Welcome to  PLAI 500 

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Puerto Rico, San Cristobal Fort © RLC2011

Place and Meeting times:

Wilson 402, every Tuesday from 11:30 to 1:30.


The aim of this course is to offer its participants the opportunity to examine and discuss issues related to ideas about  “place-making” from historical and theoretical perspectives. One relevant concept that we will address this term, "impermanence" derives from the Japanese idea of 'wabi-sabi".

Impermanence and imperfection

Underscoring the notion of impermanence is the concept of “wabi-sabi”, which artists, designers, architects, writers, musicians, craftsmen, and philosophers have been using in Japan since immemorial times. Wabi-sabi is an elusive concept but an important one in our present historical condition. Originating in the  East, the concept transcends borders and has full validity in the contemporary western context of design activities from art, literature, music to architecture and related fields.  American writer and designer Andrew Juniper provides a suggestive and concise reference:

“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.”

Other critical concepts originating in the classical Greco-Roman and Nippon traditions will be introduced and discussed during the term. Consider, for instance,  notions such  as Serependity, Evanescence, Cutting (kire-tsutzuki), Mysterious Grace, The Pathos of Things (Mono no aware)) and figures such as Hermes and Janus.

This seminar is a locus, where critical aspects of "place-making" as they relate to various disciplines will be raised while allowing each participant to explore and develop their own narrative project. 

The seminar’s discussion and production will be guided by an interdisciplinary reading of literature on the subject , namely from  the required readings (books are available at Paragraph––2220 McGill College––See Readings) as well as from extracts from various theoretical and literary texts.

General organization

Each participant will develop a critical narrative project during the semester, which will be presented  as final project, accompanied by a material externalization if necessary, at the end of the term. The final project will be proposed, developed, and installed 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 student through his/her confrontation with the ideas and works presented in class.

After week four, lectures will be interspersed with presentations from faculty members from diverse disciplines. Their work will serve to provide  a variety of  frames of reference for the study of the course's theme.

For week 4, members of the group will prepare a very brief statement describing the issue they propose to explore. These brief introductions (300 words max.) will be submitted on 31 January. These drafts could be descriptive narratives complemented with proposals to use specific media (visual, tactile, acoustic,etc…). 

Each member of the seminar will be responsible for submitting a mid-term narrative (max. 900 words), in which she/he will critically discuss an issue emerging from her/his personal interests in relation to the seminar's material. Date of submission: 13 March at 11:30. 

From weeks 3 to 10 individual reading assignments will be presented and discussed when possible. Often, the whole period will be iused by guest speakers. 

During discussion sessions, designated student moderators will assist in generating questions and points for discussion inspired by the course topics and the work in progress.

During the last three weeks of the term (weeks 11 to 13, from March 27th to April 10th)), students will present and discuss their project in its final form.  On or before March 27th, members of the course will provide copies of their project narrative to all participants via e-mail. 

                                                                                                                                                                             4 January © Ricardo L. Castro 2012