The Secret Sauce: Unpacking Architecture School

Architecture Studio Design Production

It's often more beneficial to first be concerned with exploring a good idea before worrying about how to graphically represent it; however, design thinking and representation can certainly evolve simultaneously.


Common Design Production Priorities

  1. Quality   2. Efficiency   3. Quantity   4. Common Final Deliverables

Examples of #4: 

Site plan, building plans, sections, elevations, informative process work (e.g. sketches, physical models, or other media), diagrams (building/site forces), and a final physical model at an appropriate scale: maybe 1/16” or 1/8,“ depending on the project

Examples of Additional Forms of Representation: 

  1. Hand-drawn or computer-generated perspectives (humans included)

  2. Sectional perspectives that provide layers of information (e.g. space, structure, light, material, scale, etc.)

  3. Exploded axonometrics (how do various components of the design come together?)

  4. Site sections with more context (how does the design fit in or stand out?)

  5. Animations via Grasshopper, Autodesk Maya, and/or After Effects

Easiest Way to Produce Some or All of the Above for a Semester-Long Studio Project:

Create a schedule for yourself with realistic milestones (include specific dates), and try your best to stick with it. Add more to it or cross things out as reality sets in and priorities shift.


Resources & the Importance of Sharing Information

`Alex Hogrefe has changed thousands, if not tens of thousands, of architecture student workflows with his willingness to share his own work and knowledge with others. Generally, sharing is more productive than being stingy about your design process, knowledge, and experience. In schools of architecture, students often morph into what seems like private corporations, consumed by the fallacy that their designs and methods are proprietary and no one should hear about or see them until the final review; this includes people unwilling to share software knowledge or resources that could otherwise significantly improve an architecture program's studio culture at large. Regardless of occasionally-bumpy collaboration or collective improvement, based on my own observations during the past 4.5 years at Wentworth, it appears that your creativity and capacity to critically reflect on key design moves is truly what makes you a good designer (if that's your goal) and hopefully a decent teammate. Your commitment to harvesting a variety of tools and resources in order to “differentiate yourself” from others will likely be a short-lived endeavor. Let your evolving ideas and design process shape you more than your Photoshop brushes, .3dm files, and V-Ray settings.

More Websites of Potential Interest: Visualization & Architecture Portfolios the land of architecture portfolios. Don't forget to see what other architecture students around the world are up to. If you are an aspiring architect and long for success in the profession, it’s helpful to assess the current competition and students who have come before you. Harold Linton knows a thing or two about architecture portfolios; take advantage of shared knowledge!


Suggestions for Ambitious Underclassmen & Beyond

Emulation: “Effort to match or surpass a person or achievement” - Oxford Dictionary

This will keep you busy and always yearning for improvement.

Establishing a benchmark for yourself early on, that either seems obtainable or temporarily impossible, is a productive way of setting a trajectory for growth as a design student. If you incessantly raise the bar for yourself every semester, it will likely encourage you to strive for increasing levels of quality and quantity. This strategy is not meant to discourage you if you don’t achieve everything you wish to realize. Depending on where you are in your education, there's usually another semester to keep at it.

Please do not copy your classmates; instead, just be aware of how other architecture students are developing their skill sets and abilities to communicate ideas via diagrams, narratives, presentation techniques, renderings, etc. It's not a terrible idea to analyze other work, reinterpret it, and create your own unique meaning of things. As designers and aspiring architects, we are in the business of good ideas and persuasion.

Be inspired by others who challenge you; friendly competition doesn't hurt.

Develop your design process and use criticism as fuel to improve upon it.



You don't work for the tool; the tool works for you. Unless you have some kind of script-based, parametric process (this is a conversation for another day), don’t allow the limitations of the tool or your knowledge of the tool to hinder the design of your project. Try your best to avoid being the default “Revit project” at your final review. A good rule of thumb is to make the software that produced your final graphics unidentifiable when the work is in its final form. Remove all signs of Sketch Up, Revit, Rhino, etc. Whatever you do, DO NOT use that default red brick from Revit for ANYTHING...EVER. There's literally no exception to this rule across all architecture programs.

