002— Towards Interspecies Design

The heirloom corn husks (left and centre) are used to create Totomoxtle tiles (right)
Centeōtl, God of the Maize fields, as depicted in the Borgia Codex.

I. A brief history of corn

Travelling across rich terracotta hues to pure creams and deep purples verging on black, the textures and colours of the featherlight corn husks create a rich mosaic that departs from the monotonous yellow tones most of us are familiar with.

“Woman grinding maize,” Diego Rivera (1924)

II. Success through interspecies value-exchange

Saoul is a farmer in his early 30s, born and raised in Tonahuixtla. When not working in his fields, you can spot him in his finest cowboy attire walking through town or even riding horesback through the meandering dirt roads.

Visiting Saoul’s fields where he is growing heirloom varieties.
First Mexican peso banknotes introduced in 1823 by the Emperor Iturbide, featuring Zapotec God of Maize.

III. Innovating through nature

This give and receive relationship between ecosystem and social system shifts into new terrains when we examine an ancient indigenous system still used by farmers in Tonahuixtla during the summer seasons.

Closeup of Squash within Milpa (Left), Alternative planting methods (Top Right), Roots of Milpa (Top Bottom)
  • The corn offers support for the beans to grow, the beans offer nitrogen to the other crops and the squash provides shade, weed control and a micro-climate of moisture. In addition to this marriage of crops helping one another in their fight for growth, they in turn offer humans higher yields in addition to a more balanced diet — what one crop lacks in nutrients, the other offers.
  • Farmers set up the Milpa system and support the survival of the Milpa crops season after season. Traditionally the entire Milpa cycle takes place over the span of several years — and the maintenance of the system requires long-term thinking.
Corn and Beans via Kew Gardens, “Life Sustainers “ Steve McComber (Mother Nature & three sisters)
Supply x Demand Conundrum. These Heirloom corn husks were provided by local farmers, and will need to last Totomoxtle the whole year. Once supplies is finishes, Totomoxtle can not produce any more veneers — regardless of demand.

IV. Translating nature’s strategy to the local economy

Sitting down with the part-time employees of Tonahuixla, over and over again, each one expressed their dream for consistent work, if not for them, then a career for their children.

Saoul wears his cowboy attire to attend the women’s league baseball game — the whole town attends!
Livelihoods in Tonahuixtla appear to be agriculture and farming or owning a corner shop.
Fernando and Hélène standing in a dilapidated building, formerly a school, in the center of town.
A plump puppy (left) that has hogged all the mother’s milk from his sibling (right)
Local woman riding a donkey, carrying plants and herbs.

Resources & Inspiring Minds:

“El Maíz,” by Edgar Negret (1996)


Giuliana Mazzetta operates at the intersection of design, culture and futures. She works as a strategic design consultant based in London, co-director of the Speculative Futures London and guest lecturer at Imperial College London. She is passionate about building inclusive futures, captured in her ongoing project @future_archives. Contact: giuliana.mazzetta@gmail.com or LinkedIn.



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Giuliana Mazzetta

Exploring alternative routes forward through strategic design, speculative design, business design and more.