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Preparing your portfolio

The Azrieli School of Architecture and Urbanism at Carleton University requires a portfolio package as part of your application to the Bachelor of Architectural Studies (BAS) program. The portfolio package is an essential part of the application—you cannot be considered for admission unless you submit one.

It is our intention that the application process to the Architectural Studies program be a creative challenge for you. The following text provides explanations, answers questions, and indicates where you can get additional information about applying to our program.

Your portfolio package must include, in the following order:

  1. Applicant description (maximum two A4 pages [8.5” x 11”] saved in PDF format)
  2. Written exercise (350-400 words saved in PDF format, in A4 format)
  3. Visual work (between 4 and 8 images, consecutively numbered, saved in JPG format)

1. Applicant description

Tell us about yourself using point form (bullets). For each point, concise sentences, short titles, or if necessary very short paragraphs, are acceptable.

Your description should start with your full name and your current address (including telephone number and email address). It should provide specific information about your education, extracurricular activities, travel history, interests and hobbies.

Your applicant description may include scholarly, artistic and athletic achievements, volunteer work, as well as more “ordinary” life experiences, commitments, and convictions, that define who you are and convey where your interests lie. We are not looking for “job skills” or a resume, but rather for a meaningful portrait of who you are and “what makes you tick”.

Format: typed, 12 pt. easily legible font, maximum two A4 (metric) or 8.5” X 11” (imperial) sheets.

2. Written exercise: short essay

You are to write a 350-400 word text specially authored for this submission (not an essay written for other school work). The essay should be written in the third person. Choose one of this year’s topics, and indicate at the top which one you have chosen: Topic 1, Topic 2, or Topic 3.

Don’t be afraid to be creative with the topic. While we require that text not be written in the first person, you are invited to relate it to your own life experiences. Remember to respect the word count. Concise writing can be more powerful.

Essay topic 1:

The following excerpt from Kim Thúy’s novel, Ru, describes the setting in a refugee camp where the author’s family, along with multiple other refugee families, had built a temporary home. The author invokes vivid imagery and a strong sense of materiality. Write two original paragraphs of the same length that evoke a similar transformation of simple materials into a meaningful construction. Your writing might reflect on a personal experience, respond to some current global condition, or be a work of fiction.

“We built a cabin on piles in an out-of-the-way part of the camp, on the side of a hill. For weeks, twenty-five members of five families working together, in secret, felled some trees in the nearby woods, then planted them in the soft clay soil, attached them to six plywood panels to make a large floor, and covered the frame with a canvas of electric blue, plastic blue, toy blue. We had the good fortune to find enough burlap and nylon rice bags to surround the four sides of our cabin, as well as the three sides of our shared bathroom. Together, the two structures resembled a museum installation by a contemporary artist. At night, we slept so close together that we were never cold, even without a blanket. During the day, the heat absorbed by the blue plastic made the air in our cabin suffocating. On rainy days and nights, the water came in through holes pierced by the leaves, twigs and stems that we’d added to cool it down.

If a choreographer had been underneath the plastic sheet on a rainy day or night, he would certainly have reproduced the scene: twenty-five people, short and tall, on their feet, each holding a tin can to collect the water that dripped off the roof, sometimes in torrents, sometimes drop by drop. If a musician had been there, he would have heard the orchestration of all that water striking the sides of the tins. If a filmmaker had been there, he would have captured the beauty of the silent and spontaneous complicity between wretched people. But there was only us, standing on a floor that was slowly sinking into the clay. After three months it tilted so severely to one side that we all had to find new positions so sleeping women and children wouldn’t slip onto the plump bellies of their neighbours.”

– Kim Thúy, author journeyed to Canada as “boat person” to escape the military regime in Vietnam, eventually settling in Montreal.

Essay topic 2:

“Education is education. We should learn everything and then choose which path to follow. Education is neither Eastern nor Western, it is human.”

The author of this quote, a sixteen-year old Malala Yousafzai, is speaking poetically of an ideal. Given that we do not have the privilege to “know everything” even when we are educated, how do we “choose which path to follow”? Please discuss this conundrum.

– Malala Yousafzai, internationally renowned social and political activist who grew up in Pakistan and who fought for girls to receive an education, and youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.

Essay topic 3:

“Where do you begin telling someone their world is not the only one?”

This quote from Lee Maracle’s work, Ravensong, captures the idea of human maturation as a lifelong journey requiring self-reflection. Every journey has a point or moment when one steps outside of their assumptions for the first time. Please discuss Maracle’s provocative question: Where do you begin telling someone their world is not the only one?

– Lee Maracle, a poet and author of the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation, a Coast Salish First Nation and an accomplished academic whose work focuses most directly upon the plight of Indigenous women.

3. Visual work: four assigned subjects and optional images

Applicants must submit a minimum of four and a maximum of eight images. The images corresponding to the four assigned subjects in the numbered list below are mandatory. We encourage you to approach your Portfolio submission as a unified work. Thematic continuity between your short essay and your images is welcome.

