Yesterday was the second annual SONA Summer Portfolio Workshop held at the MPavilion, you can read about last years one here. This year was a similar format, with a 20 minute talk followed by breaking into groups for some critiquing and general discussions revolving around portfolios. I brought along the portfolio I am preparing for my Masters of Architecture submission, paying a hefty-sum to get a draft print prior. However I eagerly made my way to the MPavilion, armed with some red sharpies, my freshly print folio and sketchbook to take notes, this is what was said.


The evening kicked off with a talk from Tania Davidge, with the topic being about having public conversations about architecture. What prompted this topic for her was driving down Punt Road and noticing the above image as a billboard, corny? Yes, but it does put the architect in everyday people’s lives. Often architects are seen as only for elitists, so a change in perception is require, with the help of having these conversations. She spoke about The Architects (a radio program on RRR), the prevalence of architecture in the media (often negative) and just having architecture that spoke (which is quite often lost these days, whole different blog post).

She further spoke about some things which push back on architecture, such as the planning process (referencing the recent Nightingale incident, read about that here) and how everyone recognises the value of good architecture but often money is a huge factor. She finished off her talk to plug Where I’d Like to__Live, and instead of me blabbing on about it I suggest checking out the website and browsing through the hashtag #whereidliketolive on Instagram and follow them also.

After the talk we were broken up into groups, and while trying to find my group I bumped (not literally) into Peter Malatt, Victoria Chapter President of the Australian Institute of Architects and (a) director of Six Degrees Architecture. From there he introduced me to Jon Clements, National President of the Australian Institute of Architects and a director of Jackson Clements Burrows Architects. So it was a cool start to the evening.

After settling into the group, we had Tom McKenzie from Thomas Winwood Architecture lead the discussion and crits. Instead of blabbing, I’ll write down some main points he said about portfolios used initially to get a job.

  • Most preferred format is hardcopy, A4 size, between 10-20 (max) pages.
  • When searching for a job, have a Top 5 firms you want to work for, call to see who to speak to, and go in and drop of a hardcopy portfolio. Make yourself real to the employer, as opposed to being another email address.
  • Show a wide range of skills, and even just show the best of one thing. Example, no need to show a floor plan for each project when you can show your best floorplan. No need to include every render, just show your very best. Show your best section, as opposed to 10 sections for 4 projects.
  • Suggested two pages for each project, where one page may be a full bleed image of the best thing (model, perspective, section, elevation, plan, whatever), some text to explain it and possibly a secondary image.
  • Carrying on from the last two points, don’t repeat yourself. If a render tells the same information as the section, don’t show both. You don’t need to show everything in every project, just show your best parts.
  • What stood out the most was his enthusiasm for hardcopy portfolios, and to actually make your portfolio. He once hand-stiched his, and it showed craftsman, care and creativity. It may not be appreciated with every firm but he was speaking from his point of view.
  • He also talked about tailoring the content to suit the firm. If a firm was about details, making and small scale, perhaps show more detail drawings and that level of resolution and thinking.

After some critiquing and chatting, Jon Clements came over and made some interesting points….

  • He talked about receiving a well crafted portfolio that I can’t even explain in words! However he was impressed they ended up giving them a job.
  • He said that they never hire students and not pay them, they always pay them (I’ve discussed this topic here)
  • He talked about the importance of your first architecture job, setting you up for future jobs whether it’s with the same firm or through networking.
  • He also mentioned how they train their inexperienced students to a point of being productive within 3 months I think? The point was, they invest the time in training their students, rather than expecting them to know everything (which I don’t think many firms do think this, the good ones anyway).

Overall it was great evening with plenty of advice and ideas shared. While some wasn’t applicable for me (as I was seeking mostly Masters application advice) directly, I will apply the same principles to my Masters portfolio. Keep in mind also, the above by Tom McKenzie is only his opinion, I’m sure other groups received conflicting advice. What he may like may not apply to a large firm, or his thoughts on what a portfolio should include could differ from another architect.

The night drew to a close, so I ended up taking a bunch of MPavilion night photos, enjoy them below. I highly recommending attending these workshops, as what you may believe what is right could be totally wrong….