Designers: Maya Lin | City: Ann Arbor, MI | Project Type: public art, land art
Date Visited: 09.24.12

Location: Courtyard, SE side of Francois-Xavier Bagnoud Building
Size: 10,000 sq. ft
Official Opening Date: 1995

The Wavefield is a work of land art, sculpted out of earth and grass by the famous architect Maya Lin, probably best known for her work on the Vietnam War Memorial.

Ever since I saw pictures of the rolling earth sculpture as a second-year landscape architecture student, I’ve always wanted to visit. But truth be told, by the time I finally found the site, I was kind of underwhelmed.

Tucked away on the southeast side of the Francois-Xavier Bagnoud Building, many University of Michigan students aren’t even aware of the existence of the Wave Field, and it’s not hard to understand why. It’s completely hidden from street view and main pedestrian pathways.

The Wave Field was actually commissioned as a memorial for Francois-Xavier Bagnoud, a graduate of the UMich aerospace engineering program, who in 1986, died in a helicopter accident in the Mali desert on a rescue mission. Bagnoud had been working as a helicopter pilot and had flown over 300 rescue missions for orphans and AIDS victims. His mother, philanthropist Albina Du Boisrouvray, created the Association FXB, an international non-profit, in honor of her son and later commissioned this work in his memory.

Made of a series of fifty grass waves in eight rows, the Wave Field is modeled after the Stokes Drift, a naturally-occuring air wave phenomenon that is elemental to the study of aeronautics. These undulating lines on the horizon playfully sink into troughs and rise into crests and create a rhythmic blanket of grass. And even though the undulating grass mounds are fun to sit on and cool to look at, it’s so small and out of the way that it’s hard to imagine anyone who’d want to spend much time here beyond a quick peek on the way to your next class. Bob Grese, a professor of the MLA program at UMich, also admitted that he’s never seen many people hanging out at the field.

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