Maya Lin
Maya Lin, in 2023
Maya Ying Lin

(1959-10-05) October 5, 1959 (age 64)
EducationYale University
Known forLand art, architecture, memorials
Notable workVietnam Veterans Memorial (1982)
Civil Rights Memorial (1989)
SpouseDaniel Wolf
AwardsNational Medal of Arts Presidential Medal of Freedom
Maya Lin
Traditional Chinese林瓔
Simplified Chinese林璎

Maya Ying Lin (born October 5, 1959) is an American designer and sculptor. In 1981, while an undergraduate at Yale University, she achieved national recognition when she won a national design competition for the planned Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.[1]

Lin has designed numerous memorials, public and private buildings, landscapes, and sculptures. Although best known for historical memorials, she is also known for environmentally themed works, which often address environmental decline. According to Lin, she draws inspiration from the architecture of nature but believes that nothing she creates can match its beauty.


Maya Lin was born in Athens, Ohio. Her parents emigrated from China to the United States, her father in 1948 and her mother in 1949, and settled in Ohio before Lin was born.[2] Her father, Henry Huan Lin, born in Fuzhou, Fujian, was a ceramist and dean of the Ohio University College of Fine Arts. Her mother, Julia Chang Lin, born in Shanghai, is a poet and a former professor of literature at Ohio University. She is the "half" niece of Lin Huiyin, who was an American-educated artist and poet, and said to have been the first female architect in modern China.[3] Lin Juemin and Lin Yin Ming, both of whom were among the 72 martyrs of the Second Guangzhou uprising, were cousins of her grandfather.[4] Lin Chang-min, a Hanlin of Qing dynasty and the emperor's teacher, fathered Lin Huiyin with his wife, while Maya Lin's father Henry Huan Lin was Lin Chang-Min’s illegitimate son with his concubine.[5]

According to Lin, she "didn't even realize" she was ethnically Chinese until later in life, and that only in her 30s did she acquire an interest in her cultural background.[6]

Lin has said that she did not have many friends when growing up, stayed home a lot, loved to study, and loved school. While still in high school she took courses at Ohio University where she learned to cast bronze in the school's foundry.[7] She graduated in 1977 from Athens High School in The Plains, Ohio, after which she attended Yale University where she earned a Bachelor of Arts in 1981 and a Master of Architecture in 1986.[8]

Environmental concerns

According to Lin, she has been concerned with environmental issues since she was very young, and dedicated much of her time at Yale University to environmental activism.[9] She attributes her interest in the environment to her upbringing in rural Ohio: the nearby Hopewell and Adena Native America burial mounds inspired her from an early age.[10] Noting that much of her later work has focused on the relationship people have with their environment, as expressed in her earthworks, sculptures, and installations, Lin said, "I'm very much a product of the growing awareness about ecology and the environmental movement...I am very drawn to landscape, and my work is about finding a balance in the landscape, respecting nature not trying to dominate it. Even the Vietnam Veterans Memorial is an earthwork. All of my work is about slipping things in, inserting an order or a structuring, yet making an interface so that in the end, rather than a hierarchy, there is a balance and tension between the man-made and the natural."

According to the scholar Susette Min, Lin's work uncovers "hidden histories" to bring attention to landscapes and environments that would otherwise be inaccessible to viewers and "deploys the concept to discuss the inextricable relationship between nature and the built environment".[11] Lin's focus on this relationship highlights the impact humanity has on the environment, and draws attention to issues such as global warming, endangered bodies of water, and animal extinction/endangerment. She has explored these issues in her recent memorial, called What Is Missing?

According to one commentator, Lin constructs her works to have a minimal effect on the environment by utilizing recycled and sustainable materials, by minimizing carbon emissions, and by attempting to avoid damaging the landscapes/ecosystems where she works.[12]

In addition to her other activities as an environmentalist, Lin has served on the Natural Resources Defense Council board of trustees.

