CONVERSATIONS WITH ARCHITECTURE SCHOOL APPLICANTS: NOTES TO OUR STUDENTS ON HOW TO IMPROVE THEIR ARCHITECTURE SCHOOL PORTFOLIOS
The process of developing a portfolio for architecture school admissions to top schools of architecture, is a tough and relatively long one. It requires patience and persistence, and commitment to the development and re-development of design projects so that they fit perfectly with well-designed architecture school admission strategies.
As part of our process, we engage in online correspondence with our students, which takes place between sessions. This correspondence is meant to help the student advance their design between sessions, by engaging in a process of on-going reexamination and continuous design and development of their projects. The following threads are examples of these correspondences with some of our students. [Names of students have been replaced with fake ones, and photos or ideas associating the text to the actual student have been removed]
Sam is a 30-year-old student, with a background in business, interested in applying to Masters of Architecture programs in the United States
SAM: Been working on sections 2 and 5a/5b. Do you have any feedback?
Thanks for your feedback the other day. It was very helpful. I have continued to work and have a few questions for you.
2A: This is where I’ve been having the most trouble. Should I strictly be focusing on the way I think/ how I view the world, and not touch on the social agenda aspect? I do think that they go hand in hand, but I’m having trouble making it not sound like a linked in profile description. I’ve been through many variations, but here’s where I am right now:
- SINGLE-SENTENCE DESCRIPTION → I am an altruistic and compassionate person that has a balanced, logical and holistic view of life and its nuanced challenges; A jack of all trades.
- EXPLANATION → I am a very balanced and calculated person that always takes a step back from any challenge to view the big picture and approach the problem from a multi-dimensional angle.
2B SSD: Feeling more confident in this one, I think because it is less abstract. I rewrote the whole thing and focused on being more descriptive/specific and describing the transition. Is the single sentence description too wordy? Am I tying it all together in a genuine way?
- SINGLE-SENTENCE DESCRIPTION → To advance from helping people communicate their ideals and achieving a sense of comfort on a small scale through clothing, to helping individuals and communities communicate ideals on a much larger scale, through design, and ultimately push our culture towards one of providence and contentment.
2B Explanation: I’m unsure if the first sentence is necessary, but I do think it is the first part of the ‘WHY’, ie our culture is fundamentally flawed, which of course leads to why I want to change it. I also tried to tie clothing and architecture together. Is it a complete flow of the ideas I’m trying to communicate? Do I need to go into more detail about the changing of culture, or should that be answered in more depth in 2c? This is where I landed:
- EXPLANATION → We live in a perpetual state of crisis, both personal and public, as individuals and a society. Some of the biggest problems are perpetuated by industries, like fashion, that exploit individuals’ insecurities, human labor and the environment for monetary gain. I have spent my career focused on helping others. Clothing is an envelope that has the power to help one communicate their ideals, aspirations and increase the wearers self esteem. They feel that they are enough, they are OK, and that they can go out into the world, live their lives, even aspire for more, yet feel content. Buildings and spaces are also envelopes, and can be used to achieve the same end at a greater scale, not only for individuals, but entire communities. Through this greater and more impactful scale, I believe that our culture and daily lives can be changed.
2A: Try not referring to yourself as a person, but instead refer to your thinking process – meaning don’t tell us what you (think you) are, but how you think. You can express this through describing the results of your thinking process, or simply the way your mind works.
Heres where I’m at with 2Aand 5A:
WHO are you … and who would you like the admissions people to believe that you are?
- SINGLE-SENTENCE DESCRIPTION → I work from inside out to develop a comprehensive understanding to build a box to think outside of.
- EXPLANATION → I try to visualize the problem from the inside out, from the smallest detail at first, to understand the basis or root of it. From there, I work back up through the detailed layers, and try to view the problem from the outside looking in. This way, I fully comprehend the calculus of the moving parts. Once I understand the problem, I consider historical precedent vs. an obvious, perfect solution, without any constraints, to determine a choice solution.
2A- While it is a short description of my thought process, I may have removed “myself” out of it too much, and potentially doesn’t actually answer the question.
2A Explanation- I actually think this is a pretty accurate description of my thought process.
5.A. WHERE AM I?
DESCRIPTION OF PERSONA: I work from inside out to develop a comprehensive understanding to build a box to think outside of.
