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People & Culture

Q&A: World-renowned maze designer

World-renowned maze master Adrian Fisher has designed more than 600 full-size puzzles across 30 countries – including the world’s first corn maze. Canadian Geographic’s Sabrina Doyle got in touch with Fisher to find out makes a good maze.

  • Aug 31, 2013
  • 823 words
  • 4 minutes
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Canadian Geographic: How did you get into maze design?

Adrian Fisher: I designed my first maze in my parents’ garden in Dorset, southern England; it was formative to grow up in a landscape garden alongside the River Stour. I still live alongside the same river, 20 miles (32 kilometres) upstream, in the heart of the countryside. Again, we have a large landscape garden, this time with a yew hedge maze containing a spectacular central tower.

My first commission was from Lady Brunner to create an Archbishop’s Maze at Greys Court, her National Trust property in Oxfordshire. Further projects followed, and I was able to resign from my headquarters job in industry to create mazes full time. I am the only person in the world who has been making a livelihood in this way for over 30 years.

Can Geo: What makes a good maze?

AF: I always start with a compelling storyline. Instead of stage or film, my artistic medium is the landscape (or walking indoors inside a mirror maze). Visitors can explore a maze in any order, so the story is discovered and pieced together rather like in the film Pulp Fiction, where the story is not told in the strict sequence of time!

The pleasure of solving the maze puzzle is enhanced by discovering its hidden meanings. I design each maze so that people solve it just before they have had enough – just like the best plays and movies!

Can Geo: What do you love about designing mazes?

AF: Each maze I create is unique. In effect, it’s true to say “whatever you see in my books or websites, you cannot have,” simply because every project has a unique combination of owner, maze concept, landscape setting, choice of materials, timescale and budget. It’s like the relationship between portrait painter and sitter: once I get the owner to relax and smile, I can capture it on canvas — except that his land is my canvas!

Once owners get the idea, sometimes there is no stopping them and they keep wanting to add extra ideas. Sometimes I have to draw the line to avoid going beyond design excellence into excessive embellishment. But generally it’s a great two-way creative process, with owners becoming involved in perhaps the most creative experience of their lives.

My wife Marie and I get to travel widely, meet fascinating people in all kinds of situations, and encounter different cultures and cuisines.

We are still constantly innovating; our latest mazes are mirror maze adventures, dark ride mazes (where you choose which directions to take, riding in a spaceship), and water ride mazes with boats and choices of water channels.

Can Geo: How did the idea for the Canadian Experience Maze, a landscape maze at Saunders Farm near Ottawa, Ont., come about?

AF: Saunders Farm had several hedge mazes already, all based around the idea of paths between rows of bushes, and with geometric patterns of hedges.

For the Canadian Experience Maze, we wanted to create a maze that was distinctly different, in order to widen the range of maze experiences. Thus, it is a maze with a one-way rule: once you have started, you must always keep going forwards like a runaway train. Then it echoes the railway journeys across Canada, with curving paths that seem like railroad lines, complete with gently sloping up and down and even bridging over.

Can Geo: You designed the world’s first corn maze. How is designing for corn mazes different than other mediums?

AF: I have designed over 400 corn mazes in the past 21 years and set 6 Guinness World Records for ever-larger mazes.

The most obvious difference with designing corn mazes is their sheer size. Corn mazes can have typically five or six kilometres of paths and cover three or four hectares. Even allowing for a thick barrier of cornstalks, so that you cannot see or push through to the next path, corn mazes still provide much more scope for a complex maze network than even a large grass lawn beside a European castle. This is all possible because corn mazes cost so little, compared with laying gravel paths and planting every bush with compost; you simply drill the corn seeds as a crop using regular farm machinery. The soil becomes the path, with no preparation needed.

My late partner, Randoll Coate, and I had been pioneering symbolic mazes since the 1970s, with the maze providing a giant image when seen from the air, as well as functioning as a puzzle maze when on the ground. So when I came to design the world’s first corn maze in 1993, it was the year of the film Jurassic Park, and I created the design in the image of a Stegosaurus. Maize is an annual crop, so you can have a new and different theme every year. This aspect of corn maze design has been followed ever since, all round the world.


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