Just in Time for Spring: Maya Lin’s Landscapes

Now that spring is upon us again (at least that's what my allergies are telling me), it's time to step outside and consider some landscape architecture - specifically the landscape designs of Maya Lin. Born to Chinese immigrants, Ms. Lin, 57, is an accomplished Asian-American architect, landscape architect, sculptor, artist, and educator.

Ms. Lin was recently awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2016, which is the United States’ highest civilian honor for pioneers of science, sports, public service, human rights, politics and the arts. Ms. Lin received the award from the previous presidential administration (thanks, Obama!) alongside other luminaries as Frank Gehry, Bruce Springsteen and many others.

Vietnam Veterans Memorial

In 1981, as an undergrad in architecture school, she won the design competition for the new Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. The design is a stark, low, v-shaped slice through the landscape. This is a theme that reoccurs again in her career. It is at once simple yet powerful, graceful yet stoic and solid.

Wave Field 

In 1995, Ms. Lin designed Wave Field at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. This is an undulating landscape, designed to look like rolling waves (roughly 90' x 90', rising up about 5'). This became the first in a series of three wave fields.


The next installation is Flutter, in Miami, FL. While smaller, it still is a site specific installation that responds to its urban context. 

Storm King Art Center

The third in this series is located at the Storm King Art Center, and is the largest of her works. Built in 2009, this covers 11-acres, and ranges from 10' to 15' high. While I've only seen this installation from afar, Ms. Lin has designed this to be experienced from both afar and up close. The scale of this is designed so that one is surrounded by this landscape. It looks at once to be similar to the rolling ocean waves, as well as recalls the rolling hills of the nearby Catskill Mountains. 

This wave field is the site of a former gravel pit that was used to supply the gravel to construct the adjacent interstate highway. The waves are formed with the existing gravel, covered with topsoil, and planted with local grasses, thereby rehabilitating the former industrial site, while also creating a natural drainage system. 

A Fold in the Field

In 2013, Ms. Lin completed another project titled “A Fold in the Field.” Set in Gibbs Farm in New Zealand (a large scale outdoor sculpture park, similar to New York’s  Storm King), she manipulates the terrain of a flat plain to become angled, folded, dramatic.

If you can’t travel to see these sites for yourself, or need to stay indoors because of itchy red eyes and unstoppable sneezing, Ms. Lin also designed the Museum of Chinese in America,  right here in Chinatown, NYC.

The beautiful part of Ms. Lin’s work is that once completed, these are intended to be walked on, and even grazed upon by local animals, and changes with the seasons.

William Wong, AIA, LEED® AP, Associate

William Wong, AIA, LEED® AP, Associate