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Saturday, June 22, 2013

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial: Maya Ying Lin's Impactful Design

Maya Ying Lin
Among the 1,421 people who entered the competition to design a memorial to the veterans of the Vietnam War was Maya Ying Lin, a 21-year-old senior at Yale University. Her design for the memorial, shown at right, was simple: two long black granite walls, rising out of the earth and meeting at an angle. Written on these walls would be the names of the more than 58,000 soldiers declared killed or missing in action in Vietnam.

What drew the judges to the work of this young sculptor and architect? Like all great architecture, Lin's design was uniquely suited to its location, the sweeping lawns of the Constitution Gardens on the Mall in Washington, D.C. The design inspired contemplation and reflection; it was dignified and eloquent.

Lin chose a design that entered the earth and came back out again, feeling that such a design suitably symbolized death and remembrance. She also considered the symbolism of a scar a painful reminder of loss that can heal but never really disappear.

Carved into the walls are the names of the dead and missing. They are arranged chronologically on each wall by the date of death or disappearance. On the east wall, the names begin at the center and travel toward the end. On the west wall, the names begin at the end and travel toward the center. In this way, at the intersection of the walls the first and last deaths meet.

Lin chose black granite rather than white marble for several reasons. Black is, after all, a traditional color of sorrow in the American culture. In a practical sense, the names would be easier to read on black than on white. Also, black granite could be highly polished, allowing it to reflect the Mall and the people who were reading the names. In this way, finally, the dead and those who wished to remember them could once again be brought together.


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