12th Grade
English (Francisco and Nichols)
Art and Tech (Noble)
Math (Stahnke)

During the fall semester of 2015, the HTHMA 12th grade students in Digital Arts, English, and Math investigated the complexities of man-made structures found in urban/rural design and architecture. As part of this investigation, students explored the formal aspects of visual representation as well as the psychology and symbolism communicated by these visual compositions. As importantly, students learned to analyze critically how man-made environments affect the way we interact with each other and how this impacts our social world. All buildings, no matter how neutral or insignificant they appear to be, are designed to establish particular power relations between the people who use, work in, live in, or pass through them. Thus, students considered how our structures, cultural norms, and even our very identities are formed by design. The students’ inquiries and research culminated into a final exhibition using light projections on paper sculpture to simulate a large-scale paper city lit up by interactive and provocative projected art. In this city of paper sculpture, the audience explored unexpected and disturbing intersections between mathematics, computer programming, social constructs, cultural identities, and architecture.

Teacher Reflection
“We asked students to do very sophisticated and complicated intellectual and artistic work. This process was messy, before it was beautiful. But, the final culmination was intricate, elegant and thoughtful. We are very proud of our students work.”

Student Reflections
“By far this was one of my most challenging and yet favorite projects. I really liked having the freedom to select my own topic and this brought passion to my work.“

“For me the most challenging and rewarding aspect of the project was having to make decisions about our physical art piece that insured our research was visible. We needed to be aware throughout the process that the aesthetic choices we made on our physical structure needed to have meaning and purpose.”

Related Press:

KPCC Public Radio: ‘Draw Students into Computer Programming’

Student Projects:

Built by Memories, Not Masons


Frida’s focus is exposing the difference between a house and a home. She shows the many different ways a living environment affects one’s happiness and socioeconomic status. Frida is genuinely interested in this topic because she knows that the impact a home has on one’s life is significant, but not always obvious or given the recognition that it deserves. Audrey has spent the past month becoming obsessed with the artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser and his philosophy about the individualization of architecture. She saw the Hundertwasserhaus on a trip to Austria and was enchanted, and then encountered his work again on a quest to find humor and absurdity in architecture. As a person who is heavily affected by her aesthetic environment, she resonated with Hundertwasser’s unique vision for the architectural improvement of cities. They both found themselves curious about the psychological, emotional, and personal impact of the structures people build their homes inside. Both topics investigate what it means to have emotional connections to a physical structure, particularly a house, and how those connections transform a house into a home. They discovered that when a tenant moves in, construction of a house stops and construction of a home begins.

Their structure, the Hundertwasserhaus, is a residential building that offers a lively domestic environment with its vivid colors, unusual onion-shaped towers and uneven floors. It’s a non-traditional house that has been made into a home through vibrant customization, exemplifying the house-home transformation and Hundertwasser’s eclectic beliefs.


Behind Bars


Both Maia and Shi’Anna have chosen topics with deep significance to American culture. Maia has been passionate for a long time about issues of social injustice—especially those pertaining to race, gender, wealth, and sexuality. One topic she’d never researched was the prison system. Although prison is a key part of our culture and something that affects millions of people, she’d never given prison much thought. After researching it, she decided to devote her semester to challenging the popular notions of the prison and the prisoner. She hopes that readers and viewers will walk away with moral and ethical questions about the “justice” system’s effectiveness, and its proper place in a functioning society—if it has one at all. Shi’Anna is looking at the mental health care system. She exposes past treatments, procedures and remedies in the mental health system, and compares these to today’s treatments and procedures and shows its effectiveness. She also examines the mental health funds and makes a shocking statement that mental hospitals are not properly treating their patients and are spending most of their resources on drugs. She argues that though technology and resources have advanced, there are still thousands of people who aren’t able to access proper treatment.

