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If you like Maya Lin's story, you might also like:
J. Carter Brown,
Dale Chihuly,
Frank Gehry,
Philip Johnson,
James Rosenquist,
Fritz Scholder,
Vincent Scully,
Amy Tan and
Wayne Thiebaud

Teachers can find prepared lesson plans featuring Maya Lin in the Achievement Curriculum section:
A Passion For Music
Meet the Architects

Related Links:
Maya Lin Studio

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Maya Lin
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Maya Lin Interview (page: 4 / 8)

Artist and Architect

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  Maya Lin

When did you realize what you wanted to do in life?

Maya Lin Interview Photo
Maya Lin: Oh, about five years ago, seriously. I loved animals when I was growing up. I thought I was going to become a veterinarian. Then I sort of switched. In high school I was definitely going to become a field zoologist because I love animals and I love the environment. Half the kids I went to school with would say, "Oh, she's going into science." The other half would say, "Oh, she's going into English". My mother is a poet and English professor. My dad's a ceramicist, and a Dean of Fine Arts. I was always making things. But it was always very academic and none of this connected. Even though art was what I did every day, it didn't even occur to me that I would be an artist.

Then I get to Yale and my advisor is a science advisor because I have specified my interest is field zoology and animal behavior. I actually wanted to go out in the field and understand why animals are what they are. It was Dr. Apville, who I still talk to every now and again, and he says, "Yale's animal behavioral program is probably not what you're going to approve of." And I said, "Well, why?" He said it's neurologically based and that it dealt with vivisection. I didn't even know what vivisection was, but it basically means dissecting the animals while they're still alive. I looked at him and I said, "You're absolutely right. Ethically there's no way."

Though I was actually tracked pre-med at that time, I thought, "This isn't going to work." Then I thought of architecture because I thought it was this perfect combination of art and math, art and science. In high school, two or three of the independent courses I took at the university were teaching myself Fortran, Basic and Cobol.

I loved logic, math, computer programming. I loved systems and logic approaches. And so I just figured architecture is this perfect combination. Then it takes me seven years of architecture school to realize that I think like an artist. And even though I build buildings and I pursue my architecture, I pursue it as an artist. I deliberately keep a tiny studio. I will hire firms or cause firms to be hired to work with me. I don't want to be an architectural firm ever. I want to remain as an artist building either sculptures or architectural works. And in a way what I disliked about architecture was probably the profession. I still am an artist. And basically what does that mean? It's much more individual. It's much more about who you are and what you need to make, what you need to say for you. Whether someone's going to look at it or not, you're still going to do it.

[ Key to Success ] Passion

Could you tell us about your senior architecture project at Yale?

Maya Lin: For a senior project in architecture school, you had a choice. You could go off on your own or create a senior seminar with a bunch of other students. I decided to work with a group of students, and what we really wanted to study was funereal architecture.

I had spent my junior year abroad in Denmark and in an architecture studies program, different school. Yale doesn't have a junior year abroad. In fact, you have to tell them that you're going abroad to study something they don't teach which is, they didn't teach Danish, so I could--because I love going into a culture, if I like the architecture. And I love Scandinavian design. So, boom, I went to Denmark. And one of the very first projects, we were all given different segments of Copenhagen to study. I was given this area called Norbrow, which included this enormous park, probably half the size of Central Park, that was also a cemetery. Because in Europe spaces are so tight that you, you have multiple uses. So your cemeteries are habitable, I mean, they're parks. They're--people are walking through, people are strolling through. And I think it was very interesting. And then as I went through Europe that summer I went to Père Lachaise in France. And it was just one of those things. So when I came back to Yale -- I don't know how this conversation came up, but we all -- there were a few of us that thought a course as our senior seminar that focused on the architecture of death essentially would be really interesting. And what does that mean? It's like, God, at the time the reporters had a heyday with it. It's like morbid curiosity. It's more like how humanity deals with mortality in the built form.

[ Key to Success ] Preparation

And in the course of that semester...

Someone saw a bulletin for a competition for the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial. And we thought, "What a great idea! We'll use that as our final project." So I designed what I thought was the right solution for a course. And we had barely been given any information. Someone wrote away for the program book later on and read through it. But in a way, I think when you're doing something in architecture school, you're doing it for yourself. And I did it. And it wasn't until the next semester, which was my final, my spring semester, that I decided to enter it into the actual competition as an exercise.

As a student, competitions are how you were -- they're what you do as a good exercise. And the only clue that I had to what I had made was that for the final clip you invite visiting architects to critique your work and then you get up and you present. So I presented my piece. And then over that Christmas Holiday I was visiting a friend's uncle -- my girl friend -- and we went up to see his house in Vermont, a fairly well-known architect, and he was going to give me advice on my senior portfolio so I could get out and look for a summer job. And he's looking through, and then he stops and he starts telling me -- because as he gets to the sketches for the Vietnam (I had included them in the portfolio) he starts telling me about this design for the Vietnam Memorial that he had heard about, and as he starts talking about it, I realize he is telling me about my design. And I'm realizing, I should enter this because I think it's an important thing to say. It's not going to win. And I entered it.

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This page last revised on Sep 22, 2010 10:38 EDT
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