WELCOME TO ARCH 622        FALL 2016

McGill University - School of Architecture • ARCH 622 Fall 2016 • Prof.  Ricardo L. Castro, RCA FRAIC



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.”

From Donald Richie, A Tractate on Japanese Aesthetics, (Berkeley: Stone Bridge Press, 2007)

“LET US NOW look at wabi and sabi, the traditional Japanese aesthetic terminology most famous in the West, perhaps because the accidental alliteration of the words suggests a fruitful affinity. And the two are related, to be sure, both in their affinity and in their histories.

Sabi is an aesthetic term, rooted in a given concern. It is concerned with chronology, with time and its effects, with product. Wabi is a more philosophical concept, a quality not attached merely to a given object. It is concerned with manner, with process, with direction.

Sabi, perhaps the earlier of the terms, derives from a number of sources: sabu, a verb meaning “to wane,” and a noun, susabi, which can mean “desolation” and does so in the early poetry collection Man’yoshu (late eighth century). Other meanings include sabiteru, “to become rusty,” by extension “to become old,” and the adjective sabishi which meant, and still means, “lonely.”

Particular links:

Oh! A mystery of 'mono no aware'

Marcel Theroux, "In Search of Wabi-Sabi", BBC.

YouTUBE (seven part series)


Inari Sanctuary, Kyoto ©RLC, 2003