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PLAI 500 (Winter 2012): Advanced Interdisciplinary Humanities Seminar

The Making of Place: Strategies of Impermanence


Primary instructor: Ricardo L. Castro (Architecture)

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This seminar is a locus, where critical issues pertaining to the concept of place will be raised and discussed, while allowing each participant to explore and develop their own voice. It  is also an entry to an interdisciplinary study of place, not only conceived from the realm of architecture but from several other disciplines. Using the Japanese concept of wabi sabi, one of the fundamental principles of Japanese Zen practices for centuries, we will attempt to present some of the significant ways in which place has been unorthodoxly imagined, represented, and made in specific disciplines besides architecture, such as art, law, music, and literature. Interdisciplinary readings addressing the concept of wabi sabi will serve as foundation for seminar discussions and participants' realizations.

Wabi sabi is a difficult concept to translate and define. Andrew Juniper, a Western expert on the subject,  has been able to provide a description––a working definition seems impossible–– which is the one we will adopt for the purposes of this seminar:

“The term wabi sabi suggests such qualities such as impermanence, humility, asymmetry, and imperfection. These underlying principles are diametrically opposed to those of their Western counterparts, whose values are rooted in a Hellenic world view that values permanence, grandeur, symmetry, and perfection.”
Andrew Juniper, Wabi sabi: The Japanese Art of Impermanence.

Participants in the seminar will be responsible for making at least one presentation during the term reporting on  issues related to the main themes of the seminar. These presentations will serve as bases for seminar discussion. Each participant will develop a critical material project during the semester, which will be presented with a short interpretative narrative at the end of the term as final project. The final project will be proposed, developed, and installed (made, performed, interpreted, etc...) by each one of the members of the class in consultation with the instructor. It will focus on an aspect or issue identified by the participants through their confrontation with the ideas and works presented in class.

Restricted to students with minimum U3 standing and graduate students.