The Beacon

Maya Lin Visits WPU

Maria Zuniga, Features Editor

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Architect Maya Lin reviewed the past three decades of her award-winning career during a Friday lecture at William Paterson University, describing her famous projects, such as the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C., as “incredibly intimate and one on one.”

Speaking as part of the university’s Distinguished Lecturer Series, Lin told an audience of about 300 in the Shea Center for the Performing Arts that she did not feel she had the right to make a political statement with the Vietnam Veterans Memorial due to the controversial nature of the conflict.

“People said, ‘Well, is it anti-war,’ and I should have said at the time, ‘Well, is everyone really pro-war?’” Lin said.

Lin was a 21-year-old senior at Yale University in 1981 when she decided to enter her class project into a contest to design a memorial for Vietnam War veterans. Her concept included two granite walls, in the shape of a V, with the names of more than 58,000 soldiers killed or missing in the war. One end points to the Lincoln Memorial and the other points to the Washington Monument.

Lin said that she knew she had to remain neutral while creating the memorial because “there were people who believed in the war and others who didn’t.”

“I think there are many reasons why it’s working,” Lin said. “If you put a billboard and you have text that is two feet high, you’re going to read it differently. But if you put text out that’s half an inch high, how are you going to read it? You’re going to read it like a book. How do you read a book? One on one. That’s going to create an intimate reading.”

After the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was completed in 1982, Lin began work on the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, Alabama, which opened in 1989. The memorial includes the names of 41 people who died in the civil rights moment between 1954, the year of the landmark Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education and 1968 when the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. Visitors to the memorial see how civil rights legislation in the United States has sometimes led to rioting and death. Lin said her goal was to teach “how much this was a people’s movement, and individual actions help change the course of history.”

Lin also designed the “Women’s Table at Yale,” which marks the year when women first entered the university in a spiral of numbers.

Lin often incorporates water into her work. She spoke fondly about her three series of wave fields. While working on these pieces, she said she often asked herself, “How do you begin and end a wave?” In flutter.” Lin illustrates what water does when it hits the sand. Storm King, her largest wave field of the series sought to demonstrate what it feels like to get lost in a wave.

“I grew up in a house surrounded by woods and there were three streams because there were three ridges,” said Lin, who was born in Athens, Ohio, about forty-five minutes from the West Virginia border. “And my brother and I were outdoors every single day playing in the creeks.”

Other noteworthy pieces of artwork include “Flow,” a landscape at the Dayton Art Institute in Ohio. The piece is made with thousands of two-by-fours assembled with their cut ends up. It is one of a three works exhibition, made to create dramatic, physical and psychological encounters for people. Lin believes that rivers are a singular -connected whole. She has a series of Silver Rivers and Pin Rivers.

Lin designed a bell tower for Shantou University in China, inspired by the architectural technology and science. Her current architectural project is at her mother’s alma mater, Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. Lin is in the process of building a new library which will be built by 2020.

“We are stripping it down to just the center historic core and putting back in its place two little jewel boxes,” Lin said. “By ripping it all out, we can come back in and bring in space and light and give you a sense of connectivity from one north to south of the building.”

Since 2007, Lin has worked on a project called “What is Missing.” Through donations, her team has produced 100 one-to-two-minute educational videos. The videos talk about the loss of species due to human alteration of the planet. They also created something called the empty room for kids. In a black box theatre a kid can pick up objects in a piece of glass and they get to learn about species. What is Missing is working on green print and visioning a sustainable future. They are about hope and action.

“I’m really fortunate to be able to take on amazing art and architectural projects,” Lin said, “and still be able to set up What is Missing.”

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Maya Lin Visits WPU