Maya Lin

Langston Hughes Library

When I was studying landscape architecture as a graduate student, I was drawn to the work of Maya Lin.  Though trained as an architect, she has always had an ability to design with a contextual orientation blending architecture, with an appreciation for art and landscape. She is best known for her design of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C. Though now well engrained in the Washington landscape, at the time her design was considered revolutionary.  An article from the Washington Post on October 22nd, 2006, writes as follows:

Maya Lin’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial is so seductive, and now so much a part of the Washington landscape, that it’s hard not to think of her as a local hero. A quarter of a century ago, she fought the good fight, arguing for a less-is-more monument design, proving herself, fresh out college, a formidable force against the crass manipulations and demagoguery that so often attend the design and use of public space in the Federal City.

She endured a lot of shabby treatment in the process, from people who wanted to scuttle her design because it lacked bombast, and from others who simply couldn’t take seriously the ideas and vision of a woman, an Asian American, a young person, a Washington outsider. The battle she began in 1981 — to build her simple, dignified stone wedge — was one of the opening battles of the culture wars that would define public life in this country over the next two decades. Lin emerged both a hero, because she won, and a martyr, because she endured a lot of grief. She struggled and suffered for her art, and Washington is a better place for it.

In looking at her work since that time, the fame that accompanied her work on the Vietnam Memorial was perhaps both a blessing and a curse. The notoriety lent itself to other impressive commissions and an entrée into what at the time was still a field largely dominated by male professionals.  But it has also seemed that she has sometimes wanted to step out of the public eye, content to explore and practice in a more private way. For that she is often criticized, for not taking better advantage of her position, fame and the associated opportunities. But I have wondered, if perhaps she is continuing to do it her way, which has never been about taking the traditional or conventional path.

Per her website she is working on her final memorial, entitled “What is Missing”? The intent of the memorial is to focus on the current crisis of biodiversity and the loss of habitat. Quite beautiful and once again, pushing all of us to consider the concept of memorials in a new and different light, the antithesis of the memorial as architectural statement. I remain as moved by her work in 2016 as I was long ago as a graduate student.

maya lin2

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