Monumental Achievement

Our 2002 profile of architect Maya Lin that marked the 20th year of the Vietnam Memorial

A New York residence designed by Lin is adaptable, "like origami or a transformer toy," says the architect in her studio with Ranch the cat. (Enrico Ferorelli)

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Last spring, she completed another installation that challenges perception: an indoor courtyard at the American Express corporate office in Minneapolis. The square is enclosed by glass walls. Water flows down one wall in warm weather. During winter, the water freezes, changing the appearance of the courtyard as well as the view. The wave-like hardwood floor evokes a natural landscape.

Currently, Lin is designing four private houses. In her 2000 book Boundaries, she describes her design style as one that borrows elements from Japanese temples and Shaker, Scandinavian and early modernist ideals. She favors uncluttered space, natural materials and as much natural light as she can coax into the interiors. In the only house she has so far completed from the foundation up, a residence in Williamstown, Massachusetts, built in 1994, she brought nature into play with a roof that has peaks and valleys, mimicking nearby mountains. A New York City apartment she designed in 1998 echoes Japanese tradition. Adjacent bathrooms can be combined by removing a temporary wall. Two of the apartment’s three bedrooms can also be made one by rolling away a wardrobe.

But if Lin’s career has moved beyond memorials, she continues to think about the form. In addition to her sketches for a WorldTradeCenter memorial, which were published in September in the New York Times Magazine, she has written in Boundaries of a sort of ultimate, still loosely imagined memorial, what she calls the Extinction Project. Just as the Wall impresses upon visitors that we suffered a great collective loss, it would commemorate animals, plants and habitats that have vanished, with markers placed at sites such as Yellowstone National Park, Antarctica, Tibet, the Amazon forest and also on the ocean floor. “I completely believe that the natural environment is more beautiful than anything we as people or artists can create,” says Lin, who is a trustee of the Natural Resources Defense Council. The extinction memorial, she says, “is really about focusing on biodiversity and the loss of the land that you need to sustain a diverse planet. That one is going to be political— as if the others were not. Of course it’s political. I’m political. That’s where I have also evolved.”

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