The Bartlett


International Women’s Day Blog: Introducing Maya Lin

By Aurora Wang, Landscape Architecture MLA

aerial shot of memorial, line with obtuse angle cutting through park with trees

Close up of memorial, reflective surface with names written into it

The profession of architectural design requires both meticulous thinking and continuous creativity; it requires both perseverance and the practice of communicating with human beings and objects. As a female architect, it is often difficult to escape the constraints of social roles and innate physiology, and it takes great tenacity and extraordinary dedication to shine.

A survey in the United Kingdom and the United States showed that about half of all architecture graduates were women, yet ten years later, less than 20 percent of women were still practicing architecture. Even today, in the 21st century, women architects still face gender inequality and unequal pay in the industry.

However, there is still a group of women architects who are endowed with prestigious talent, sensitive intuition, delicate and precise skills, as well as their persistent persistence. They present the world with works that are either inclusive, dynamic, or with penetrating power, bringing visual amazement and spiritual touch to the world. This blog is a tribute to them.

Maya Lin is the most significant landscape architect who drew me into the landscape architecture world with the design ethos of "majestic in its simplicity, overwhelming in its power”. In her 40 years of practice, Lin has always traveled between art, architecture and monuments. Her work is simple, concise, and serene, with a fascinating mix of Eastern Zen and Western humanism.

Original design of the Vietnam Memorial

The war has scarred the earth. The war is over, but the scars won't go away

Former US President Barack Obama awarded Lin the 2009 National Medal of Arts for her outstanding achievements as an architect, artist and environmentalist, the highest official honor bestowed on an artist in the United States. Lin also serves as a trustee of Yale University and was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame in 2005, along with Hillary Clinton.

Her work on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial (2006) brought a spiritual shock to me: 

The smooth and flawless surface of the black granite from Bangalore, India, clearly maps out each of the figures facing it. In the midst of the scar that Maya Lin has cut for the earth that will never heal, the living and the dead reunite in the hidden space created by these two walls. They walk side by side through the passage that slopes underground, slipping into a period of time that is difficult to recall but must be remembered. When they come out and return to the ground, the journey is accomplished - the dead are gone and the living are reborn.

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial is still an extraordinary and touching piece of work today that warns people of the terrible price paid for war. It is a tranquil space that allows people to deeply contemplate. The work made me consider that the design on the earth is not just a result, but a process. It demonstrates to me that the art of landscape architecture knows no borders, regardless of the color and race of the human beings, it’s more about humanism.