Both Maia and Shi’Anna’s topics concern the sometimes invisible but ever pervasive institutions of power that structure our society. Their building, the St. Mary of Bethlehem Hospital, is a perfect example. As one of the first mental asylums, it pioneered many of the disturbingly abusive treatments used on mental patients for the next eight hundred years—some of which are still in effect today. St. Mary (or “Bedlam”) also held prisoners behind its walls



In Defense of Reason


Ronan Elliott chose his topic—science denial and irrational thinking—due to his interest in scientific controversy. From debates about the reality of evolution to protests against the MMR vaccine, science seems to be at war with itself—magazines and TV stations show two sides of an argument, each claiming to be backed by science, and each claiming that the other is wrong. How can two intelligent groups of people look at the same data and draw completely different conclusions? How is it that even when most of the experts are on one side of an argument, a large portion of the public can end up on the other? And—most importantly—how do we know which side is right? With a focus on the vaccine controversy, Ronan Elliott delves deep into the science behind science denial, to examine why we believe what we believe and how we can recognize where our own thinking goes wrong.

When the Eiffel Tower was built for the 1889 World’s Fair, it faced a number of problems. It was the tallest building in the world at the time—at over 1,000 feet—and a landmark of scientific and structural achievement. Hordes of people protested against it during its construction. Though most of the complaints were about aesthetics (it was a giant tower of steel standing over one of the world’s most iconic cities), some were about its stability. People were worried it wouldn’t be able to support itself, and would fall over and crush much of Paris. Though the debate was strong, the science behind the tower was sound; as soon as the tower was completed, and it became clear which side was right, the complaints against it quickly died down.


The Cathedral of Outcasts


Taylor chose to study LGBT portrayal through Orange is the New Black because of its cultural relevance given recent gains attained by the LGBT community. She wanted to see if there was a correlation between the popularity of the show and the political gains for the LGBT community. Sahrang chose to study assumptions and/or stereotypes made about people who have tattoos. The two topics are connected to each other because they both represent “outcast” communities perceived as socially deviant. Despite the wealth of individuals who either have tattoos or identify with the LGBT community, many people still have negative opinions about both.

St. Basil’s Cathedral, the chosen structure for both topics, was originally constructed for the Catholic Orthodox church. The reason for choosing this structure is to juxtapose a symbol of traditional religion with two very unorthodox ideas that have gained momentum in recent years. As a result, there has been notable improvement in the comfort of discussing those issues openly in terms of religious merit.


Socially Constructed Captivity Caused by Consumerism


Joshua wanted to explore humans’ emotional connection to personal belongings. His research focused on how our relationships with material goods develop and change from infants into adulthood. He selected this topic because he found our attachment to possessions to be peculiar and wanted to know why we develop feelings for inanimate objects. Rosanna has always been interested in minimalistic lifestyles that consume as little excess as possible. She wondered why these lifestyles are so few and far between, and what about our culture makes them difficult to sustain. Studying consumer culture seemed to be an obvious way to find an answer. In her research she looked at the work of economist Thorstein Veblen, specifically his theory of conspicuous consumerism, after learning that marketing agencies used it to drive their marketing campaigns. Together, these two topics encompass a larger idea: how objects affect people’s self image.

Their building is Main Street USA, Disneyland. As the very first immersive area of every Disneyland in the world, Main Street USA is an iconic part of the parks.


Seeing Your Choices


Christian is interested in how war affects children’s mental health and the logical decisions they make. He explores the way violence is passed down through generations and how it becomes a cycle. Natalia’s topic is investigating psychological torture, namely whether or not it is necessary or effective. They both explored how violence and tactics of war affect the brain. People are aware of the dangers of PTSD but Christian and Natalia wanted to show the lesser known consequences of violence.

White Room torture is a more modern technique used by governments throughout the world. In this practice a prisoner is put in a cell that is all white, given only white food, and prevented from seeing any color other than white. This desensitizes the prisoner and leaves lasting brain damage.


Alcatraz: A Look Inside


Marissa chose to look at mental illnesses inside the prison system because it is an interesting topic that does not receive much attention. She based her research on the effects mental illnesses have on people because it is a topic that has always fascinated her. As the research process continued she extensively studied the inhumane ways mentally ill inmates are treated. Helem chose to research the rules of taking selfies, but more specifically why taking selfies can be offensive. It is an interesting topic to research because it is known as one of the most popular trends in the world. People take almost 1 trillion photos a year. That’s more photos taken every few minutes then the amount of photos that were taken throughout the entire 19th century.

The topics show their connection best through the structure, Alcatraz. Helem’s topic of the evolution of selfies takes a modern look at how tourists act when taking pictures and selfies in Alcatraz. While Marissa uses Alcatraz as an iconic example of the inmate’s mental health within prisons.


