Portfolio tips

When it comes to applying to study architecture in South Africa, good academic
performance in high school isn’t the only requirement. Most universities and
universities of technology ask potential students to submit a portfolio of their creative
work. Sound intimidating? Don’t worry – we’ve put together a list of basic tips to help
you get started.

The basics

1. What is a portfolio anyway?
Think of your art portfolio as an advert for your creative skills, unique personality and work ethic. You want to show the admissions team why you deserve that coveted spot in the architecture programme – and that you have what it takes to succeed.

2. What’s inside?
Each tertiary institution has its own specific requirements and expectations for the kinds of drawings and other materials that should be included in your portfolio, so we can’t give you all the details here. But don’t worry – your admissions portfolio doesn’t have to include sophisticated drawings of buildings or fancy technical plans. Most tertiary institutions want to see:

- A good grasp of drawing fundamentals (awareness of space, depth and form)
- Observational drawing skills (the ability to draw what you “see” around you)
- A good eye for detail
- Neat presentation
- Originality (does your personality shine through your work?)
- Commitment (does your portfolio reflect genuine interest and hard work?)

3. Do your homework
Make a detailed list of your institution’s portfolio requirements, and all the deadlines for submissions – and keep it on hand so you can refer to it regularly. If you can’t find all of the information you need on the institution’s website, or if something isn’t clear, don’t be scared to send an email, or call the admissions office, to ask questions.

4. Be an early bird
A good portfolio is not something you can put together in a rush – it can take months – especially if art (or design) is not one of your subjects at school and you don’t already have a collection of drawings and other creative work to build on. If you know architecture is something you want to pursue after high school, then get started on your portfolio right now. Use your weekends and school holidays productively. Find out if there are any art or design classes you can sign up for, ask the Art teacher at your school for advice, or do some searching for online drawing lessons.

5. Visit open days
Open days are the perfect opportunity to find out more about your chosen institution, ask questions about your degree, chat to lecturers and students – and even make new friends. It’s also likely that you’ll be able to see student architecture portfolios on display and pick up some handy tips. So make sure you get in touch with your chosen institution to find out the dates of their open days.

6. It’s all about personality
University admissions teams see hundreds of applications, so you want to make sure your portfolio stands out for all the right reasons. Every architecture student is different, and brings a different set of skills with them, so think carefully about what makes your work unique, and what your creative strengths are. And don’t forget to have some fun – your portfolio should be a reflection of your personality.

7. Never — ever — copy!
As we’ve just said: universities want to see whether you can produce something original and unique not whether you can copy photographs, or the style of another artist. Admissions teams have plenty of experience in spotting copied content, so don’t ruin your chances by submitting something that isn’t your own work.

8. Be brave
You should always follow your institution’s instructions carefully, but you can also be creative when interpreting the brief. Maybe you could use different techniques or materials? Besides drawings, could you experiment with photography, sculptures, crafts and more? Be brave!

9. Edit and ask for feedback
Don’t be tempted to include too much. Your portfolio should be a careful selection of only your very best work – and it should meet your institution’s requirements precisely. Before you submit, go over your work with a critical eye. And don’t forget to ask for feedback - why not ask your school's art teacher, or a friend with an artistic eye?

Portfolio gallery

When it comes to your creative process and your approach to putting a portfolio together, there’s no right or wrong way of doing things. The examples below show two very different portfolios by students who were both accepted into architecture programmes. The difference? Portfolio 1 was created by a student who took art as a subject at school; Portfolio 2 belongs to someone with a keen interest in drawing and design but has not taken Art at school.

Taking art as a subject at school certainly has its benefits, but it’s not a prerequisite for acceptance. University admissions teams do want to see your ability to develop good drawing skills (after all, you’ll be doing a lot of drawing as part of your degree!), but they also want to see passion, originality and potential.

Portfolio 1

Click here to view this example of a student portfolio.

The owner of the following portfolio secured a spot in the same architecture programme as the previous student. She had not taken art as a subject in school, but did show an interest and passion for drawing and design.This portfolio garnered as the candidate with Portfolio 1.

Portfolio 2

Click here to view this example of a student portfolio.

The additional examples below feature selected drawings from a number of different portfolios, all submitted by students who were accepted into the architectural technology programme at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT).

Portfolio 3

Click here to view this example of a student portfolio.
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