25 words per cell, max
My father, a supportive, pragmatic, calculated and frugal engineer. Never too serious. He is resourceful, doesn’t waste anything
My mother, an empathetic woman who has dealt with mental illness perhaps for her whole life. Librarian, interested in fashion and art. Nurturing, and generally wants to help others.
CONNECTION W/ PERSONA
Influenced the way in which I think and solve problems; a rational, calculated, and well thought out approach. Stern, disciplined but supportive.
Influenced later in my life to be more of a risk taker, use my artistic side. Learned the impact self esteem has on a person.
ANSWER ( → 250 words) → I left a fun and fulfilling job. I learned a ton about people, boosted their self-esteem, and helped them feel empowered in their personal and professional lives, but found myself wanting more. I was helping people, but it was inherently flawed; I couldn’t continue to make a living constantly pushing more material things on people. I could, however, continue to help people tell their stories, boost their self esteem, even aspire for more, but also, most importantly, feel content.
Here is what I have for 5A after our “Storytailor” discussion the other day:
When I was 8 or 9, my grandfather took me to the top of Petit Jean Mountain, a small mountain adjacent to the Arkansas River. The mountain is named for the colonial explorer buried at its top, whose death is a source of local legends. “Grab a branch near her grave, ask her what killed her, and she will tell you, ‘nothing’”, my grandfather promised. The youngest of 12 in a poor farming family, storytelling was their way of entertaining, catching up, and coping with life’s hardships. Their tradition continues to this day, despite the generations passing. The give and take of storytelling strengthens a community by empowering the individuals. They feel connected to their roots, more certain about their future, and confident in their own worth. It makes us feel acceptable the way we are. Hearing the stories of my family’s youth allowed me to understand my relatives as real people, rather than an abstract, and relive the experiences that made them who they are today. It was my connection to the past, to my identity as a person and to the community that is my family. I came to realize that while the stories were fine, it was the embellishments that made them great. Small bits of stretched truths synergized with the facts to deliver a story that was greater than the sum of its parts. This transformed storytelling into an art. A way to express who you were, how you got there and what you wanted to be. An envelope to drape over yourself to show the truth beyond the simple facts. To my disappointment, my grandfather was right: Petit Jean said nothing.
- Does it adequately answer the question of “Where I am”?
- Is the connection between stories, envelopes, and clothing enough? If not, should it be expanded upon here, or in 5B?
- Does it establish the persona of a storytailor?
- Any other comments you have after reading it?
With the kebabs, I started cutting it down to a shape that was at the core of what I had before. I have sketched it out in pen, charcoal and graphite, but none of the sketches are very good.
The model: There is a long way to go. I am not sure what to tell you at the moment other than ‘keep buiding’
Jun has a B.Arch and is planning to apply to MS.Arch. programs in the US and England.
JUN: Just churning out ideas and doing my absolute best while enjoying the process. There’s a lot in the recording of our session, but I get that the main point being that Nostalgia/memory is the umbrella theme. The methodologies/ tools are water, landscape/earth and light. Currently studying Danteum for Project 3 ( the housing for artists in Canton ) and I can see why you mentioned Danteum as four unique poetic experiences. Maybe I will think about how each four artists convey light in their paintings. Still researching for Project I, I found some local water village from Malaysia and China that may serve as inspiration. But I also looked into some of Welshpool’s historical photographs of coracle and the canal. Will continue tomorrow, gonna rest for now.
For this project, I thought about the project from the beginning, a special feature of Canton, Cardiff is its significant Asian population, although its only 9% of the district population, mostly Bangladeshi (3.3%), Pakistani (1.1%), Indian (2.5%) and Chinese (0.8%), so I want to focus on that and it is also relevant to me since I come from Malaysia, a multiracial, multicultural and multireligious country. And I think this is relevant to the development of the concept of landscape.
In terms of the cultural landscape, I have researched on pictures as inspiration to kickstart the project. Firstly, when you mentioned a landscape as an environment that integrates diversity, my mind linked me to Superkilen by BIG, a park trying to promote diversity. I also looked at traditional architectural elements from Bangladeshi, Indian, Pakistani and Chinese vernacular architecture to bring them in as a form of affirming each racial identity. This integration is seen in a lot of Malaysian architecture, such as in Peranakan architecture that fuses Malay, British and Chinese architecture in a single shophouse. So I think this is an interesting element that I want to share to a place like Canton. In terms of the natural landscape, l also see a connection since Indian, Pakistani and Bengali landscape basically lies in the Indus plain. I thought materials of vernacular architecture can also present a potential for memory and identity. Without diving too deep into the research, I present some images below to get the ball rolling.