Through Their Eyes


Every person is an immigrant. Karla’s topic focuses on Latinos’ thoughts on immigration. She is interested in this topic because many people expect Latinos to automatically support immigration. Surprisingly, not all Latinos are in favor of immigration. Those who are against it, claim immigrants steal jobs and create a negative stereotype for the Latino community. In order to empower the Latino community, she wants to dispel these uneducated claims. Erimar’s topic focuses on how the media has developed ways to make people believe negative stereotypes about all immigrants. In reality, immigrants are essential to the culture of the United States. This topic appealed to her, because she believes that many people are oblivious when it comes to believing what they hear and see about immigrants from the media. The links between their topics is to explore how people get their perspectives and knowledge versus what is the reality of the complex topic of immigration.

Their structure is the U.S Capitol, which is where politicians of the United States gather to propose, process, and eventually pass laws. The Capitol is also the seat of the United States Congress, the legislative branch of the U.S federal government, and stands today as a monument of justice to the American people. Symbolically, the U.S Capitol represents power and the United States as a whole. As a result, many protests happen here: protests from people supporting the immigration acts to people criticizing it as well.


Overcoming Nasty


Griffin chose his topic of summoning courage in the face of grave danger because bravery is a quality that shapes human life and history, but is not necessarily thought to be in our evolutionary interest. He wanted to look at how and why people are willing to face death and personal harm to help other people or help causes greater than themselves. Michelle chose her topic of the oppression of the LGBT+ community because she wanted to learn more of the history behind the LGBT+ rights movement. These topics connect because the people who started the LGBT+ rights movement displayed extraordinary bravery by fighting for equal rights they themselves might never have been able to enjoy.

The structure that they recreated, Saint Peter’s Basilica, relates to these topics because Pope Francis’ recent statements approaching attempts for positive recognition of the LGBT+ community by the Catholic Church are representative of how far the gay rights movement has come. If Catholics and other world religions accept LGBT+ rights, then the progress of their legal and judicial rights will be more easily facilitated.


Simplicity Rather Than Complexity


Kayla chose the topic of veganism because she noticed a growing assumption that vegans are super healthy because they eat only “organic” food, when that assumption simply isn’t true at all. Through her research, she does her best to educate readers about the harsh reality of the vegan diet and their health due to a lack of essential nutrients and offers vegetarianism as an alternative. Jordan had already been extremely fascinated by ancient civilizations like the Mayans and Aztecs when he was younger, so he conducted research on the accomplishments of the ancient Egyptians, like the Great Pyramid of Giza. In addition, he has found that many of the building materials like stone have been sturdier and longer lasting than the modern day building materials like metal. Kayla suggests vegetarianism, which was the diet of a majority of ancient Egyptians, as an alternative to veganism in her article, addressing the question: If veganism isn’t necessarily the most practical or sustainable diet, what is? Jordan gives facts and evidence about ancient building materials like stone being much more durable and long lasting than materials like metal, their modern day counterpart, addressing the question: Is stone a better building material than metal? Their two topics connect with one another because they question the sustainability of modern practices versus ancient practices.

For their structure, they created the Great Pyramid of Giza. Because ancient Egyptians were primarily vegetarian and the Pyramid of Giza has been able to withstand harsh climates due to its well made structure, they thought the Pyramid best represented both of their topics.


Displacement of Original Purposes


Sam’s research topic focuses on identifying sacred worship versus secular worship in famous religious structures that have gained a lot of tourism over the years. Through her research she has discovered how the media, money, and tourism have influenced a change in the original purposes of religious beliefs. One example of this change is how a famous church that was built for the poor is now only open for tourism. Gabby’s research topic explores how the ideology of faith through time distorts religion for the worst. For quite a long time now she has been interested in religious architectural structures such as temples, churches, synagogues, statues, and places of worship. Both Sam and Gabby’s research topics intertwine because they focus on how religious architecture can affect communities, whether the effect is tourism or the negative decline in cultural values. The Sagrada Familia is known to be the biggest Roman Catholic church in the world. It attracts millions of visitors every year. Sam’s research topic relates materialism to the height of a religious structure like the Sagrada Familia.

