Maya Lin’s Design for the Vietnam War Memorial originated from a class she took while attending Yale University. As she says, she designed it for her, or what she believed the design should be. The design derived out of a class she was taking on funeral architecture, which focused on how people through buildings express their attitudes towards death. After studying other monuments, Lin realized most memorials resemble larger, more generalized messages about the nation or particular leaders victory and accomplishments rather than a tribute to those who lost/gave their lives.
She felt memorials should be honest to the realities of war, loss of life and remembering all who served. Interestingly enough, she chose not to do any background research on the war, because she felt the politics surrounding it had completely “eclipsed the veterans, their service and their lives.” A memorial at Yale University left a impact on her, based on a quietness and reverence that surrounded the names described on the memorials. In the actual design process, Lin describes that she had a simple impulse to “cut into the earth.” She describes how she imagined “taking a knife and cutting into the earth, opening it up, and instal violence and pain that in time would heal. The grass would grow back, but the initial cut would remain a pure late surface in the earth with a polished, mirrored surface, much like the surface on a geode when you cut it and polish an edge.” The need for names on the memorial would literally become the entire memorial, and there would be no need to continue to push the design, and the simplicity of their names on their wall would itself be the entire memorial that is cut into the Earth.
Memorial. https://2017arth4919.files.wordpress.com/2017/01/maya-lin-making-the-memorial.pdf (Accessed April 29, 2017)