COACH: the concept that you are describing sounds along the lines of what we discussed, and looks perfectly good to me so far. The images that you submitted are interesting, although I have a hard time understanding what you are keeping from them. Most of them look like man-made natural environments, not natural. Is that what you have in mind? or are you thinking in terms of green roofs over intriguing spaces that change in height, creating changes in elevations above them? If so, then I definitely think this is a great approach, and the images help in visualizing it. The sketch that you submitted is very accurate and interesting so far. I think it encapsulate exactly what you seem to have in mind. It is a great first step, and I would encourage you to keep sketching because I am sure you will be able to discover lots of new ideas through this process. If no ideas come up for sketching, begin to work on the actual building – meaning, print the drawings out pretty small (sections, plans, elevations), use trace paper, and begin sketching over them with pencil or ink. This is usually the best way to rework a piece, and try to get the concept in the images above to merge with your building by making the changes you need to make. During this process, smaller ideas will pop up in your mind, which you can then explore by making quick 30 second sketches in separate sheets. In this way, you can engage in a fun process of not only reworking the project, but reworking the overall strategy and narrative of the project, as well as producing material that will tell the story of how your project was conceived and developed.
I am a walker, but do not confuse me for a saunterer. From a young age, moving in a hasted run-like-walk through the megacity of New York yielded a sense of personal autonomy. This freedom gave rise to a self-awareness of how my surroundings and physical environment were and continue to shape me. In other words, the not so particularly beautiful sidewalks of New York construct my psyche. Walking serves as a means of discovery of the conglomerate that is New York where my burning calves is my only boundary. The lack of physical uniformity represents the diverse thinkers, cultures, languages, ethnicities of the city. The physical disparity encourages individual expression; the skyscrapers, ambition; the subway, competitiveness. Passing through blocks, neighborhoods and boroughs is passing through people and communities, even in emptiness of night.
One of my regular short routes is walking from Chinatown to Downtown Brooklyn and back via the Manhattan Bridge. The bridge is easily trumped by its infamous counterparts, but its narrow walkways with abrasive lights and adjacent deafening, often slow, crossing of the BDN&Q subway lines remain as a relic of New York’s uncomfortable, displeasing disposition. The littered neoclassical arches emerge from the chain-link guard; the crumbling masonry buildings of my neighborhood lurk in the shadows of the glistening curtainwall towers above; reverberating steps do not diminish my unilateral faith in NY engineering. The overwhelming sensory experience yields a sense of comfort and familiarity with the foreign, non-homogeneity that is New York.
My relationship with New York is so fundamental to my identity that although I knew I wanted to attend university in an urban center, I did not realize until my second year that I could pursue my interest in this relationship by majoring in Urban Studies and minoring in Psychology. After experimenting with a multitude of disciplines, the course Industrial Metropolis, taught by walking through Philadelphia and observing/comparing/studying structures, plans, people of present to past fit with my curiosity of cities and tangible (economic, political) impact on communities and intangible (sensory, psychological) impact on individuals. The drive to understand the interdisciplinary relationship between environment and humanity led me to study in Paris for my third year of studies. From Urban History to Economy of Sex to History of Jazz to Gardens insert course name, the courses centered on Paris and its history to formulate a complete story of how present day Paris exists. This year solidified my understanding that cities are puzzles of complex history and it is imperative to understand this history from as many angles and perspectives as possible to have a truly informed idea of a city today.By means of these walking revelations, it has become clear that community development and neighborhood revitalization speak to me most. The challenge of striking balance between ameliorating conditions for local individuals while preserving their essence exhibited by the built environment fascinates me, and selfishly, as I see New York become ever more homogenous, is a driver for me that I wish no city to fall fault to. This interest led me to West Harlem affordable housing and commercial developer and owner, Janus Property Company. To be apart of a private developer so deeply entrenched in the community was incredibly unique experience in NYC. My first project fresh out of school with no design/construction/handiness experience was to build out offices in a small 1000 sf storefront space on 130th Street and Amsterdam Ave for local not-for-profit, PA’LANTE Harlem (People Against Landlord Abuse and Tenant Exploitation), serving the community for decades. With no architect or engineer, I ran the full gut job, building an ADA compliant bathroom, private office and x number of desks. I was suddenly the designer, engineer, construction manager, super, electrician, plumber and tenant manager. I may have bothered the seven person firm and contractors with too many questions, but facing and completing this challenge, providing space for Elisa to continue her impertinent business for the community, brought so much satisfaction. I continued this purpose by moving to planning/design/construction project management for a major healthcare system to again serve communities around New York and continue expanding my breadth of knowledge in construction and complex design.