Assigned subject images

  • Image 1: “Where I belong.”
  • Image 2: “Hesitant Landscape.”
  • Image 3: “Urban Rhythms”
  • Image 4: “Unfinished But Complete”

Intentionally open-ended, the four assigned images (1, 2, 3 and 4) invite creative reflection rather than literal responses. Drawings are to be executed by hand and are to be prepared specifically for this application. These may be pencil or ink drawings, paintings, etchings, and/or collages. You may work in a variety of media—i.e. a pencil drawing for Image 1, a watercolour for Image 2, and so on. Another approach is to work consistently in one medium, to produce images that function as a series. Please include the titles given above for each of these images. Images need not be the same size. Each topic is open to interpretation; if you are fascinated by and enjoy drawing a certain subject, you are welcome to use it for one of the images, making appropriate adjustments in response to the topic. Finally, because architecture is fundamentally concerned with spatial relationships and qualities, not isolated buildings as such, we encourage you to favour drawings endowed with spatial and light qualities, and with a sense of rhythm and of the relationship between things, over drawings of isolated “things.” (Assessors for the BAS find these more interesting!) Assessors also take note of how you have chosen to draw a particular subject: choices in technique, line work, media, materials, all are important.

Optional Images

Applicants are also invited to submit up to four more images of their choice.

Optional images (images 5, 6, 7 and 8) can show any other forms of visual work– for example, ceramics, photography, graphic, stage or fashion design, cartoons or comic strips, images produced through digital programs, which you produced on your own or within the context of a class. You are allowed to include more than one image of a given work (such as a sculpture) on the same JPG file but in this case, be sure not to crowd the final image. Instead, place a dominant image of the work in question in the centre of the page with smaller images (showing other views of the same work) along the right margin. Keep in mind that portfolio assessors will review your images on standard computer screens so please refrain from unnecessary graphics such as frames and borders so as not to waste visual space. In most cases, it is not necessary to include titles on the image itself. You are however invited to include a title and brief description of each image in designated boxes at the time of digital upload. The descriptive text may list factual information including date of completion, technique, media and materials, process, and size, and the work’s general subject of theme (please refrain from long explanations).

Your works and topic choices tell us about your interests, your critical and creative thinking, and your sensibilities. As such, please refrain from submitting drawn copies of famous artworks, internet images, or technical drafting exercises. Drawings of skulls, self-portraits or other body parts are also discouraged.

Please provide a title for each of these images. (For example: Image 6: “Wrought Iron Sculpture.”)

Our expectation

We expect a high level of creative thinking and attention to craft in the medium in which you work. Use each image as an opportunity to reveal to us your sense of and approach to the world as well as your affinity for spatial thinking and design. This is your work—it may be abstract or representational, painterly or minimal, colorful or black and white.

You may ask: “What if I cannot draw that well? Do I stand a chance of being admitted?” The answer is yes. While we do appreciate graphic and technical skills in the execution of work, the ideas and intentions that come across in your images are equally important. If you feel that at this stage you cannot paint or draw like a “master,” yet you are eager to study the discipline of design, please give us your best effort. Those who are admitted and join the School will have intensive courses in drawing and multimedia during the first year of our program.

We do not accept videos, PowerPoint/Keynote presentation or web links.

Submitting your portfolio

You will submit your portfolio to us digitally using an online portfolio program named Slideroom. Slideroom will be active starting in mid-December 2019.

Portfolio package format

Save your written documents (filenames: Applicant Description and Written Exercise) as PDF files.

Save your visual work (filenames: Image_1, Image_2, up to Image_8) as JPGs. Please scan or photograph carefully without distortion. When taking photos of your work, ensure that the work is well lit, using a good quality digital camera set at high-resolution. All images should be 300 DPI in either greyscale or colour. A simple scan or digital photograph of the work suffices: there is no need for frames or graphics.

Uploading your portfolio

To get started, sign up and make an account at Slideroom. The cost is $10.00 USD to be paid by PayPal or credit card

Fill out the required fields (Name**, student number***, curriculum preference [Design, Urbanism or Conservation and Sustainability]).

** Please note, your name should be identical to the name used when you applied to Carleton University so we are able to match your portfolio to your application.

*** Please use your Carleton student number. This number is nine digits long and starts with either 100 or 101.

You are welcome to include a brief description of each image: title, date of completion, technique, media and materials, process, size of original, and one or two brief sentences on the theme or subject of the work.

If you need assistance with Slideroom, the help button is at the top-right-hand-side of the screen.

You can make changes to your portfolio up until the time you submit your portfolio. After that, no changes are possible. It is not possible to make multiple submissions.

We no longer accept physical portfolios, however, in extenuating circumstances, an applicant may be given permission to submit one. The applicant must contact the Undergraduate Administrator in writing to outline the specific reasons prohibiting online submission.


The deadline to submit your portfolio is March 1.

The committee reviews portfolios as they come in, so we welcome submissions in advance of the March 1st deadline. Should you have questions or require clarifications, you may address these to the undergraduate administrator at Please note: should the due date fall on a weekend, these inquiries must be submitted no later than 4:00 p.m. on the Thursday prior to the due date.

Prerequisites and English language requirement

You are responsible for meeting all admission requirements for the Bachelor of Architectural Studies. If you will only be completing Math or Physics requirements in the summer, you will not receive consideration during the first round of admission offers. Once you have completed all academic requirements and Admissions Services has received your final grade reports, you may be considered for a space on a waiting list.

Please also note that if you are submitting an English Language Test in support of your application, you must submit the results before March 1 in order to be considered for an offer of admission.

Assessment and offers

Your submission will be assessed carefully in as timely a fashion as possible. We will be making offers as of mid-April, however, due to the high volume of applications and the competitive nature of the selection process, we are not always able to provide a decision before the middle of June, and sometimes later.

Contact Architectural Studies

Want to learn more about Architectural Studies? We invite you to join us on campus for an upcoming event, or visit the Architectural Studies website for prospective students.

You can also contact the Azrieli School of Architecture and Urbanism by telephone at +1 613-520-2855 or by email at

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