The concept is straight out of Harry Potter. People make their way through a maze, when suddenly, the walls shift. Moss blocks a once-open path, and the rules change. But it isn’t magic. It’s science (and some art) by Nova Jiang. Her latest project, Landscape Abbreviated, is “a garden that is also a machine.” It’s like a modern hedge maze constructed from wood, networked servos, and moss. And there’s a catch: While you explore, your path can change at any moment.
“The maze is a kind of fantasy architecture that instantly transport us out of mundane everyday life,” Jiang tells Co.Design. “It’s very steeped into our culture and narratives. In religion, for example, it could represent a spiritual journey. In popular novels and films, it could be the embodiment of a narrative theme. I like the way that you can’t have a maze without instantly having an exciting narrative, or game mechanic!”
Indeed, the maze is one of those cultural archetypes that transcends any one theme or age group. But whether you see the project as Pac-Man or The Secret Garden, each physical permutation starts from software. Jiang’s space is powered by a maze-generating algorithm to create dynamic but always-solvable paths to an exit. It’s coding that manifests in real life. And it’s scalable.
The current iteration of the maze is built from 16 identical pieces on a 4×4 grid. But, in theory, it’s “infinitely expandable” with just a few keystrokes (and a whole lot of construction in real life). “I would love to have the maze take over a town square somewhere, so the inhabitants wake every morning to find a new maze to explore,” Jiang writes. And so long as she leaves out the minotaurs, that’s completely fine by us.