- All projects touch on theme of environmental psychology?
- Cognitive map of NYC or Chinatown or elsewhere: “A cognitive map is a type of mental representation which serves an individual to acquire, code, store, recall, and decode information about the relative locations and attributes of phenomena in their everyday or metaphorical spatial environment. The influence of cultural, social, and gender-specific factors on an individual’s representation of space is now also acknowledged in cognitive psychological research.” – this is overall can be about my relationship to/perception of environment ; example of art project as example http://ivanasidzimovska.com/projects/11-mental-maps-kreuzberg/
- Kebab stick project thoughts – Overview reminds me of the shape of Paris even though I did not have that in my mind consciously at all; From this, I’m not sure exactly where to go
- Something related to these 20th century type buildings I am familiar with; Study of decay?
- Creative manipulation of existing plans?
The Piranesi looks ok so far, and definitely better than last time we looked at it. I like that you extended the lines first and then tried to develop some kind of a framework for the development of ideas. I would recommend that you try to add depth to your drawing, by exploring what happens beyond the middle ground. The background is key because it will allow you to understand the drawing three dimensionaly and achieve balance along the Z axis.
In terms of details, be careful when you are drafting elements that Piranesi is using in his work, like arches, doors, bridges etc. Try to learn from him and in the beginning try to imitate him. Be as precise as possible when drawing. Some of your arches for example are unclear and not well defined.
Finally, Some elements, like these arched openings, need to show depth. Right now in most cases you are just showing a profile. Try to spend a bit more time thinking if the elements you have added to the drawing make sense, (and if they don’t, you will know it), and then fix them. Look at Piranesi’s work for guidance, or simply look around you.
I think the next step after you are done with the corrections is to move forward with the rendering of the drawing. Email me when the pencil is complete, and just go ahead and start inking.
Condensed Terra-cotta flat arches
Mold markings on Sheetrock
The scratchy, Uneven texture of the face of worn limestone
Dirty, dark bricks and stone
Pile of pavers
Crumbling stucco/plaster with moss
Faint Cracks in materials
Dented metal roofs
Corroded Cast iron columns
Demolition; materials falling on themselves
The sound and form of rope dropping on the ground or tensioning around wood
The streets that do not conform to a grid; alleyways
Dense, local business of locals in chinatown selling spices and eastern medicines
Winding streets overlapping others, access to other streets via stairs
Warm, fuzzy light
Tree roots sticking out of the ground
Lumpy, bumpy, massive trees
The circular dips in rock formed by water
Dried dead plants and flowers
Ripples in body of water
Sun reflection off of water
Algae on rocks and flowing with the water
Zebra print upholstered chairs
All shades of brown and cream
Stack of raw linen paper
Christo and Jeanne Claude
Curves and softness in shapes
Stone Staircases that show wear of use
Piles of books, magazines
Heavy, Grand wood doors
Ornate wood carvings
Red rocks and dust
Vertical crag, imperfections in rock as holding points to climb
Worn down seashells
Airy early 2000s dream music
Simone de Beauvoir
Regarding the Highline, we agree on that. I think the way it was developed represents one of the greatest missed opportunities in the field of landscape design. And yes, it was what started the gentrification of that once terrible area. I think gentrification is a great issue, so discussing it in your projects is a good idea. the sensuality of existing buildings (whatever that means) sounds good too. The problem is that both these ideas are hard to understand in terms of projects. Meaning, it is hard at this point to present a planning project about Chelsea/Meatpacking, or to present a research project. We could, however, develop a critique of gentrification as a phenomenon. Or we could develop a project that critiques the adaptive reuse of former factories and soho loft spaces into condos that cost millions. Overall, we are talking about the soul of the city. ‘What is a city’? Is the question we should be asking ourselves perhaps. The New York phenomenon of the early 20th century, the cultural melting-pot, the immigrant’s home, is gone now. What is left of the real New York? In a way it is just the buildings; the sceleton of the life that used to occupy it. Like the Parthenon in Athens, these buildings are representatives of a different era. And ironically, the people who visit New York or move to New York, are here because they were attracted to what that era once represented, but it is not there anymore. So, these historic buildings may be ‘sensual’, but they pretty much do not really belong in this city any more. Most of them in fact are brand new, and all that is left of the old buildings is their facades. They are hollow, like the stage-set of a theatrical production. Therefore I cannot see how you could create something that criticizes the real social issue of gentrification and at the same time celebrate the very thing that is responsible for it, these buildings and their ‘history’. You kinda have to make a choice between the two If it were me, I would choose the social issue, BUT, as I mentioned in the beginning, it is hard to present a planning project or a research project at this stage. You are doing an excellent job thinking about it though, so continue doing so and you/we will get to it. I think you are very close.
