The Winning Design of the Memorial

Maya Lin's Competition Drawing

The design proposal entered by Maya Lin, 1981. Before using this as an entry for the National Memorial Design Competition, Lin had earned a grade B for the design as an assignment at an architecture class at Yale University. 

Maya Lin with Model of Memorial Design

After having won the competition, Lin stands with a model of her winning memorial design, 1981. 

The winner of the VVM’s national design competition was Maya Lin, a 21-year old Asian American architecture student at Yale University. She had earned a B for the design in Yale’s funerary architecture course. She submitted the same design as a proposal for the VVMF competition, in which she stated:

"I felt a memorial should be honest about the reality of war and be for the people who gave their live. For a strong and sobering feeling, it should carry their names. I didn’t want a static object that people would just look at, but something they could relate to as on a journey, or passage, that would bring each to his own conclusions. I was mulling these ideas, but I had no form. Then I went to the site. I walked around this beautiful park, surrounded by trees. I wanted to work with the land and not dominate it. I had an impulse to cut open the earth … an initial violence that in time would heal. The grass would grow back, but the cut would remain, a pure flat surface, like a geode ... I didn’t visualize heavy physical objects implanted in the earth; instead it was as if the black-brown earth were polished and made into an interface between the sunny world and the quiet, dark world beyond, that we can’t enter."

As detailed in her design, the Wall stretches 492 ft long. The two walls, each 250 feet long, meet at about a 125-degree angle. With a height of ten feet, “[t]he angle formed between the walls would bring the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument in relation to each other, linking the past and present.”  Lin’s “minimalist sculpture-earthwork” features polished Vermont granite. Built “into and under” a rolling hill, the memorial was designed to act as a “refuge” that, by way of the polished granite, can “catalyze reflection.” In comparison to other American war memorials, the names of the Wall are chronologized by casualty. As Lin stated, “I wanted to list the names in order of death to return vets to the time frame of the war. We the living are brought to a concrete realization of these deaths by walking past the granite walls.” The impact of etched names and the reflective quality of the Wall link the visitors to the soldiers.