Being Objects and Having Objectives

Brianna has chosen her research topic on how gender labels and stereotypes are reinforced through advertisements. The reason for choosing this topic was because she believes that genders should not have a set definition. Gender inequality has always been a huge problem in our world. Many people don’t really know it’s happening until they experience it or learn about it. It’s something that is taught to be normal and acceptable. Mayra’s research topic is about feminism and how the media reinforces the notion that feminism/feminists are bad. While the message is really about gender equality, feminism has been turned into a negative word and women don’t want to refer themselves as feminists because they think that in order to be a feminist they have to hate men or overpower them. Therefore, Mayra is focused on researching the real meaning of feminism.

Both Brianna’s and Mayra’s research topics take on gender inequality and the power the media has on each of their topics. To tie both topics together, they have chosen the Statue of Liberty. This female symbol of enlightenment and democracy was used to point out the clash between promise and truth, myth and reality.



The Ethics of the Institution


In our culture, prison is the ultimate indicator of evil. What does it tell us about people when they’re determined to be so flawed and dangerous that they need to be kept locked away from the rest of a law-abiding society? Tai and Brody’s projects look at the common perceptions of those considered evil, by either the legal system or common opinion. They are interested in human nature and who decides the rules and systems that we all live by. Consequently, this pair explores the American Prison System, and what it means to behave morally.

ADX Florence is the flagship supermax prison of the United States. Often nicknamed “The Guantanamo of the Rockies,” it is well known for housing high profile inmates such as the Boston Bomber and the Unabomber. It employs controversial policies such as 23-hour a day solitary confinement in 7 by 12 foot cells – the smallest of any American prison. To Tai and Brody, this structure represents the trend in the American prison system towards of valuing punishment and security over rehabilitation. In addition, it represents our society’s agreed upon moral code, and how those who defied that moral code are treated once they have been determined evil.


Musical Power


Alonso selected his topic because of his love of music. Although he loves all types of music, one genre that has always meant the most to him is Hip-Hop. He strongly believes that Hip-Hop is the voice of the people and has influenced the sound of music today. If you listen to popular music today you are able to hear Hip-Hop aspects (repetitive drum beats, bass lines, and the lyrical flow) in songs ranging from Justin Bieber to Ed Sheeran. Fernanda’s topic focuses on the effect musicals have on society when it comes to showcasing social issues on stage. She chose this because she feels passionate about musical theatre and the many different art forms that come together to tell one single story. Fernanda and Alonso believe that Broadway musicals, and Hip-Hop, hold more power and influence over the people than any other motion picture or piece of art.

The Broadway musical Rent shares similar themes with Hip-Hop such as fighting oppression. Groups like Public Enemy and NWA, and solo artists like Nas, Mos def, and Tupac all brought the issue about fighting against a higher power onto the public stage. Though the genre of the music is not being used to tell the story about the bohemian artists, Hip-Hop is ever-present in the brand new musical, Hamilton, which tells the story about Alexander Hamilton and his rise to becoming one of the most influential founding fathers of the United States through. The musical is currently being staged at the Richard Rodgers Theatre on Broadway and is the structure chosen by Alonso and Fernanda for the exhibition.


Beyond Borders


Through their research, Ana and Ilias found that society contains many different types of borders that implicitly, or explicitly, exclude others and dictate public perception of groups of people. Ilias researched the topic of gentrification and how it creates cultural and economical shifts within a community. The primary example that he used in his research was the New York City borough of Brooklyn, which is a quintessential example of gentrification. He noticed the economic disparity created by gentrification, and wanted to understand the cultural shifts that followed that imbalance. Ana chose to write about immigration because it is a controversial and contentious topic receiving attention in the media and in political campaigns. She researched the effect immigrants have on the economy and found that contrary to popular belief, they bring jobs and money and are good for society. This left her to wonder why they continue to be treated unfairly. After research and noting the differences between the San Ysidro border and European borders, and immigrant treatment here in comparison to in Europe, she concluded that the border is one of the most influential factors in promoting the negative stereotypes and treatment of immigrants.

Both of their topics explore the idea of a separation of groups, of immigrants vs. non immigrants and of poor vs. rich. Gentrification is represented in Whole Foods, which acts as a socio-economic border when it separates those who can afford it and those who can’t. The San Ysidro border separates different nationalities of people and reinforces negative stereotypes of immigrants.


