Wave Field – Ann Arbor, Michigan - Atlas Obscura
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Ann Arbor, Michigan

Wave Field

These grassy undulations on a stretch of University of Michigan campus aren't bad landscaping, they're art. 

Installed in 1995 as a tribute to the man whose name adorns the adjoining building, the bumpy earthwork known as Wave Field is a beloved feature of the University of Michigan campus combining art and atmosphere. 

Meant to mimic the patterns of mathematical sine waves, the criss-crossing rows of verdant berms outside of the Francois-Xavier Bagnoud Building (FXB) were built using the simplest landscaping tool: dirt. Designed by artist Maya Lin, who had previously created the world famous Vietnam War Memorial, the dips and rises on the picturesque lawn were specifically designed to cast shadows that change with the passing of the sun so that the look of the site evolves throughout each day and across each year. Spread across 10,000 square feet, the rippling field was meant to be a place of peace and relaxation, which it often is when not the field for games of frisbee and such.

Despite Lin’s stated intention that the piece be made to “human scale,” she installed a similar but much larger work at New York’s Storm King Sculpture Garden in the late 2000s. This newer piece shares the same name as the Ann Arbor earthwork, differentiating itself mainly by making each undulation the size of a small hill. Yet even with the existence of this bigger brother, the original Wave Field is still a favorite place among not only the students of the University of Michigan, but with lovers of landscape art as well.

Know Before You Go

North Campus; Courtyard, SE side of Francois-Xavier Bagnoud Building