Authors: Maya Ying Lin

Location: Washington D.C., USA

Year complete: 1982

Description: two walls, each 246.75 feet long and comprised of 140 polished black granite panels from Bangalore, India 


Maya Ying Lin was a student in Yale University’s architecture program in 1981 when she won a national competition funded by The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, Inc. (VVMF). Lin’s professor also entered the competition, among 2,571 others. The memorial was conceived as a way to commemorate the U.S. lives lost over the course of the Vietnam War.

The VMMF had firm criteria for the design:

1. that it be reflective and contemplative in character

2. that it harmonize with its surroundings, especially the neighboring national memorials

3. that it contain the names of all who died or remain missing

4. that it make no political statement about the war

After a rigorous and anonymous selection process, the selection committee chose Maya Lin’s design for its beauty and its clarity in responding to the competition criteria.


The design soon became a topic of controversy, as a number of Vietnam Veterans banded together to protest against the construction of the wall, calling it a “black gash of shame” that failed to commemorate the bravery or the struggle of their friends who lost their lives in the war. In a way, the wall was an anti-war political statement, only one so subtle that it made it past the selection committee. Lin opted not to glorify wartime heroism or accentuate any individual as a symbol of the entire event, and chose instead to simply inscribe the highly reflective wall with the names of all the Americans killed in the war. The words, rendered in the simple humanist typeface, Optima, were carved into the wall using a computerized stone-carving process by Datalantic.



The mirror-like surface reflects the visitors and the surroundings of the Mall, acting like a “park within a park” by sloping down into the ground and blocking out the sounds of the city. One arm of the wall points to the Washington Monument and the arm of the wall points to the Lincoln Memorial. The first death is inscribed at the beginning of one end where the wall is the lowest, and as the number of recorded deaths per year increases, so does the height of the wall, where it meets at the vertex and slopes back down into the ground. Despite the initial controversy, the memorial has become a massive attraction and iconic addition to the National Mall. As a compromise with the angry critics of the Vietnam Memorial, the VVMF eventually agreed on the additional construction of a more traditional bronze figural statue titled “The Three Soldiers”, which is nearby. May Lin’s memorial is noticeably a precedent for many other reflective granite memorials such as The National 9/11 Memorial, and also multiple partial-size portable replicas of the actual wall.




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