Maya Lin: her life & work

Maya Lin is the world-renowned architect and one of the most important public artists of this century. Her parents fled China just before the Communist takeover in 1949 and settled in Ohio in 1958, one year before Maya Lin was born. Lin studied at Yale University, where she received a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1981 and a Master of Architecture degree in 1986. She has also been awarded honorary doctorate degrees from Yale University, Harvard University, Williams College, and Smith College. In 1981, at age 21 and while still an undergraduate, Lin won a public design competition for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, beating out 1,441 other competition submissions.The black cut-stone masonry wall, with the names of 58,261 fallen soldiers carved into its face,was completed in late October 1982 and dedicated on November 13, 1982. Over the last decade, Maya Lin has pursued simultaneous careers as artist and architect, creating large-scale site-specific installations and intimate studio artworks, as well as architectural works and memorials. Among her significant works as an architect over the last decade are the Sculpture Center in Long Island City, the Manhattanville Sanctuary and Environmental Learning Lab, and the Museum of the Chinese in America in New York City, as well as a number of innovative private residences, notably the Box House in Telluride, Colorado.


Landscape is the context and the source of inspiration for Lin’s art. Utilizing technological methods to study and visualize the natural world, Lin takes micro and macro views of the earth, sonar resonance scans, aerial and satellite mapping devices and translates that information into sculptures, drawings and environmental installations. Her works address how we relate and respond to the environment, and presents new ways of looking at the world around us. She has made works that merge completely with the terrain, blurring the boundaries between two- and three-dimensional space and set up a systematic ordering of the land tied to history, language, and time.

Storm King Wavefield

One of Lin’s latest environmental works is Storm King Wavefield in Mountainville, N.Y, completed in 2009. As a permanent installation at the Storm King Art Center, the 500-acre sculpture park that for almost half a century has been devoted to the display of outdoor works either designed for the location or too large or strange to fit comfortably elsewhere.  Set in a shallow, amphitheaterlike depression, once a gravel pit supplying material for the Thruway, it covers 11 acres. Its seven parallel rows of rolling, swelling peaks were inspired by the forms of midocean waves but echo the mountains and hills around them.

Artists like Maya Lin do not only create beautiful art, but apply it in the context. With a strong interest in the environment, Lin is an example of meaningful art that moves and changes the audience. In my opinion, her work has a strong message, crossing beyond the esthetic pleasure. It shows how nature could be incorporated in the urban development for the advantage of both, ecology and industry. Choosing Strong King Wavefield, I saw its importance in raising the awareness and depicting the beauty in its most organic and simplistic form. 

More readings on Maya Lin:

Where the Ocean Meets the Mountains

Maya Lin Biography

– Kasia (Katarzyna) Dybek


2 responses »

  1. April Manuel says:

    Maya Lin’s artwork is really interesting and I recently saw her waves art in my business of fine arts class. We were learning about her memorial that she made and our teacher showed us a video about the waves she created. She said she had all different sizes for people to walk around in. To see how they feel when they walk through the waves.

  2. Daniel Hanks says:

    Jeez! How cool would it be to have your design picked for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial as a senior in college?! Pretty high honors.

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