So, You Want to Be an Architect?

The NewSchool of Architecture & Design weighs in on how you should start building your portfolio now.

13 October 2015, 4:30pm

All images courtesy the NewSchool of Architecture & Design

So you're in high school or junior college, but you’ve always had big dreams of designing city skyscrapers, building future cities, or developing smart products. You’ve imagined being an architect or a designer of useful things for as long as you’ve worn skinny jeans. You find yourself keeping sketchbooks, laying out elaborate plans for a new aquatic skate park, or thinking that enough Minecraft will get to where you need to be. Stop what you are doing immediately.

The Creators Project spoke with two experts from San Diego’s NewSchool of Architecture & Design Kurt Hunker, Graduate Architecture Program Chair and Julie Gonick, Enrollment Director to find out exactly what you need to start building a dynamic portfolio to be considered into the program and one step closer to your creative and professional dreams. They offer bachelor's-degree programs in interior design, product design, architecture and construction management, as well as a media program in digital art. Here’s how you can achieve big things to get you where you want to be.

The Creators Project: For someone who has dappled in design, what is the first step in creating a portfolio?

Kurt Hunker (KH): Architects ultimately think like designers on a fundamental basis. In the graduate program at NewSchool of Architecture & Design, we have students applying with design skills, fine art, and even music degrees. What it comes down to is recognizing the design potential in those individuals. In the graduate architecture program, it’s often about providing enough material in a portfolio to get a sense of the student’s ability in that particular area. So it’s helpful to see thorough documentation of their experiences and their progression over a period of time so we gain an appreciation for their design potential—as opposed to showcasing one page of their photography work, one page of their oil paintings.

Julie Gonick (JG): It’s a good idea to start creating right away, and document everything. Keep a sketchbook, photo album, flash drive, videos, etc. 

Online you say you can submit various forms of creative works from poetry to furniture design to a portfolio. What is a common thread or skill you are looking for in a prospective student?

JG: We are looking for creative thinking, problem solving, understanding of themselves as artists.

If a student is in high school and already knows they are interested in architecture and design, what are important experiences they should look to add to their resume? Art school? Travel abroad? Internships? Jobs in graphic design?

KH: Travel is always important and would be the top of my recommendation list. Any type of artistic, creative activity, including painting, drawing, sketching, pottery, writing music, etching... Generally speaking, internships in advance can be valuable as well. One of the keys to student success is understanding that job experience is different than their college experience.

JG: Travel whenever possible and document your experiences. Take any and every design-related summer course you can, find part-time jobs in creative arenas, participate in projects, competitions, committees on your campus to gain great experience to prepare for college.

Where do most of your students come from? Which local schools?

KH: In the graduate architecture program, in particular, we are seeing students come from more international locations, especially from the Middle East. At NewSchool of Architecture & Design, we’ve always had good representation from Mexico, Latin and South America as well.

JG: Currently, the large majority of local students are coming in as transfer students from community colleges in California. Recently, we have been getting more students coming out of high schools, particularly those who have a design/architecture focus. 

Are there tutorials or seminars that you recommend students review prior to applying for school?

KH: Students should become familiar with their programs of interest. See what the faculty are doing in their professional career outside of the classroom, what students are doing in their coursework and after they’re out of school and working. Go to the campus, take a tour, and have questions already prepared that are specific to the program of interest. It’s also a good idea for students to get involved with architectural educational organizations, which can give them a comprehensive view of the industry. Some examples include the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture (hosts annual conferences and meetings), the National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB), and the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB). NCARB just put out “NCARB by the Numbers” that has interesting statistical data about architecture, licensure and practice that would be useful to students interested in studying architecture.

JG: Research, research, research. Whenever possible, go to an open house or visit the colleges of interest. Although a school may look good on paper, it is important for a prospective student to get the “feel” of a school and make sure they can see themselves there. Also, there are often chapters of design organizations/associations on campuses. For example, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) or the Industrial Designers Society of America (IDSA) are good ones to look into. 

As an instructor/enrollment expert, can you name some qualities you are looking for in prospective students?

KH: From a graduate architecture program perspective, we are looking for a level of seriousness and commitment in our students. The student needs to know that this is what they want to do for their career. We’re not looking for students who are already accomplished in design, we are seeking potential: Students who have some sense of design, an appreciation for good design, and who will benefit from an architectural or design education.

JG: Commitment, Confidence, Communication, Creativity, Proactive, Independent Thinker.

To learn more about enrollment into NewSchool of Architecture & Design click here


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