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Plastic Fantastic !?

Course Title: Plastic Fantastic !?
Course Number: CADT-UH 1045J
Course Category: Art, Design, and Technology (Core Competency Course)
Course Credit: 4.0 points
Course Weeks: January, 3 Weeks
Contact Hours/Week: Every day 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM
Please note: This course includes a required international trip to the Philippines.

Please check the Daily Schedule for Jan. 6–23 (incl. homework and due dates), the course calendar,
and the themes/dates for Case-Study Presentations, and the different topics for student groups for Field-Trip Report.
Check out this interview about the course in The Sustainabilist (or find one of the 120,000 circulated copies. :-) ).

General Course Description

What would a world without plastic look like? How does the world look because of it? Plastic Fantastic looks critically at plastic's ubiquity in global consumer cultures. Students will consider plastic’s predecessors and contemporary alternatives and engage with a range of topics, from the environmental politics of plastic debris in oceans, to the ethics and values of plastic surgery, to the proliferation of cheap plastic toys and fashion trends. Based on these discussions, and inspired by the original meaning of the Greek term plastikos (to grow, to form), the class will develop and create a product using recycled plastic waste in NYUAD’s Plastic Recycling Research Lab. In addition to the completed project, to be displayed in an exhibition at the January Term’s end, students will leave with a personal philosophy of Art, Design, and Technology as well as a sense of how mutually reinforcing and beneficiary a mix of these fields can be for future problem solving. Mandatory field-trips include visits to relevant industries (water, oil, waste, etc.), natural reserves, and landfill sites in the UAE and the Philippines (Manila).

Place in the NYUAD Curriculum

The course Plastic Fantastic !? is a Core Competency Course in the field of Art, Design, and Technology. This course teaches students to think critically and work creatively toward innovations in arts practice, design and engineering, creative writing, data visualisation, programming, and performance. Guest lecturers as well as interdisciplinary co-teaching plays an important role in this course. The course is cross-listed with the Multi-/disciplinary Minor Design (counts as Design Elective).

Learning Outcomes

Students in the course will learn to develop analytical and critical thinking skills and be trained in problem analysis and concept development. As the project contains practical components, students will also be trained in the use of several low-cost plastic recycling machines like plastic shredder, injection or extruder.

At the end of this course, students will…

  • Have articulated ways in which plastic creation and consumption relates to major ethical issues of our time,
  • Have discussed ways of rising awareness on the global impact of plastic waste on ecosystems,
  • Have a basic understanding on waste management and plastic recycling,
  • Value plastic as a precious and not as a one-time-use/throw-away material.

These outcomes will be assessed through class participation, in-class exercises, project presentation and documentation as described below.

Teaching and Learning Methodologies

This course is a mix of theory and practice. Students will be involved in a lot of reading, discussion and writing, as well as the completion of a practical project, and several national and international excursions.

This course adopts a seminar format that requires students to participate actively in class discussions. Considerable class time will be spent on presentations and discussions of related art and design projects, and lectures/case-studies on different technological aspects. Site visits, field trips, and hands-on workshop sessions are embedded into the daily themes of the course. Students are expected to read and research about a substantial number of projects, participate in classroom discussions, and develop a concept for a project. Each student is required to conceptualise a final project of a topic of their choosing that goes deeper into issues beyond what was discussed in class. The aim of the project is to develop an innovative product/object that displays the conceptual and technical intellectuality of the student. Daily presentations and ethical discussions of cases provide the groundwork for students to prepare an Artistic Statement.

The course makes use of the online site NYU Classes that will serve as a repository for required readings, assignments, and additional course materials. Class discussions will be supplemented by multimedia material such as Keynote/Powerpoint slides and video clips.

Required Text Books


  • Plastic: A Toxic Love Story, Susan Freinkel, Boston, 2011
  • The Upcycle, Beyond Sustainability - Designing for Abundance, McDonough, Braungart, 2013
  • Sustainable Materials, Processes and Production, Rob Thompson, 2013 ⇐ the book was not available so that the following book was ordered by the book-store: Manufacturing Processes for Design Professionals, Rob Thompson, 2018

Supplemental texts from the following ebooks (available via NYUClasses):

  • Plastic Fantastic: How the Biggest Fraud in Physics Shook the Scientific World,
 Eugenie Samuel Reich, 2010
  • Speculative Everything: Design, Fiction, and Social Dreaming, Dunne, Raby, Cambridge, 2013
  • The Art of Critical Making, Somerson, Hermano, Hoboken, 2013
  • The Design of Everyday Things, Don Norman, New York, 2013
  • The Field Guide to Human-Centered Design,, 2015

  • Understanding Plastic Recycling: Economic, Ecological, and Technical Aspects of Plastic Waste Handling, Natalie Rudolph, Raphael Kiesel, Chuanchom Aumnate, Munich, 2017

Required Films

  • A Plastic Ocean, We need a Wave of Change, 2016
  • Plastic Change, Episodes: 1–9, 2018
  • Plastic Surgery, Forever Young: Facelifts, BBC, 2016

As supplemental materials there will be a wide range of online video resources and project documentation. Links will be shared via NYU Classes or other online sites (t.b.a.).

