MAYA LIN Biography - Architects, designers & engineers


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Maya Ying Lin (born 1959) was an American architect whose two       
most important works in the 1980s were the Vietnam Veterans'       
Memorial in Washington, D.C., and the Civil Rights Memorial in     
Montgomery, Alabama.                                               
Maya Ying Lin was born in 1959 in Athens, Ohio, a                   
manufacturing and agricultural town 75 miles southeast of           
Columbus. Athens is also the home of Ohio University, where         
both Lin's mother, a poet, and her late father, a ceramicist,       
taught. The couple fled China just before the Communist             
Revolution of 1949, leaving behind a prominent family which         
had included a well-known lawyer and, perhaps significantly,       
an architect. Lin's family in America includes her mother and       
an older brother, Tan, who, like his mother, is a poet.             
During her childhood Maya Lin found it easy to keep herself       
entertained, whether by reading or by building miniature           
towns. From an early age she excelled in mathematics, which         
led her toward a career in architecture. While in high school       
Lin took college level courses and worked at McDonalds. She         
considered herself a typical mid-westerner in that she grew up     
with little sense of ethnic identity, but admits to having         
been somewhat "nerdy," since she didn't date or wear make-up       
and found it enjoyable to be constantly thinking and solving       
After graduating from high school, Lin enrolled at Yale to         
study architecture. Her best-known work, the design for the         
Vietnam Veterans' Memorial in Washington, D.C., grew out of a       
class project during her senior year at Yale. In 1981 her           
entry was chosen out of a field of 1,421 unlabelled                 
submissions in a design competition which was open to all           
Americans, not just professional architects. Lin was just 21       
years old at the time and admits she worried that her               
professional life had peaked before it had properly started.       
Lin's design, in keeping with the competition criteria of           
sensitivity to the nearby Lincoln Memorial and Washington           
Monument, the inclusion of the names of all the dead and           
missing of the war, and the avoidance of political statements       
about the war, was simple. She proposed two 200-foot-long           
polished black granite walls, which plunged ten feet below         
grade to meet at an obtuse angle of 130 degrees. The two arms       
were to point to the Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument       
and to be inscribed with the names of the approximately 58,000     
men and women killed or missing in Vietnam. These names were       
to be listed chronologically, according to the dates killed or     
reported missing, instead of alphabetically, so they would         
read, in Lin's words, "like an epic Greek poem." The memorial       
was dedicated in November of 1982.                                 
The story of the politics surrounding the choice of Lin's           
design reads like an epic in itself. For the jury, the choice       
of her proposal was unanimous. Jury chairman Grady Clay             
described it as "an eloquent place where the simple setting of     
earth, sky, and remembered names contains messages" for             
everyone who will visit. The proposal was generally accepted       
by veterans, but early on a small but vocal minority of             
veterans and others appeared who attacked the design as "a         
tribute to Jane Fonda," a "wailing wall for draft dodgers,"         
and "a black gash of shame." Lin's galvanizing design was           
perhaps best described by one veteran who likened it to a           
Rorschach test for what each American thinks of the Vietnam         
War. Such a description suggests that Lin was successful in         
her intentions to create "a very psychological memorial ...         
that brings out in people the realization of loss and a             
cathartic healing process."                                         
Maya Lin cited Edwin Lutyens's Memorial to the Missing of the       
Somme Offensive at Thiepval, France, of 1927-1932, as an           
influence on her concept of the Vietnam Memorial. This huge,       
abstract geometric form consists of a central arch flanked by       
two barrel-vaulted tunnels on which over 70,000 names are           
inscribed. In addition to Lutyens, Lin has expressed interest       
in the works of Minimalist artists Dan Flavin, Robert Irwin,       
and James Turrell, who all experimented with light as an art       
medium and were pioneers in the anti-object, anti-gallery           
movement of the 1960s. Turrell's definition of art as a "part       
of the realm of experience," where each viewer bears               
responsibility for finding meaning in a work and where each         
viewer's reaction becomes part of the work itself, could           
equally be applied to Lin's memorial, with its lack of             
traditional forms and highly polished black granite surface,       
which reflects each visitor's unique response to the memorial.     
After the Vietnam Memorial project, Lin returned to Yale for a     
Master's degree. Her later projects included designs for a         
Philadelphia stage set; a corporate logo; an outdoor gathering     
place at Juniata College in Huntington, Pennsylvania; a park       
near the Charlotte, North Carolina, coliseum; and a ceiling         
for the Long Island Railroad section of Pennsylvania Station.       
In addition, her lead and glass sculptures have been exhibited     
at New York's Sidney Janis Gallery.                                 
Maya Lin's second nationally recognized project was the design     
of the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, Alabama,               
commissioned by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Lin's             
conception of the memorial grew out of her admiration of a         
line in Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" speech, which         
proclaims that the struggle for civil rights will not be           
complete "until justice rolls down like water and                   
righteousness like a mighty stream." Water, along with this         
key phrase from the King years, became her theme. King's words     
stand out boldly on a convex, water-covered wall which             
overlooks an inverted cone-shaped table with an off-center         
base. The surface of this table is inscribed with the names of     
40 who died in the struggle for civil rights between 1955 and       
1968, as well as with landmark events of the period. This           
element is also bathed in a film of moving water, which serves     
to involve the viewer sensually--through sound, touch, and the     
sight of his or her reflection--while the words engage the         
The two geometric elements of the Civil Rights Memorial,           
although Minimalist in nature, are not completely devoid of         
symbolic meaning. Lin has noted that the asymmetrical,             
cone-shaped table looks different from every angle, a quality       
which implies equality without sameness--an appropriate             
sentiment in a memorial to civil rights. Lin says this             
memorial will be her last and notes that she began and ended       
the 1980s with memorial projects. She feels fortunate and           
satisfied to have had the opportunity.                             
In 1993, Lin created a sculptural landscape work called             
Groundswell at Ohio State University--a three level garden of       
crushed green glass. The glass used in the effort reveal Lin's     
environmentalist nature. Lin remains an active sculptor and         
architect. In 1997 she began work on a 20,000 square foot           
recycling plant. Lin currently lives in Vermont. She stays out     
of the public eye as much as possible. Still, so much of her       
work is so public and so innovative that publicity is hard to