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Portrait of Maya Lin 林瓔. Photograph by 準建築人手札網站. Forgemind ArchiMedia is licensed with CC BY 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/.

Maya Ying Lin was born in Athens, Ohio, on October 5, 1959. Her parents arrived in the U.S. from China in 1949. Her parents were both professors at Ohio University in Athens. Her father was a ceramic artist and the dean of the Ohio University art school. Her mother was a poet and a professor of Asian and English literature. In school, Lin did well in both mathematics and art. Eventually, she enrolled at Yale University. At Yale, she studied architecture and sculpture. Her professors encouraged her to pick just one field to study, but she refused. She once said, “I consider myself both an artist and an architect.”

In 1981, a contest was held to design a monument to remember the veterans who fought in the Vietnam War. A group of architects and artists chose Maya Lin’s design as the winner. Lin was only twenty-one years old when she entered the contest. She was still a college student at Yale at the time. The simple design was a V-shaped, black granite wall that wedged into the ground. The wall lists the names of U.S. service members who died or went missing in action during the Vietnam War. The memorial is known as the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. Some critics disliked Lin’s design. It was different from past monuments that celebrated war and those who served. Some critics thought an Asian American woman was the wrong designer for a monument that honors veterans who fought in a war in Asia. Lin faced harsh disapproval of her design, her gender and her race. But the design was touching for loved ones of those who died in the war. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial has become the most visited monument in America

In 1986, Lin earned a master’s degree in architecture. She is mostly known for the several monuments she has designed. But Lin’s later work is not focused on memorials and monuments. Her work today mainly focuses on nature. She often uses natural materials in her art and designs. Lin creates sustainable buildings. These designs show the relationship between nature and architecture. Lin’s use of natural resources in her art shows her desire for the protection of nature. Lin’s art has been shown in exhibits at museums across the world. She has also been featured in interviews and films. She wrote the book Boundaries about her work and creative process in 2006. Lin won the National Medal of Arts. This is the highest award for artistic excellence in America. President Barack Obama gave her the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2016. This medal is the nation’s highest nonmilitary award. Maya Lin continues to design and create today. Her works join what we can see and what we can’t see in the environment to present a new way to see the world around us.

Maya Lin is famous as both an artist and an architect. Not everyone liked her design for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. But it helped Americans all over the nation honor the lives lost in the Vietnam War. Lin’s memorial also changed the way we can remember wars. Her design did not glorify war. Instead, the simple black wall with thousands of names offered Americans a new way to remember war. Lin’s design for the memorial has gained national praise. The memorial is one of the most visited monuments in the nation.

See Also


Maya Lin Studio. “About.” Accessed September 30, 2020. www.mayalin.com.

Felder, Deborah G. “Maya Lin (1959-).” In The American Women’s Almanac: 500 Years of Making History. Detroit: Visible Ink Press, 2020. ), http://proxy.lib.ohio-state.edu/login?url=https://search.credoreference.com/content/entry/vipwomens/maya_lin_1959/0?institutionId=4358.

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. “Maya Lin.” Encyclopaedia Britannica. Published October 21, 2019. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Maya-Lin.