Skip to content
The artist Maya Lin, seen working on the design for a 1995 sculpture for New York’s Penn Station. 

The artist Maya Lin, seen working on the design for a 1995 sculpture for New York’s Penn Station. 

Photographer: Adam Stoltman/National Portrait Gallery

CityLab
Design

Maya Lin on Art, Architecture, Landscape and Memory

A new exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery surveys the career and life of one of America’s most influential artists, architects and environmentalists.

Time is the essential element in Maya Lin’s design for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. The scar-like wall in Washington, DC, details the toll of the war by displaying the names of servicemen and women killed during the war chronologically. The names are so numerous that it takes time to find a loved one’s, making the experience of walking along the 246-foot-long granite monument like a ritual.

Time was also critical to the memorial’s reception. Lin submitted her winning entry in 1981, when she was 21; many stakeholders objected bitterly, most notoriously H. Ross Perot, the Texas millionaire who financed the competition. But upon its completion, the memorial won over the public almost immediately.