and simple and would keep in)

4. Project 2 is also nice but has conflicting ideas, first it starts as a interest in a part and then it goes into kind of boring/typical diagrams but then a nice formal rendering, i would try to clean up one of the typical pages and show an interior of an actual interesting space, not the hallway.

Humbled to see my portfolio inspires you! Best of luck!

Jul 19, 19 1:33 pm

Very good points. Thanks for taking the time to give me some feedback. Always nice to hear the point of view from someone that you know what their eye is about. Will definitely take your advice, keep up the good work!


which schools are you considering? 

Jul 19, 19 8:09 pm

"I do want to be competitive for low-end to moderate schools" So in my first post I said this, but after considering some things.. I've created a new list of programs including my some of my "wish schools". Portland State University, Woodbury, SCI-Arc, Pratt, UMich. I don't think I stand a chance to get into Pratt or UMich, but I'm going to apply anyway.


I re-work things in my portfolio every single day after I get off of work, so I'm hoping within the next five months I can really make a nice portfolio to be competitive for UMich and Pratt. I have a lot of work to do though...

Lol #triggered. You’re actually crazy
Aug 22, 19 8:29 pm

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