Polygence blog / Student Spotlights

High School Research Student Lilian Shifts Our View on Social Media Through Architectural Design

7 minute read

Lilian is a rising sophomore from Redwood City, California who created a rather curious architectural design with Polygence. Using the softwares, Rhino and Photoshop, she took a deeper and more philosophical approach to social media. Lilian’s space translates the relationship celebrities have with the public into the physical world, providing her viewers with both front row seats and behind-the-stage tickets. You can read more about Lilian’s Polygence experience in the interview below.

So what attracted you to Polygence’s research program? And did you come to it with a specific project in mind?

More than being able to have a project like this on my resume, I mainly wanted to be able to do a project outside of school and on my own. I also really liked the idea of doing it with an expert in a field that I was considering going to college for, especially one that I could talk to one-on-one.

I knew I was interested in architecture, but I came in pretty much being open to doing anything and my mentor helped me narrow down my specific interests. She had me choose two things I was really interested in, which I could combine together to build my design off of. So, I ended up choosing sociology and designing something like a social experiment.

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Can you tell us a bit more about your project?

Together with my mentor, we came up with this project to design a structure that could articulate the relationship between the people who would inhabit it and those outside of it. I specifically decided on trying to show a celebrity or influencer’s online relationship with their audience.

What inspired you to design this specific building?

At the time, I was still quarantined at my house, so I was online a lot. I was looking at all this internet drama and the way these online celebrities were interacting with all the people who follow them. It was just interesting that this new type of relationship between people had emerged.

What did a typical Polygence session look like for you?

So, I would start out with a few sketches on paper about the kinds of situations that I wanted my celebrity and my audience to be in. Then every session, we would go over my design, what my intentions were for the design, and what things I could add to make it show more than tell. Each session my mentor would also show me a few examples that have been built or designed in the past. And then, they'd explain what kind of architectural elements contribute to the meaning of the structure. So, after critiquing my current design, they would also provide me with some ideas that I could possibly add into my project as well.

Would you invite influencers to do their own thing or did you already have in mind what each room in the structure would be for?

My idea was to designate them to one specific type of interaction with the fans. For example, one of them was sort of like a shop front where there was a big display window, but it was also mixed with a “backstage” area. And this was my version of a YouTube video; I intended it to represent content that's curated for the intended audience. The influencer is showing what they want to show, but hiding what they don't want to show. Another room was meant to represent a livestream situation where the performer was inside a container and they were broadcasting to the audience outside of their container. Yet, it was supposed to be very controlled and not a hundred percent authentic.

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If you could invite any influencer or celebrity to take part in this installation, who would you choose?

One of the influencers that inspired my project was Emma Chamberlain because I think when she was first becoming big, she was mostly known for being relatable. In her YouTube video comment sections, people still say she feels like a big sister even though they don't actually know her. They've never spoken to her and she could be totally different from what she puts online. And I think that would be really interesting to see — how she could fit into one of the things that I've designed.

What was the most challenging part of researching something like this?

I think, mostly, it was when I would have to go in and further edit my designs after each session because I would always have to think of something new that could really show what I wanted to show, and also make it as original as I could without copying something else. I think that’s one thing my mentor really helped me with. When I couldn't really express my intentions fully and clearly, she would say, “oh, you can add this or this, so that when somebody looks at your project, they can immediately tell what's supposed to be going on.”

What was your favorite part about the entire process?

I think it was probably either the very beginning or the very end because in the very beginning, I was completely new to all this. And so, I was really excited to come up with an idea and make a project. And then, the end of the project was exciting because I got to start seeing all my ideas come together. So, I think that was really rewarding.

That’s great! And so, how is Polygence different from a typical class or tutoring session?

It might be different for a lot of other schools, but my school is pretty small, so it doesn't really offer a lot of specialized classes like architecture courses. So this was a way for me to look into that subject. I think even with a tutor, I wouldn't really be able to do this. They would maybe be able to coach me on the software and on how to use these tools, but I don’t think they would actually be able to guide me through the design process the way my mentor did.

Is there anything that you wish you had known when you first got started with Polygence?

I started out in the beginning with my first Mentor doing one session every two weeks. Then with my second Mentor, one session every three weeks. So if I could, I would shorten it down to one week between sessions or stick with the two weeks. And this may just be because of my personality, but I work better when there’s an immediate deadline. I would also tell my past self to communicate more with my mentors because even between sessions, they can really offer a lot of helpful guidance.

What was the most valuable thing that you gained from Polygence?

The skill of using Rhino and Photoshop, and also being more familiar with what an architect actually does and the path to becoming one. I’m really happy that I got to do this instead of committing to it, and then finding out that I wasn't really fit for it halfway through college.

What advice do you have for other high school students who are thinking about signing up for Polygence’s research opportunities?

I would definitely say go for it. I think it was a really interesting experience and even for all the other subjects, this could be a really useful experience to have whether you decide to go to college or not. I’ve gained a lot of insight about what I want to do with my future from this.

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