In a Crowded Room


Chase’s topic is the etiquette of a music fan and what it means to be one. He found himself genuinely interested in the way true fans are perceived by others in that culture. As a fan and an avid member of the music customs he notices the energy that performers send to many audiences. The crowd is sometimes more important than the band because if the crowd is not intrigued then the band has no one to perform to. Jessica has always been fascinated by music and live music performances. As an avid music listener she has spent the past few weeks becoming an expert on music and the effects it has on people. She researched and compiled data on the medical, psychological, emotional, and scientific effects music had on various types of people, from elementary school students, to elderly patients with Alzheimer’s. They both were very curious about the psychological, emotional, and personal impact of live music on people. Their topics investigate the connections that are created between people and music.

Red Rocks Amphitheater in Morrison, Colorado is an all natural state park as well as a world famous music venue. Not only are the hiking trails and the nature world renowned, but the amphitheatre itself is also strikingly beautiful. Two 300 foot monoliths of solid red rock surround the amphitheater on both sides. This structure is a famous travel destination for concert lovers all over the world.


Storytelling and War


Effren chose the topic of visual storytelling because of the enormous impact it has on human culture. Telling a story visually affects people. It is a worldwide language that almost everybody can understand. Carroll‘s topic is about war, and how a conflict thousands of miles overseas affects the average American. Foreign conflicts affect countless families, and it’s important to him that Americans get to see the repercussions of the wars our country has been involved in. Their topics are closely related because visual media has been used to propagate ideas of blind support and patriotism during times of war and largely contribute to the biased understanding many Americans have about foreign affairs.

They chose the Roy. E Animation Building as their structure because the building is a monument of visual storytelling, producing cartoons that have inspired ideas in people of all ages since its construction in 1928. Though Disney was a pioneer and a figurehead of animated storytelling, he also used his influence as a storyteller to evoke feelings of hatred towards other races and nationalities during World War II in order to spread American pride and patriotism. By creating films such as Education for Death and Der Fuehrer’s Face, Disney caricatured Nazi Germany and its allies in a way that influenced many Americans to enlist into the Army.


Racing: The Benefits of Today, and the Improvements of Tomorrow


Jacob’s topic is how cars and racing have affected society today through sponsorship and technological advancements. He also discusses how other fields like healthcare have applied the technology used in racing. He chose this topic because he is very interested in cars, especially the economics of racing and how it generates cash-flow. Ryan’s topic is about how the technology of race cars trickles down into creating innovations and advancements in production models. Ryan chose his topic because of his interest in cars. The intersection of these two topics is how cars and racing benefit other aspects of society.

To represent both of their research topics, Jacob and Ryan chose the Nurburgring. The Nurburgring is a well-known racetrack, and is used to do everything from the testing of production cars to the racing of cars, motorcycles, and everything in between.


Royal Hierarchy


Miguel’s topic focuses on the British Royals Princess Margaret and Prince Harry, who are the second children of their given parents. Miguel analyzed how being the second child in the line of succession to the throne affected their lives personally and socially, resulting in various controversies. He also wanted to make the connection to “regular second children” and how their experiences are either different or similar to that of these royals. Nicolle’s topic explains the history of the Elizabeth Tower, or more commonly called Big Ben. In 2012, Big Ben was renamed the Elizabeth Tower after the celebration of Queen Elizabeth’s Jubilee. Nicolle sought to understand how this name change illustrates the empowerment of women.

The Elizabeth Tower has a direct connection to the Royal Family. The artists’ focus was on the history and the social significance of the structure and royal family. Big Ben is part of the Palace of Westminster which used to serve as a home to the British Monarch and his/her family.

Advancements of Technology


The topics that Owen and Courtney chose were the importance of computer science and the positive effects of social media. Owen chose his topic, computer science, because he is passionate about the field and is interested in pursuing it as a career. Courtney chose her topic because she wanted to influence people’s perception towards social media. While inexperienced with these platforms herself, she took the project as an opportunity to learn about the culture of social media in order to personalize her research. Overall, they found that their topics were more strongly connected than they first thought, as social media websites make frequent use of computer science to determine what advertisements and notifications a particular user should see. When it came to selecting a building to represent their topics, they decided to construct a model of building 42 of the Googleplex.