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Vietnam Veterans Memorial

At only 21 years old, Maya Lin won the national contest to design the Vietnam Veterans War Memorial. Located in the heart of Washington DC, the memorial is shaped like the letter "V" with its ends pointing to the neighboring Washington and Lincoln monuments. The highly reflective black granite is inscribed with over 58,000 names of people who died during the Vietnam War.

Uniquely, the memorial is cut into the ground. Maya Lin intentionally designed it this way because she wanted it to look like a scar that would eventually heal with time. In this regard, the monument serves as a metaphor for coming to terms with the devastating effects of the war. Lin herself described this concept, saying "I imagined taking a knife and cutting into the earth, opening it up, with an initial violence and pain that in time would heal."


Maya Lin’s design is included in the curriculum because it was so innovative for its time. The Lincoln and Washington monuments are both Neoclassical, enormous and made out of white marble. On the other hand, Maya Lin's design is subtle, sleek, and made out of black granite.

Although today it is one of the most successful and visited monuments in the nation, it initially received lots of criticism. People were outraged by its simplicity and believed it lacked patriotism. Unlike its surrounding monuments, it wasn’t flashy, enormous, extravagant etc. Ironically, Maya Lin argued that its simplicity was what made it so powerful. She wanted the main focus to be on the names inscribed into the granite.

Fun fact: Maya Lin earned a B for this same design at Yale.


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