Vietnam Veterans Memorial

Maya Lin's winning submission for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial design competition

Further information: Vietnam Veterans Memorial

In 1981, at 21 and still an undergraduate student, Lin won a public design competition to design the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, to be built on the National Mall in Washington D.C. Her design, one of 1,422 submissions,[13] specified a black granite wall with the names of 57,939 fallen soldiers carved into its face (hundreds more have been added since the dedication),[14][15] to be v-shaped, with one side pointing toward the Lincoln Memorial and the other toward the Washington Monument.[14] The memorial was completed in late October 1982 and dedicated in November 1982.[16]

According to Lin, her intention was to create an opening or a wound in the earth to symbolize the pain caused by the war and its many casualties. "I imagined taking a knife and cutting into the earth, opening it up, and with the passage of time, that initial violence and pain would heal," she recalled.[17]

Her winning design was initially controversial for several reasons: its minimalist design,[18] her lack of professional experience, and her Asian ethnicity.[6][19][20] According to one writer, "Some viewed her selection as an affront. They could not understand how a woman, a youth, and a Chinese American could design a memorial for men, for soldiers, and for Americans."[21] Some objected to the exclusion of the surviving veterans' names, while others complained about the dark complexion of the granite, claiming that it expressed a negative attitude towards the Vietnam War. Lin defended her design before the US Congress, and a compromise was reached: Three Soldiers, a bronze depiction of a group of soldiers and an American flag were placed to the side of Lin's design.[10]

Notwithstanding the initial controversy, the memorial has become an important pilgrimage site for relatives and friends of the dead soldiers, many of whom leave personal tokens and mementos in memory of their loved ones.[22][23] In 2007, an American Institute of Architects poll ranked the memorial No. 10 on a list of America's Favorite Architecture, and it is now one of the most visited sites on the National Mall.[10] Furthermore, it now serves as a memorial for the veterans of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.[10] There is a collection with items left since 2001 from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, which includes handwritten letters and notes of those who lost loved ones during these wars. There is also a pair of combat boots and a note with it dedicated to the veterans of the Vietnam War, that reads "If your generation of Marines had not come home to jeers, insults, and protests, my generation would not come home to thanks, handshakes and hugs."[10]

Lin once said that if the competition had not been held "blind" (with designs submitted by name instead of number), she "never would have won" on account of her ethnicity. Her assertion is supported by the fact that she was harassed after her ethnicity was revealed, as when prominent businessman and later third-party presidential candidate Ross Perot called her an "egg roll."[24]

Later work

2 × 4 Landscape (2006) at the De Young Museum in San Francisco in January 2009
Lin's The Women's Table in front of the Sterling Memorial Library that commemorates the role of women at Yale University

Lin, who now owns and operates Maya Lin Studio in New York City, has designed numerous projects following the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, including the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, Alabama (1989) and the Wave Field outdoor installation at the University of Michigan (1995).[25] Lin is represented by the Pace Gallery in New York City.[26]

A partial list of works


Written works

Design methodology

Maya Lin calls herself a "designer," rather than an "architect".[54] Her vision and her focus are always on how space needs to be in the future, the balance and relationship with the nature and what it means to people. She has tried to focus less on how politics influences design and more on what emotions the space would create and what it would symbolize to the user. Her belief in a space being connected and the transition from inside to outside being fluid, coupled with what a space means, has led her to create some very memorable designs. She has also worked on sculptures and landscape installations, such as “Input” artwork at Ohio University. In doing so, Lin focuses on memorializing concepts of time periods instead of direct representations of figures, creating an abstract sculptures and installations.[citation needed]

Lin believes that art should be an act of any individual who is willing to say something that is new and not quite familiar.[55] In her own words, Lin's work "originates from a simple desire to make people aware of their surroundings, not just the physical world but also the psychological world we live in."[56] Lin describes her creative process as having a very important writing and verbal component. She first imagines an artwork verbally to understand its concepts and meanings. She believes that gathering ideas and information is especially vital in architecture, which focuses on humanity and life and requires a well-rounded mind.[57] When a project comes her way, she tries to "understand the definition (of the site) in a verbal before finding the form to understand what a piece is conceptually and what its nature should be even before visiting the site".[55] After she completely understands the definition of the site, Lin finalizes her designs by creating numerous renditions of her project in model form.[56] In her historical memorials, such as the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the Women's Table, and the Civil Rights Memorial, Lin tries to focus on the chronological aspect of what she is memorializing. That theme is shown in her art memorializing the changing environment and in charting the depletion of bodies of water.[58] Lin also explores themes of juxtaposing materials and a fusion of opposites: "I feel I exist on the boundaries. Somewhere between science and art, art and architecture, public and private, east and west.... I am always trying to find a balance between these opposing forces, finding the place where opposites meet... existing not on either side but on the line that divides."[59]

Personal life

Lin was married to Daniel Wolf (1955–2021), a photography dealer and collector.[60] She has homes in New York and rural Colorado, and is the mother of two daughters, India and Rachel.[48] She has an older brother, the poet Tan Lin.


