Maya Lin

American sculptor and architect

Maya Ying Lin (Chinese: 林璎) (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. 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.

Maya Lin in 2023


  • Everything you make is being made by every single experience you've ever had in your whole life, and on top of that, things you were born with. I think your personality comes out. There's no way of really saying: "If A, then B, or A plus B equals C in creativity." The true strength of the creative arts is that you allow yourself to think about something. Then how it finds its way in your mind to the surface through your hands to-- whether it's paint or sculpture-- is intuited. I think there's reason to it. But could you extrapolate? Could you actually formulate a mathematical theorem? Absolutely not.
  • Another adage in art is: you're a child and then you become an adult. You're always trying to regain that pure, almost empathetic response that you have when you're a child. It doesn't come with a lot of baggage. You're not worried about, "Oh, what are you thinking here, here, here?" You just respond in certain ways. I think sometimes: Can you think like a child? We're always trying to regain that. I almost make things imagining a child will experience them.
  • The Vietnam War was much more in the main news. I think the rioting was. But I think a lot of the facts hadn't been written into the textbooks because it was current news. From a child's point of view, you're not focusing on the daily news the same way. Anyway, I was stunned at how there was this part of American history. I know now it's absolutely covered in textbooks. But could I offer something out as an information table that would give people a brief glimpse of that era the way I had been, after having looked at this material, been given a glimpse? And of course, the idea is, you look at this. You'll want to study it more. Because the one thing about sculptures, the one thing about memorials is: I can draw you in. I can make you think for 15 minutes, whatever, then it's really about where you go after that.
  • I had a simple impulse to cut into the earth. I imagine taking a knife and cutting into the earth, opening it up and the initial violence and pain that in time would heal. The grass would grow back, but the initial cut would remain a pure, flat surface in the earth with a polished mirrored surfaced, much like the surface on a geode when you cut it and polish the edge. The need for the names to be on the memorial would become the memorial. There was no need to embellish the design further. The people and their names would allow everyone to respond and remember. It would be an interface between our world and the quieter, darker, more peaceful world beyond.
  • I think I’ve always had an activist stance, yet at the same time, the other side of me—and this is where some people just don’t get it, or they’d prefer it if the work was a lot uglier, a lot louder—I have this personality where I just want to put something out that’s a fact and then let you interpret it. It’s almost as if you might barely notice it, you might walk right by it, but you have to pay attention.
  • It’s a bit unusual, as you said, to be working between the architecture, the art, and what I would say is a synthesis, the memorials—they’re problem solving, but it’s very symbolic. You get this triangle; I need to be balanced with those three. They’re all equally a part of who I am. I love how different they are, and yet they’re coming out the same thing, whatever it is.
  • I leave it up to the viewers. If it’s in a museum, if it’s in a gallery, usually I am going to point out something about a river right below your feet or right outside your window. I’m not going to scream it out. If you get a little curious, you can find a little bit more. At times my works are maybe to a fault subtle. For public works, maybe you won’t even notice I was here. I’m not trying to defeat or conquer nature.
  • I tend to make models of a lot of my pieces. I end up making models, and the models get bigger, and bigger, and bigger. I call it the Christmas tree syndrome. You buy a Christmas tree outdoors, you think it’s too small, then you bring it inside and you have to lop two feet off because it’s way too big. If you’re working out of doors, you have to test actual scale, with a paper cutout, with a maquette at full scale, because you need it to feel intimate like a dining table. You have to scale it up just enough so that it will still feel intimate — so it won’t jump to monumental in scale. It has to be bigger than it would be inside because then it would get dwarfed. You can only do that by actually mocking it up.
  • There are a couple of things out there that I really want to do. I’ll tell you one. I want to work in a landfill. I love things that involve adaptive reuse of really degraded places. The sad thing about our current landfills are, you can’t dig a hole into them, because heaven forbid, there’s all this toxic stuff in there. It’s not just that I want to work in a landfill. I would like to help rethink what a landfill could be. What if we didn’t put anything toxic in? What if we composted all our organic matter? So then it wouldn’t be dangerous to plant a tree in it, you wouldn’t have to cap it because you think there’s so much poison in there. What if we could recycle all our rare-earth metals and minerals? It’s a big ask. That’s something I want to do in my lifetime.

Quotes about Maya Lin

  • The response is where Lin starts her work as a designer. She creates, essentially, backward. There is no image in her head, only an imagined feeling. Often, she writes an essay explaining what the piece is supposed to do to the people who encounter it. She says that the form just comes to her, sometimes months later, fully developed, an egg that shows up on the doorstep one day. She rarely tinkers with it. She is, in other words, an artist of a rather pure and intuitive type.
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