As a 21-year-old architecture student at Yale, Lin designed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial as a class project, then entered it in the largest design competition in American history. Her striking proposal, a V-shaped wall of black stone, etched with the names of 58,000 dead soldiers, beat out the submissions of 1,420 other entrants. She encountered ferocious criticism when her unconventional design was selected. Feelings were running so high that her name was not even mentioned at the dedication of the memorial in 1982. She coped with the painful controversy by returning to Yale as a graduate student. Her inspiring vision has since become the most-visited memorial in the nation's capital. The families of the fallen leave mementos at the wall, and veterans maintain a constant vigil there.
In 2000 Lin published her first book, Boundaries. She described it as a "visual and verbal sketchbook, where image can be seen as text, and text is sometimes used as image." The same year, she began work on the Confluence Project, a series of seven outdoor installations at points of historic interest along 300 miles of the Columbia and Snake Rivers in the state of Washington. A collaboration with other artists, architects, landscape designers and the native tribes of the Pacific Northwest, it is the largest undertaking of her career.
Her studio artwork has been exhibited in museums around the world. Distinguished works on permanent display include "Pin River -- Yangtze" at the American Embassy in Beijing, China, and "Where the Land Meets the Sea" at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. "Systematic Landscapes," an installation that brings the experience of her large outdoor works into the gallery space, has been exhibited in New York and Seattle. Her recent outdoor works include "Input" at Ohio University, a park that resembles an old-fashioned computer punch card when seen from the air. In the first decade of the 21st century, Lin created monumental sculptures, such as "Above and Below," at the Indianapolis Museum of Art and "2 x 4 Landscape," at the M.H. de Young Museum in San Francisco. "Silver River," on display at the MGM Mirage CityCenter in Las Vegas, is an 84-foot piece of reclaimed silver, cast in the form of the Colorado River.
As both artist and architect, her work has long reflected a strong interest in the environment. She has served as an advisor on sustainable energy use, and as a Board Member of the National Resources Defense Council. She was also a member of the jury that selected the design of the World Trade Center Site Memorial. In 2009, Maya Lin was awarded the National Medal of Arts by President Barack Obama. She and her husband, photography dealer Daniel Wolf, live in New York City. They have two children.