Lin has been awarded honorary doctorate degrees from Yale University, Harvard University, Williams College, and Smith College.[8] In 1987, she was among the youngest to be awarded an honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts by Yale University.[55]

In 1994, she was the subject of the Academy Award-winning[61] documentary Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision. Its title comes from an address she gave at Juniata College in which she spoke of the monument design process in the origin of her work; "My work originates from a simple desire to make people aware of their surroundings and this can include not just the physical but the psychological world that we live in."[55]

In 2002, Lin was elected Alumni Fellow of the Yale Corporation, the governing body of Yale University (upon whose campus sits another of Lin's designs, the Women's Table, designed to commemorate the role of women at Yale University), in an unusually public contest. Her opponent was W. David Lee, a local New Haven minister and graduate of the Yale Divinity School, who was running on a platform to build ties to the community with the support of Yale's unionized employees. Lin was supported by Yale President Richard Levin and other members of the Yale Corporation, and she was the officially endorsed candidate of the Association of Yale Alumni.

In 2003, Lin was chosen to serve on the selection jury of the World Trade Center Site Memorial Competition. A trend toward minimalism and abstraction was noted among the entrants and the finalists as well as in the chosen design for the World Trade Center Memorial.

In 2005, Lin was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters, as well as the National Women's Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls, New York.

President Barack Obama awarded Lin the National Medal of Arts in 2009[62] and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2016.[63]

In 2022, the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. announced the first biographical exhibition, "One Life: Maya Lin," dedicated to Lin, noting her contributions as architect, sculptor, environmentalist, and designer of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.[64]

Awards and honors

This list is incomplete; you can help by adding missing items. (November 2014)

