Recently I have decided that I want to major in architecture and most of the good programs require you to submit an art portfolio. I have no formal art experience and don't know where to start. Thanks in advance!
I spoke to my father who is an architect so he had some advice.
The first thing to understand is that being an architect unlike many professions is a multidisciplinary profession. Whereas if you want to be a programmer, you just need to know how to code, or if you want to be a mathematician, you have to be an expert at solving mathematical equations. To be a great architect in 2021, you have to be no less than an artist, sculptor, engineer, programmer, orator, writer, designer, and historian. Therefore, when you look at the various curriculum of architecture schools pay attention to what scope of expertise they are going to impart to you.
When you say good programs I'm assuming that you researched architecture schools and took notice of the annual ranking put out by the top Architectural periodical called Architectural Record. If you didn't, here is the link: https://www.architecturalrecord.com/articles/14289-americas-top-architecture-schools-2020
Before I share what he said about art portfolios, please note that are 3 ways to become an architect and no one call tell you what path to follow:
1. The Intellectual Path: This is a path for academicians who have an end game of wanting to attend a super prestigious graduate program like the Harvard School of Design, or Columbia, or MIT or Yale. These cohorts first attend 4 years of a liberal arts program and elite schools to learn how to think, read and write with expertise. They take courses in art history, architectural history, and perhaps drawing and painting. They become proficient at understanding the world around them and where they fit in. Having a robust liberal arts education is a great segway into architecture school because you can appreciate advanced thinking and systems immediately plus if you graduate, you end up at the top of the most desirable graduates, those that get hired by prestigious firms. They go to school for 7 -8 years and then do a 3-year internship.
2. The Professional accelerated path. These are die-hard wanna-be architects that know exactly what they want to be and can't wait to practice architecture in the real world. Therefore, they enlist in a 5 year accredited program like Cornell, Syracuse, or RISD and start grinding as soon as they matriculate. They take a mixture of theory, history, engineering, and design studio for 5 straight years and get no more than 5 hours of sleep. When they graduate, most of them have jobs lined up with reputable firms that will sponsor their 3-year internship so they can take the NCARB licensing exam as soon as possible.
3. The Pre-Professional long track: These are students who are not 100% sure they want to be architects so they enroll in a 4-year architecture program which is a pre-professional B.S. degree that covers a lot of liberal arts coursework as well. There are many colleges that offer this program like Ball State, Ohio State, and Virginia Tech. If you don't like architecture, you can switch your major and get a different one. This is different than the 5-year programs because those are a deep dive straight into architecture classes your first semester through semester ten. After you get your 1st Arch. degree, in order to become a licensed architect, you, unfortunately, have to re-apply to graduate school and get a 2nd architectural degree which is called an M.Arch 1. This is similar to intellectual path 1 because you can, if you are a very excellent student, still apply to Harvard and Yale but the competition is stiff because you are competing with students who went to Ivy, Elites, and other LACS like Williams or Pomona. This path takes 6 to 7 years total and then you do a 3-year internship.
Art Portfolio: Even though most architectural presentations and rendering and working drawings are done on the computer these days, it helps greatly if you have some innate artistic ability. If you research all the greatest architects like Frank Lloyd Wright, Le Corbusier, and some contemporary ones as well like Zaha Hadid or Michael Graves, you will see that all of them were accomplished artists and could easily have had a successful career in art or painting. Since architects work in all kinds of mediums, like glass, stone, steel, composites, it's important to sell yourself on having some evidence of creativity in your art portfolio. You will never be expected to present drawings of buildings but rather pieces that show your range of talent in different mediums like pencil, pen, and ink, watercolors, acrylics, clay, oils, and perhaps something sculptural 3D versus only flat 2D pieces. It's not important what the subject matter is but rather how you interpret what you are drawing, illustrating, or painting. Do you embrace art? or are you just someone that doodles and dabbles in drawing because it's a chore? The art portfolio is sometimes the most important thing you are going to have to submit because the admissions officers will be able to see immediately if you have any innate talent. It's no different than submitting a video of your dance or piano recital if you are applying to a School of Dance or a Conservatory of Music. If you are able to articulate and present complex ideas visually then you have a huge advantage over someone that can only describe things in words or talking. One thing my dad told me was that even in his 5th year of architecture school there were still many students who couldn't draw well and that became something they had to live with and accept. Imagine you were a chef and could imagine and cook amazing food that tasted great but looked really bad on a plate. That lack of visual creativity could easily stymy a chef's career into doing something else.
So, I'm sorry for the long-winded answer but my dad said committing to being an architect should not be as easy as deciding whether to study marketing or advertising or political science. Architecture is easily as difficult and complicated as becoming a doctor or an attorney so you should know what you are walking into. If you don't know any architects, I highly recommend that you go on LinkedIn and network with some in your home town and ask if you can come to visit their office and job shadow them for a day or two during the summer break. Also, use your time wisely this summer and visit some of the schools on the AR list of schools. If you go see what they are all about, you may either get more excited or less excited about pursuing this as a career. Also, take out some books from your public library about famous architects and see if you can relate to what they were trying to achieve during their life's work and see if aligns with your intentions. The most information you are going to get is from personal connections with real architects and architectural students so make it a priority before you decide to apply to architecture school.
Good luck with your college admissions process.
I had similar questions. I found a portfolio flip-through that helped me out. The student was admitted to Cornell, SCI-Arc and more. Check out this video:
Hope this helps! It helped me!
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