The way my mind works can be clearly delineated by the structure of my family. The left part of my brain is logical, thrives on facts, and thinks linearly like my intellectualist father. The right part of my brain allows me to be intuitive, creative, and think holistically like my expressive mother. My brother with Autism Spectrum Disorder has inspired me to be empathetic as fiercely as any of these other inherent traits. These influences are ever present in my design work, in which I direct my thinking and creative processes back and forth seamlessly from one hemisphere to the other, and always with social and service based impact as a foundation.
Throughout my education at Washington University in St. Louis, I was able to begin to explore ways in which design can have a social impact on its audience. I took courses that focused on community based design solutions, and continued that learning outside of the classroom.
During all four years I was heavily involved in the Thurtene Carnival, which is a student run community event for the community surrounding the university. During my final year I was the design lead on building one of the structures to be showcased during the event, and created a gallery space filled with student art. The community had never had the opportunity to see or purchase student artwork on such a large scale before and the students were thrilled to get to better connect with ____.
During all four years I taught bi-weekly graphic design classes to underserved high school students at University City High School in St. Louis. I worked to create curricula, explain graphic design techniques, and work with individual students to improve their work and prepare their portfolios for the college application process. I was amazed at how this exposure to design so deeply impacted the students and has inspired me to want to teach.
My experience volunteering on the Exhibition Design team at the Design Museum of Chicago solidified my desire to creative innovative and interesting design that also has community impact. The mission of ChiDM is to make design accessible to an audience that does not usually have access, which has informed my thinking about my own practice and goals for the future. On nights and weekends I designed and installed shows from ideation through to completion, strengthening my knowledge of architectural programs and using complex construction methods to physically build exhibitions but also creating a direct impact on the community around me. The museum showed me that the quality of the design elevates its impact rather and should be emphasized.
After feeling so inspired by the impact of the work at the Design Museum, I co-founded a design collective to work towards a similar objective. Our first endeavor was to transform a home into a site-specific installation and alternative gallery space to host a show made up of the work of 50 emerging artists, many of whom have Autism Spectrum Disorder and are represented by Pure Vision Arts, a gallery and studio that represents artists with ASD. We designed and curated a space with interesting and dynamic exhibition design that showcased the work of artists and gave a platform to artists that are not usually able to show work in. The event created drew over 300 guests and created an inclusive space for artists of all abilities while still retaining a high caliber of design and art.
I currently work as a designer at Stefan Beckman Studio, a production and set design studio in creating large scale experiences for the fashion industry. We aim to turn fashion into art and use the sets to create interesting and unexpected experiences for our audience. I would like to take the incredible design skills I have learned at Stefan Beckman and translate them back into communities they could help improve.
Architecture school will allow me to move towards my goal of working on design projects that are both innovative and community focused. I would like to build on my design education and learn how to practically apply my way of thinking to the built environment so I can have more of a widespread and lasting impact on the world around me.
I am a designer who interchangeably uses poeticism and rationalism to inform my work. I like to take on complex, multidimensional projects with many problems and components and complete them using an integrated thinking approach that incorporates both imagination and logic. My goal is to bring together multiple disciplines under the umbrella of strategic design, to create innovative systems that impact the lives of communities and individuals.