Selected works

Further reading


  1. ^ Lewis, Michael J. (September 12, 2017). "The Right Way to Memorialize an Unpopular War". The New York Times. Retrieved September 26, 2020.
  2. ^ a b Paul Berger (November 5, 2006). "Ancient Echoes in a Modern Space". The New York Times. Retrieved January 2, 2009.
  3. ^ Peter G. Rowe & Seng Kuan (2004). Architectural Encounters with Essence and Form in Modern China. MIT Press. ISBN 978-0-262-68151-3.
  4. ^ Donald Langmead (2011). Maya Lin: A Biography. ABC-CLIO. p. 5. ISBN 978-0-313-37854-6.
  5. ^ Tom Lashnits (2007). Maya Lin. Asian Americans of Achievement Series. Infobase Publishing. p. 56. ISBN 978-1-4381-0036-4.
  6. ^ a b "Between Art and Architecture: The Memory Works of Maya Lin". American Association of Museums. July–August 2008. Archived from the original on September 15, 2008. Retrieved December 30, 2008.
  7. ^ "Maya Lin Biography and Interview". American Academy of Achievement.
  8. ^ a b "Maya Lin: Systematic Landscapes". Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. Retrieved January 2, 2009.[permanent dead link]
  9. ^ Munro, Eleanor C. (2000). Originals: American women artists. Boulder, CO: Da Capo Press.
  10. ^ a b c d e Favorite, Jennifer K. (July 2, 2016). "'We Don't Want Another Vietnam': The Wall, the Mall, History, and Memory in the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Education Center". Public Art Dialogue. 6 (2): 185–205. doi:10.1080/21502552.2016.1205862. ISSN 2150-2552.
  11. ^ Min, Susette (2009). "Entropic Designs: A Review of Maya Lin: Systematic Landscapes and Asian/American/Modern Art: Shifting Currents, 1900–1970 at the De Young Museum". American Quarterly. Vol. 61, no. 1. pp. 193–215.
  12. ^ Mendelsohn, Meredith. "Maya Lin". Art+Auction. Vol. 33, no. 4 (December 2009). pp. 40–90. Art & Architecture Source, EBSCOhost (accessed April 14, 2017).
  13. ^ "Vietnam Veterans Memorial". Library of Congress. Retrieved January 3, 2009.
  14. ^ a b "Facts and Figures". Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund. Archived from the original on March 4, 2010. Retrieved January 3, 2009.
  15. ^ "Frequently Asked Questions". Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund. Retrieved May 12, 2021.
  16. ^ "History". Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund. Archived from the original on March 4, 2010. Retrieved January 3, 2009.
  17. ^ "The Woman Who Healed America". The Attic. Retrieved November 5, 2019.
  18. ^ "Vietnam Veterans' Memorial Founder: Monument Almost Never Got Built".
  19. ^ Marla Hochman. "Maya Lin, Vietnam Memorial". Archived from the original on June 21, 2010. Retrieved December 30, 2008.
  20. ^ Kristal Sands. "Maya Lin's Wall: A Tribute to Americans". Jack Magazine. Archived from the original on November 20, 2008. Retrieved December 30, 2008.
  21. ^ Viet Thanh Nguyen (2016). Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War. Harvard University Press. p. 53. ISBN 978-0-674-97984-0.
  22. ^ "Free Resources – Women's History – Biographies – Maya Lin". Gale. March 12, 2002. Archived from the original on February 3, 2002. Retrieved April 25, 2012.
  23. ^ "Maya Lin – Great Buildings Online". Retrieved April 25, 2012.
  24. ^ Frank H. Wu (2002). Yellow: Race In America Beyond Black and White. Basic Books. p. 95. ISBN 0-465-00639-6.
  25. ^ "Art:21. Maya Lin's "Wave Field" PBS". Retrieved April 25, 2012.
  26. ^ Kino, Carol (April 25, 2013). "'Maya Lin's New Memorial Is a City'". The New York Times. Retrieved September 23, 2013.
  27. ^ a b Deitsch, Dina (2009). "Maya Lin's Perpetual Landscapes and Storm King Wavefield". Woman's Art Journal. Vol. 30, no. 1. p. 6.
  28. ^ "A Meeting of Minds". The Seattle Times. June 12, 2005. Archived from the original on May 7, 2006. Retrieved September 7, 2006.
  29. ^ Cipolle, Alex (May 20, 2021). "Along the Columbia River, Making a Monument of the Land". New York Times.
  30. ^ "Guide to the University of California, Irvine, Claire Trevor School of the Arts, Maya Lin Arts Plaza Project Records AS.123". Retrieved August 15, 2012.
  31. ^ "Facilities, theatres, galleries, venues, rentals, classrooms and labs. | Claire Trevor School of Arts". Archived from the original on January 19, 2012. Retrieved August 15, 2012.
  32. ^ Min, Susette (2009). "Entropic Designs: A Review of Maya Lin: Systematic Landscapes and Asian/American/Modern Art: Shifting Currents, 1900–1970 at the De Young Museum". American Quarterly. Vol. 61, no. 1. p. 198.
  33. ^ TenBrink, Marisa. "Maya Lin's Environmental Installations: Bringing the Outside In". p. 7. ((cite magazine)): Cite magazine requires |magazine= (help)
  34. ^ TenBrink, Marisa. "Maya Lin's Environmental Installations: Bringing the Outside In". p. 10. ((cite magazine)): Cite magazine requires |magazine= (help)
  35. ^ "Bicentennial Park at Ohio University".
  36. ^ "Ohio University dedicates Bicentennial Park". Athens, Ohio: Ohio University. May 15, 2004. Archived from the original on November 21, 2018. Retrieved February 27, 2018.
  37. ^ "Maya Lin looks at nature – from the inside". San Francisco Chronicle. October 24, 2008. Retrieved April 25, 2012.
  38. ^ TenBrink, Marisa. "Maya Lin's Environmental Installations: Bringing the Outside In". p. 4. ((cite magazine)): Cite magazine requires |magazine= (help)
