I did not know the background or controversy surrounding the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial until this class, this year. Its hard to imagine the emotional turmoil it caused Maya Lin as an undergraduate architecture student. It is powerful to hear about the design and experience of designing this memorial from Lin herself, who until recently had felt unable to talk about it. Lin intended the design to focus on the humanity of all the individual’s killed in the war, and was inspired by the Memorial Rotunda at Yale, where names of Yale students killed in war were carved into marble. Being at Yale in the wake of the Vietnam war Lin witnessed names being carved into this memorial and it left a lasting impression on her.
Lin wanted the memorial to reflect loss, a cut in the earth, show the absence of the 57,000 who were missing or killed. She wanted the memorial to be apolitical and contain the names of the 57,000 to show the loss and not be a memorial dealing with victory or defeat. After being selected as the winner of the competition Lin struggled to have her voice be heard largely due to her age and I’m sure the fact that she was female. She wanted the type face to be small to create an intimate experience, and for the wall to be thin to be purely surface, while others questioned these choices. People took issue with the color of the memorial being black referring to it as the “universal color of dishonor.”
Lin’s memorial has faced major backlash and scrutiny. It seems that when designing a memorial people will always take issue, whether the memorial be too political or too apolitical, not everyone will be satisfied. Having read Lin’s own description of her vision I find the design to be a beautiful and honest representation of loss and mourning, not a memorial of victory or defeat but one to acknowledge the pain and absence of loss.