A surprisingly big chunk of the U.S.–an area almost as big as Montana, or 91 million acres–is covered in corn. As a research fellow studying corn as a commodity crop, Michael Pecirno mapped out all of the cornfields in the country, and that led him to expand the project: a series of minimalist maps that each looks at a single subject.
“It sort of opened up this new perspective–a way to understand the American landscape through a different lens,” says Pecirno, who started the project at the Chicago-based Archeworks, a postgrad program for architects. So far, he’s mapped out urban sprawl, freshwater, and all of the shrubs, grass, and forests in the country.
Unlike a typical map, the single-subject maps aim to reveal bigger patterns that people might not have been aware of. “Mapping technology has improved so much over the last few years,” Pecirno says. “Every time you log into Google Maps, there’s another area added to Street View. Maps have become ubiquitous, but they don’t really tell new stories, just the same stories in higher definition. I think by looking at just a single item, though, you really begin to have a better understanding of the landscape.”
All of the data came from the USDA’s obsessively detailed records. “Luckily, the USDA keeps a really accurate record of all of the land in America, down to the point where you can see what every single acre has been used for over the last 13 years,” he says. Next, he plans to start mapping change over time. “There could be a really interesting story told by looking at zoomed-in areas, and understanding how a landscape has changed through the years, or at different times when critical events maybe caused land to change.”
Now in London, Pecirno is mapping out similar patterns across the U.K., though the data are a little harder to find. “It’s not as easily accessible,” he says. “The kind of data that I used for these maps is so simple that anyone with a computer can log on and see this.”