Credit: Annabelle Fagans / Mustang News

Architecture freshman Max Dennison first met Sean Ogawa Hillman at the start of spring quarter, when their professor put them in the same group for the annual Design Village competition being held April 28 to 30. In the short time she’s known him, Dennison said Hillman “always had the biggest smile on his face and the most yummy looking breakfast burrito.” 

The team shared a few short weeks of working together in what Dennison described as a “wholesome and amazing group to be a part of.”

Now, Dennison and her group have a new objective for Design Village: To honor their teammate Hillman, who died from a bike accident this week. 

Architectural engineering freshman Sean Hillman, 20, was hospitalized with severe injuries and put on life support after a bike accident on Friday, April 21. By Tuesday, he had passed away, taken off of life support after his mother was able to fly in from Tokyo to see him. 

“Sean was a bright, hard working student and friend, with a lively and inspirational energy that he brought to everything and everyone everyday,” group member Justin Ocampo said. “His loss will be felt throughout the Cal Poly community and beyond.”

The Architectural Engineering Department and the Structural Engineering Association of California student club, which Hillman was a member of, organized a remembrance for him on Friday evening at Design Village and encouraged people to wear green to honor him. 

“This kid is amazingly, like, whiz smart,” Dennison said about Hillman. “He’s been putting in so much effort into this project, he was so excited. He was always asking how everyone’s day is. He was always just super fun to be around.”

Hillman and his group members — Justin, Alexis, Alex, Max, Yvonne and Helen — began designing their structure for Design Village on the second day of class. They were given three weeks to complete a task: build a shelter, transport it and live in it for 48 hours. 

The Design Village competition occurs at the end of students’ first year and provides opportunities for College of Architecture and Environmental Design (CAED) students to put many different skills to use, including design, construction, creativity and collaboration. 

Dennison said that over the course of the week leading up to the competition, the group was continuously coming up with more ideas on how to honor Hillman. They will have t-shirts marked with their team name, Poly Canyon Revival, their logo, a Bono flower, as well as a statement memorializing Hillman. They want to distribute the shirts to anyone who’d like to order one. 

“He was just such an amazing person and it is so incredibly unfair that he had to be taken from us,” Dennison said. 

The annual Design Village competition began 48 years ago, each year with a different theme to inspire architecture students. This year’s theme is Biophilia. Biophilia is defined as “a love for life and the living world,” and the message extends further than just inspiration for student-designed structures. 

Students participating in Design Village have creative control when it comes to the project. 

“The only rule was to try to cut down on the plastics,” Ocampo said. 

Despite the lack of regulations, teams need to consider how they will keep their structure functional, since they will be living in it for an entire weekend. Teams also have to transport their structure one and a half miles up into Poly Canyon.

“I think that having our buildings based on nature can make it really beautiful,” Ocampo said. “I think that we should incorporate more sustainable building practices, and I think that Biophilia really cements the idea that we should be in love with nature and that we should connect with nature.” 

Ocampo and his group have been working on a tent-like design that has a middle pole with pieces of fabric hanging from it in the shape of a triangle petal. 

“[The petals] are going to be multiple different colors and you can rotate them so you can position them for shade throughout the day,” Ocampo said. “I think most people did either leaves or flowers in a somewhat circular arrangement.”

Ocampo is now metal-shop-certified and has been spending a lot of time welding pieces for the structure. All team members involved will be sleeping in hammocks, so they have been welding metal pieces to hold the hammocks. 

Earlier in the process, the group was still unsure whether the project would work, but the time came to start welding the hammocks. Dennison said that when the rest of the group left for the evening, Hillman, who she described as a “master welder,” stayed behind. 

“And then the next thing we knew, we got a picture in our group chat of a perfect hammock,” Dennison said. “We’re all like, ‘Dude, what? You just did like a sixth of our project in 30 minutes. He just always had an inventor mentality. It was amazing what he was capable of doing.” 

This unique experience is a once in a lifetime opportunity, so despite the challenges, Ocampo has been grateful for the process. 

“We’re never gonna get to do this ever again,” Ocampo said. “I think putting your passion into it would make it 100 times more enjoyable.”