List of Discussion Topics

Day Theme Discussion Topics
01Introduction to the Course
Tour through NYUAD’s Plastic Lab
 NYUAD’s waste management

Workshop Session: Plastic types Going Green (How to reduce your garbage)
02Before Plastics…
Toys and Tools Plastic’s predecessors

Workshop Session: Prototyping tools A life without plastic?
03Oil and Plastic Production
Activity: ADNOC site visit in Ruwais Improving on Nature
Workshop Session: Bioplastic Sustainable materials

04Environmental Pollution
Microplastics Man-made disasters

Activity: Nurdle Hunt/landfill site visit Alternatives to plastic?
05Plastic Fashion
Low-cost single-use cloth Recycling of clothes
3D printed fashion Future technologies
06Plastic Surgery
Botox What is beauty?
Documentary: Forever young Ethics: Anti-Aging, Career Advancement?
07Happy Land – The Slums of Tondo
Site visit Seminar field trip – Day 1
Field Work Session
08Smoky Mountain – The Slums of Tondo
Site visit Seminar field trip – Day 2
Field Work Session
09Workshop Session

Preparation Seminar field trip – Day 3
Students give plastic recycling workshop
10Workshop Session

Cultural Day
 Seminar field trip – Day 4
Museum visit
11Global perspective: Politics & Policies
The global foot print of plastic
, Cradle to Cradle/Upcycle
Project work
12The design of everyday Things
Design Thinking/Service Design Innovation and Problem Solving
Project work Human Centered Design
13Plastic Furniture
The Repair Manifesto What is good design?

Project work Improving life
14The Battle of the Bag
Project work How to present?
Project presentation

Example themes for case-study presentations:

  1. The story of Barbie and the Woman Who Created Her
  2. Masters of the Universe: The story of He-Man and She-Ra

  3. Before plastics: Drinks from bottles and straws
  4. Before plastics: Chopsticks and cutlery
  5. The origin of oil in the Jurassic era
  6. Oil production in the 18th century
  7. Top 10 supertanker disasters and pipeline crashes
  8. Spaceship Earth
  9. 3D printing with Makerbot and Ultimaker
  10. Fashion design by Anouk Wiprecht
  11. Fast fashion brands: H&M and Zara
  12. Less but better (Dieter Rams Ten Rules on Good Design)
  13. Death by Design
  14. Bakelite
  15. The Monobloc Chair


Students must complete all assigned coursework in order to pass the course. All required documents must be submitted electronically via NYU Classes. No extensions will be given on assignments or papers without sufficient extenuating circumstances and prior approval from the instructor. Any two missing classes will result in (-) minus point automatically. A grading rubrik will be available via NYU Classes.

I. Class Participation (individual) 10 %
Students are expected to come to each class fully prepared, having read through the texts and have watched the films assigned for the class – and thought about them carefully. Participation will be assessed on the basis of both the regularity and the quality of contributions. Students will be asked to initiate class discussions without prior warning and may be asked to perform this function more than once.
II. Case-study presentation (individual) 20 %
Every student will present a case-study presentation during class. Themes are given out on the first day of class. The presentation should not be more then max. 15 slides (keynote, powerpoint or google slides). The presentation has to be submitted as PDF format through NYU Classes and must follow the following naming standard: presentation-title_YourFirstName_YourLastName.pdf
III.Field-Trip Report (group work, 3–4 students per group) 20 %
Students are required to write a field trip report about a predefined topic handed out during first day of class. The report should use the format defined by the Modern Language Association: The report has to be submitted via NYU Classes.
IV. Realisation of Final Prototype (group work, 3 students per group) 20 %
Students are required to realise a prototype of a plastic product/object. The material to be used for the final prototype will be recycled plastic. There will not be any budget for the realisation of the prototype. Find the briefing for the final project here.
V. Artistic Statement (individual) 10 %
The Artistic Statement will reflect the student’s project theme. The project theme has to be submitted in advance for critique and approval by the instructor in a one-on-one session. The text should feature the concept behind the project (approximately ±600 words in three paragraphs: Introduction, Technical Paragraph, and Research Timeline Paragraph. See PDF here). The concept should be clear and understandable. The text should contain additional drawings, information graphics and photographs to explain and underline the project's idea. Integrate your personal view based on the many discussion in this course and on the reading. The text document must be submitted as PDF through NYU Classes and must follow the following naming standard: project-title_YourFirstName_YourLastName.pdf
VI. Exhibition Participation, Documentation, Final presentation (group work, 2–3 students per group) 20 %
Every student will have to present the final product at the end of J-Term in class and display it in the class exhibition. The Artistic Statement has to be integrated into a predefined poster template. The poster has to printed in advance in the library and has to be displayed during the exhibition.
Total: 100 %

Plagiarism and Academic Fraud:

If you like something enough to use it in your thinking and writing, you must identify your source for that thing. This includes phrases, sentences, passages, images, charts, diagrams, YouTube clips or anything else you did not create yourself. But this also includes ideas that are not your own. Anything that does not come from your own thinking mind must be cited. The faculty instructing this course will not tolerate cheating or plagiarism. When academic dishonesty is suspected, it will be dealt with in adherence to the official guidelines of New York University Abu Dhabi.

plastic_fantastic_19.txt · Last modified: 2024/06/28 19:11 by