City-dwelling Indianans don’t know much about the most popular crop in their Midwestern Corn Belt state, says Caitlin Taylor, a design director at MASS Design Group. So when the AD100 firm was awarded a J. Irwin and Xenia S. Miller Prize by Exhibit Columbus this year, an annual design program in Columbus, Indiana, and asked to create an installation in the town of 44,000 residents, it proposed something both familiar and foreign: a corn maze that gives a glimpse into the crop’s production.
When one drives through Indiana, corn fields are a constant landscape: Twenty-five percent of the state is covered in the crop. But “corn is an unfamiliar context in the city,” says Taylor, who heads the food systems design laboratory at MASS and is an organic fruit and vegetables farmer herself, in rural Connecticut. She designed Corn/Meal as “a way to bring to the foreground what is in the background, via proximity,” noting that “surprise is the first step to curiosity.” On view next to Columbus’s Central Middle School (designed by Perkins + Will) through December 1, the 100-by-150-foot stalk maze is made up of four different corn plants with varying heights, representing the uses of the crop in Indiana—two kinds of edible popcorn and two kinds of industrial field corn. At the center, picnic tables create a gathering space for science teaching, community meals, and play. (The Future Farmers of America have hosted their weekly meetings here since the installation was implemented.) At night, the tables are illuminated from below, giving off an alien glow that is a playful allusion to the cult phenomenon of crop circles.