  39. ^ Kino, Carol (November 7, 2008). "Once Inspired by a War, Now by the Land". The New York Times. Retrieved November 9, 2008. On a gray, unusually muggy October day the artist and architect Maya Lin was showing a visitor around Wave Field, her new earthwork project at the Storm King Art Center here. The 11-acre installation, which will open to the public next spring, consists of seven rows of undulating hills cradled in a gently sloping valley.
  40. ^ Cotter, Holland (May 7, 2009). "Art Review | 'Storm King Wavefield': Where the Ocean Meets the Catskills". The New York Times. Retrieved May 8, 2009.
  41. ^ Deitsch, Dina (2009). "Maya Lin's Perpetual Landscapes and Storm King Wavefield". Woman's Art Journal. Vol. 30, no. 1. p. 3.
  42. ^ Friess, Steve (December 16, 2009). "Artist Maya Lin Provides 'Silver River' for Vegas' CityCenter Megaresort". Sphere News. Retrieved January 1, 2010.[permanent dead link]
  43. ^ "Big gamble: Will CityCenter mega resort pay off for Las Vegas?". East Bay Times. January 24, 2010. Retrieved November 3, 2021.
  44. ^ "Press Releases - CityCenter Las Vegas - Press Room". Archived from the original on November 3, 2021. Retrieved November 3, 2021.
  45. ^ "Maya Lin, A Fold in the Field - Gibbs Farm".
  46. ^ "About the Project". What Is Missing?. Archived from the original on September 23, 2018. Retrieved March 7, 2015.
  47. ^ Reed, Amanda. "What Is Missing?: Maya Lin's Memorial on the Sixth Extinction". World Changing. Archived from the original on January 20, 2015. Retrieved March 7, 2015.
  48. ^ a b Sokol, Brett (March 17, 2021). "For Maya Lin, a Victory Lap Gives Way to Mourning". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved March 26, 2021.
  49. ^ Angeleti, Gabriella (February 9, 2021). "Maya Lin's 'ghost forest' will rise in Madison Square Park this spring". Retrieved March 26, 2021.
  50. ^ a b "'Speechless': Vietnam Veterans Memorial architect Maya Lin to receive Medal of Freedom". NBC News. Retrieved March 31, 2017.
  51. ^ R.J. Preece (1999). "Maya Lin at American Academy, Rome". World Sculpture News / artdesigncafe. Retrieved December 30, 2011.
  52. ^ Maya Lin: Boundaries. WorldCat. OCLC 470354593.
  53. ^ Hackett, Regina (October 19, 2000). "Maya Lin emerges from the shadows". Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Archived from the original on November 20, 2002. Retrieved February 13, 2011.
  54. ^ In a 2008 interview, she said, "I'm not licensed as an architect, so I technically cannot label myself as an architect, although I would say that we pretty much produce with architects of record supervising. I love architecture and I love building architecture, but technically, legally, I'm not licensed, so I'm a designer." "Between Art and Architecture: The Memory Works of Maya Lin". American Association of Museums. July–August 2008. Archived from the original on September 15, 2008. Retrieved October 27, 2011.
  55. ^ a b c d "Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision". IMDb. November 10, 1995.
  56. ^ a b Lin, Maya Ying (2000). Boundaries. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0684834170. OCLC 43591075.
  57. ^ Campbell, Robert (November 30, 2000). "Rock, Paper, Vision Artist and Architect Maya Lin Goes Beyond her Powerful Vietnam Veterans Memorial". The Boston Globe. Archived from the original on September 24, 2015. Retrieved March 7, 2015.
  58. ^ TenBrink, Marisa. "Maya Lin's Environmental Installations: Bringing the Outside In". p. 2. ((cite magazine)): Cite magazine requires |magazine= (help)
  59. ^ Deitsch, Dina (2009). "Maya Lin's Perpetual Landscapes and Storm King Wavefield". Woman's Art Journal. Vol. 30, no. 1. p. 4.
  60. ^ Risen, Clay (March 24, 2021). "Daniel Wolf, 65, Dies; Helped Create a Market for Art Photography". The New York Times. Vol. 120, no. 59009. p. A21. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved March 26, 2021.
  61. ^ "The 67th Academy Awards (1995) Nominees and Winners". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. AMPAS. Retrieved May 12, 2015.
  62. ^ "White House Announces 2009 National Medal of Arts Recipients". February 25, 2010. Archived from the original on March 1, 2010. Retrieved April 25, 2012.
  63. ^ a b Office of the Press Secretary, The White House (November 16, 2016). "President Obama Names Recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom". Retrieved June 3, 2018.
  64. ^ "National Portrait Gallery Presents "One Life: Maya Lin" | Smithsonian Institution". Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved November 8, 2022.
  65. ^ "Golden Plate Awardees of the American Academy of Achievement". American Academy of Achievement.
  66. ^ "Maya Lin". NEA. April 17, 2013. Retrieved October 27, 2018.
  67. ^ Graham Bowly (October 7, 2014). "Maya Lin Wins $300,000 Gish Prize". The New York Times. Retrieved November 12, 2014.
  68. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v "Presidential Lectures: Maya Lin". November 5, 1989. Retrieved April 25, 2012.
  69. ^ Coelho, Courtney (April 22, 2015). "Under the Laurentide installed at BERT". News from Brown. Retrieved April 26, 2015.
  70. ^ Stevens, Philip (March 19, 2021). "Maya Lin Completes New Neilson Library at Smith College in Massachusetts". designboom. Retrieved March 30, 2021.
  71. ^ "Maya Lin: Ghost Forest". Madison Square Park Conservancy. Retrieved June 10, 2021.