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Site Specific Artist Maya Lin

Vietnam Veterans Memorial 1982


National Mall Washington, D.C.


Maya Lin was studying at Yale University during her final year she had an assignment in her funereal architecture seminar. For this she designed a walled monument to veterans of the Vietnam War and this had the names etched of all those who gave their lives.

Maya was inspired to do as when she started at Yale, she was captured by a wall that honoured the alumni who have died in service for their country.


Maya would run her fingers over the marble to feel the engraving under her fingers. Maya would then spend her time watching the stonecutters adding names to the honour roll by etching the names of those alumni who have been killed in the Vietnam War.

At the same time of Maya’s idea for a wall honouring those who died in the Vietnam war there was a competition being held for ta Vietnam Veterans Memorial to be built on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. With encouragement from her professor the architecture student submitted her idea to the competition.



The competition rules stated that the memorial to be apolitical ad must contain the names of all soldiers confirmed dead and missing in action. This would mean the memorial would contain 58,000 American serviceman and Lin wanted these to be listed in chronological order of their loss. Lin wanted the work to be etched in a V-shaped wall made of polished black granite which would also seem like a mirror except for the names. This would also have to be sunken into the ground.




Over 1400 entries where sent in to the competition, all entries had to be anonymous and would be judged on how the design would look eloquent within its placement. To judge this, they had to use an Air Force hanger to display all 1400 images, the winning image was numbered 1026 and was chosen for its link between meeting earth, sky and stated names contain messages for all.


Before Lin knew she had won the competition, she had only received a B for her idea, so she was shocked when officials turned up at her dormitory room to say she had won the design an $20,000 first prize. Being form Vietnam herself she always wondered if it had of been an entry by May Lin and not entry 1026 would she have still won.


Lin’s design came under a lot of backlash once the public new of the design idea to the point that one of the businessmen who had pledged $160,000 to the competition to create the memorial pulled out. The general feel for the memorial was it was one of hiding the shame of the war and the design reflects the two-finger peace sign adopted in direct protest during the Vietnam war.





Once the memorial was unveiled it didn’t take long for all the negativity surrounding the wall to dissipate. It very quickly came a place to honour the fallen and all those who served during the Vietnam war. There was some compromise that had to be made before completion and this would be an installation of a flag pole displaying the start and stripes which would be fifty foot high. There would also be an eight-foot-high statue of three soldiers created by Frederick Hart who called Lin’s work “nihilistic. These were not allowed to be situated directly adjacent to Lin’s wall as they wished to preserve Lin’s design as much as possible.


The connection to Lin’s work and the work I am creating is Lin had found a connection with the wall for the alumni whilst studying, she gained pleasure from running her fingers across the engravings whilst walking past the wall. Although my work has been created from the complete opposite type of feelings the similarities are how you interact with your surroundings, there wasn’t anything visually pleasing with the intercom yet I ended up making a connection with this inanimate object that was causing me great difficulty.


Both Lin and myself found creativity within our environment. Lin’s and my work have foundations linking them together born from creation by attending a place of study. Lin’s work was created from beauty, sympathy and honour, whilst my work was created from frustration, anger and a feeling of having to obey a higher power.

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