At a certain point, likely beyond your second year in an undergraduate architecture program, it becomes important to invest more time in 3D modeling, texture mapping, producing an adequate base rendering, and enhancing the image during post-processing (e.g. using Photoshop) if you wish to create a series of renderings.


Elements to Consider When Framing & Rendering Perspectives

  1. Vertical lines

  2. Lens length of camera

  3. Eye-level (to understand how one may experience space)

  4. Dynamic moments within or beyond the architecture

  5. Birds-eye view (to understand the context and maybe atmosphere)

  6. Time of day and year (what's it like in the summer, winter, and spring/fall? Does it change the experience?)

  7. Materials: utilize 3D modeling software to map textures onto modeled objects (here's how you do it in Rhino but these are similar tasks in Revit, Sketch Up, etc.)


Elements to Consider During Post-Processing in Photoshop

  1. Setting resolution (150-300 DPI) and image dimensions. Go to: Image > Image Size

  2. Atmosphere: realistic, science-fiction, or diagrammatic (What are you going for?)

  3. Real photos from the site with a decent camera vs. fully-manufactured environments

  4. Background sky (this could have been done in the 3D modeling software as an HDRI skydome texture, or maybe you decided to leave that out in order to have more control during the post-processing phase)

  5. Entourage: people, planes, birds, cars, trees, bushes, grass, etc. (find high-res PNGs, if possible. The Google “size tool” is important when searching for high-res images)

  6. People have shadows when the sun's out or lights are on

  7. Blending the entourage, base rendering, and environment into one “tone” (everything should read as one place at one moment in time)

  8. Photoshop brushes (Build a collection from all of the free content that exists on the Internet!)


Other Resources for Improving Renderings


Just search for high-res Google Images; enter “seamless [insert material name] texture”


Think about the actual users of your site to make it realistic, but aim for diversity whenever possible. (5GBs worth of 200 people cutouts)


Comprehensive List of More Resources


Elements to Consider When "InDesign-gineering" a Design Portfolio or Studio Presentation

  1. Document size and "facing pages" (File > Document Setup)

  2. Layers (Developing a habit of simple layer management goes a long way. Start with at least Layer 1: "Image" and Layer 2: "Text")

  3. Designing labels, symbols, lines, etc. (Architecture students aren’t graphic designers, but we can at least make clean labels and architectural symbols that improve the clarity of our drawings)

  4. Labeling your work (Provide titles on perspectives, diagrams, plans, sections, etc.)

  5. Specifying the scale of a drawing (e.g. “1/16 = 1’-0”)

  6. Section cut lines on plans

  7. Type font and size (Use fonts with a wide range of thicknesses to create a clear typographical hierarchy: "Raleway" is a good example)

  8. Colors shouldn't scare you (Vibrant colors are the new black and white. Give it a try, but be careful...)

  9. Brief written narrative/overview of your work (This could be a paragraph that explains your design intent with a "big idea" or "concept" statement. This is useful if you draw a blank during your presentation and need to be rescued. Set yourself up to succeed by helping your future self out, before the review, while you’re still ahead. Reading words off the wall (or screen) about your project is better than responding with “I don’t know” or “I’m not sure” or “yeah, you’re probably right; this is all wrong. What was I thinking?”)

  10. Name and date (Own your project, but not too much. 100pt font for your name probably won’t go so well among your peers. You might want to also avoid creating a giant personal logo. Your first and last name in 18pt font or less will likely suffice)

  11. Maybe include the name of the studio (e.g. “Studio VI”) and/or degree program (“Bachelor of Science in Architecture, 2025”)


Whether a 1st-year or 5th-year student, I hope this information is helpful to at least one person studying architecture. If you already know all of the information outlined above, please share this post with someone who can benefit from it.