Artist, architect Maya Lin talks career, environment

Danielle Drake-Flam | Contributing Reporter

Artist and architect Maya Lin spoke on how her career began, habitat extinction and the connection between art and architecture to around 100 students in Graham Chapel Thursday.

Lin, known for designing the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C. as a Yale University undergraduate, was sponsored by the Chinese Students Association as part of Student Union’s Trending Topics series. At a price tag of $35,000, Lin was the most expensive speaker SU allocated Trending Topics funds toward.

Sculpture and landscape artist Maya Lin speaks in Graham Chapel as part of the Trending Topics series on Nov. 17. Student Union and Chinese Students Association sponsored Lin, who is known for designing the Vietnam War Memorial.Katie Ehrlich | Student Life

Sculpture and landscape artist Maya Lin speaks in Graham Chapel as part of the Trending Topics series on Nov. 17. Student Union and Chinese Students Association sponsored Lin, who is known for designing the Vietnam War Memorial.

The talk included pictures of Lin’s architecture and artwork, both of which are displayed across the world, as well as short films about her project “What is Missing?” (WIM). Designed by Lin, WIM was established to raise awareness about the Sixth Extinction of species and habitats that is currently taking place. WIM works with scientific institutions, environmental groups, writers, artists and filmmakers to create memorials that show the loss of species and habitats.

Lin noted that everyone should be aware of species and habitat extinction, particularly because of the impact of human actions on the environment.

“We have to make this a nonpartisan issue,” Lin said. “We’re in the Sixth Extinction of species on this planet and this one is caused by us. Can we be aware of what we are losing to spur a change?”

Lin, who grew up on Ohio University’s campus because her father was the dean of the College of Fine Arts, made art her entire childhood. By the time she was in high school, Lin had cast bronze and met artists like Michael Singer and Jordan Siegel. She spoke positively about the college atmosphere she grew up knowing.

“It was an amazing place. I think that college campuses are the perfect environment to learn and to almost not be judged for your race, your gender,” Lin said.

Lin spoke about discovering her two passions in life—art and architecture—and having to choose just one path.

“I remember at some point, one of my professors said, ‘You know Maya, you’re going to have to make a choice. You’re going to have to choose between art and architecture—you’re not going to be able to do both,’” Lin said. “And I didn’t really understand what she was saying because I didn’t have a choice. I never chose one or the other; they sort of chose me.”

While Lin has worked professionally as both an artist and architect, she spoke about the differences between the two, saying that art has a more malleable component.

“The significant differences in building art or building architecture is in art, I really expect and demand that I’m actually changing it and morphing it on site,” Lin said. “Same way my art has an outdoor-indoor component, so does my architecture…I’m attracted to kind of bombed-out, derelict urban areas and then what can I do.”

This was not Lin’s first trip to Washington University. Lin spoke about WIM in 2008, when she first launched the project, as part of the Fall Assembly Series. She also designed the landscape and plaza at the BJC Institute of Health at the medical school.

Sam Fox students expressed excitement about hearing Lin, who is viewed as a role model in both art and architecture, speak in person.

“I thought it was really great—she’s really inspiring,” Justine Xi, a first-year Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts student said.

“I was surprised in the sense that I didn’t expect much of it to be focused on the environment, but it was a pleasant surprise, I think. I think I learned a good amount, and I feel like I did take away something from it,” Sylvia Yu, another first-year Sam Fox student, added.