Lee portrait
Lee Onbargi Darien, CT College of Arts & Sciences
Everyone appreciates someone who takes risks, I think. And that's what has kind of paid off for me in a lot of ways - thinking beyond the assignment.

In high school, Lee’s favorite subjects were studio art, math, and science. When they discovered that architecture combines all three areas, they began to focus their academic goals. Lee was drawn to Penn’s undergraduate architecture program because it merges theory and critical design while allowing for study across the liberal arts.

An Architecture major, Lee also pursued a Cinema and Media Studies minor. They took their first Cinema and Media Studies class to fulfill requirements, but soon realized their passion for the discipline. That first course, Professor Meta Mazaj’s class, World Film History -1945 to Present, turned out to be one of Lee’s most memorable academic experiences and a jumping-off point for deeper study.

Arts and Culture

Lee was particularly interested in projects that combined cinema and architecture. In Video 1, a Cinema and Media Studies course, Lee was able to do just that. Inspired by their experience in the highly-rated Art History course, The Architect and History, Lee produced a documentary on Professor Lothar Haselberger, an expert in Greco-Roman architecture. In their film, titled The Architect and History (just like the course), Professor Haselberger reflected on his career, his evolution as a teacher, and the relevance of architecture today. The experience was meaningful for both Lee and their subject. Professor Haselberger placed the documentary on his Art History department profile and, after many interview sessions and lunches, Lee counts him as an important mentor at Penn.

Global Engagement

The global cities seminar Media Memory Berlin brought Lee, along with Music and fellow Architecture majors, to Berlin to study space, sound, and culture. Over spring break, students traveled to sites in East and West Berlin to examine the relationship between architecture and political power. As part of an individual research project, Lee analyzed two public squares, one in East Berlin and the other in West Berlin. They used drawings to trace the history and political movements in each space. The time they spent sketching and inhabiting each space allowed them to see differences in these places, despite a reunited Berlin. Lee also spent a semester in London studying at the Architectural Association. Their studies in London offered a different lens into architecture, one primarily focused on design and presentation. In their studio classes, Lee and their classmates used Valencia as a case study and visited the Spanish city for a first-hand look at the architecture, including Calatrava’s City of Arts and Sciences, a large building complex. Lee’s experiences motivated them to pay close attention to design in their senior year independent study.


Lee always welcomed opportunities to develop their understanding of architecture through independent study, research, and exhibitions. Alongside Weitzman School of Design professor Dr. Franca Trubiano, Lee documented the impact of common building materials on environmental and human health. Dr. Trubiano is expanding the study and making it public so that more people can make informed choices. Building on this experience with independent research, Lee conducted their senior thesis in architecture on the abandoned buildings of Beirut, Lebanon experimenting through photography, self-publishing, and video production to tell a story about the city's development after the Civil War. For this work, Lee received the Rose Undergraduate Research Award. Of note, Lee’s work was also part of an exhibit, Nectar, on view in the Weitzman School of Design in October 2019.

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