From the flaps of the dust jacket and the endpapers of the hardcover book to the opening ocean-wave-meets-beach and the final image of the Earth from space, architect/designer/artist Maya Lin’s Boundaries takes us to the edges of thought and form, where she plucks her ideas and turns them into reality.

Beyond the book’s content, its design reinforces Lin’s sense of living “outside” the typical. The book design also encourages us to imagine new ways for “inside” and “outside” to meet, negotiate with each other, and co-exist. Digital-clock-style page numbers (from 0:00 on the front jacket flap and endpaper to 12:13 at the rear) and an asymmetrically spaced thin line of words create a central horizon across page spreads, which are backed either by photographic images or the stark white of the paper stock. Then these black-on-white or white-on-color curved-and-straight marks turn into the narrative text Lin uses to describe her work.

Most well-known for her then-controversial (early 1980s) design of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., Lin has also designed such landmarks as The Civil Rights Memorial for the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Alabama; The Women’s Table for Yale University; Wave Field at the University of Michigan/Ann Arbor; and Eclipsed Time in the Long Island Railroad area of Pennsylvania Station in New York City. In addition, many corporations and private individuals have commissioned her architectural and artistic works. Photographs in the book clearly illustrate the effort Lin takes to make her sculptures fit their sites.

However famous Lin may be for her site-specific monuments, memorials, sculptures, and buildings, the narrative in this book makes clear that writing has always been a significant part of her creative process. In fact, she is convinced that the narrative she provided with her entry into the competition for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial is what tipped the scale in her favor. A photograph of the hand-written description of her idea, clearly readable, is included in the book, along with Lin’s essay and most complete recollection of its idea, creation, controversy during the award process, and what it took to actually build the memorial in the way it had been envisioned. While Lin says she never thought of the memorial as a “wall,” that is how it has become known. Her own purpose, however, was always clear — that it was for those who fought and died, and those who returned, and for all of us to come to terms in our own ways with what happened in that wrenching period. Because the design, the award, and the building process was so fraught with controversy, Lin has not discussed it until writing this book. The essay included here is what she wrote for herself “just as the memorial was being completed — in the fall of 1982. Then I put it away…until now.”

Much of the book’s narrative encompasses Lin’s descriptions of her own creative process, her artistic and architectural influences, and the projects that have given form to her ideas. Describing the Vietnam Veterans Memorial as a “geode,” Lin states, “I envisioned it not as an object inserted into the earth but as a part of the earth, a work formed from the act of cutting open the earth and polishing the earth’s surface, dematerializing the stone to pure surface, creating an interface between the work of light and the quieter world beyond the names.”

With educators and artists as parents, it may be no surprise that Lin gravitated to something that (for her) combined these disciplines. Whatever the project or outcome, the creative process is her own, although it, doubtless, resonates with many other creative people. “I spend the first few months [of a new project] researching a multitude of facts, history, and materials, not knowing if anything I am studying will be of use to me in the artwork.” Responding to the world in a way that’s intuitive and inspirational, Lin says, “I rarely arrive at an idea by consciously sitting down at a desk and trying to figure out what I want to do. Once I start thinking about a project, though, it doesn’t really leave my focus until I have come up with an idea.”

Even when Lin’s projects are architectural or visual in nature — and perhaps precisely because her work is so often so public, Lin notes that writing is a key to her process and her outcomes.

“I have always relied on writing a description of the artwork or architectural work because I feel writing is the best way to convey what the project will be. It allows me to describe not just the physicality of the works but how one will experience the works. These essays become an integral part of each piece, helping to define for me what each work is. I consider them verbal sketches — like the models or drawings — and they are invaluable to me. I do not see the artwork as something that can be described in image alone, just as I feel the finished work cannot be understood from a single picture. Instead the experience of the work is critical to its understanding, and writing is the clearest form in which to capture what the work is about. I use the essays to clarify and distill the intentions of the work.”

Boundaries offers Lin’s narrative, accompanied by photographs of her works. Aerial images of Wave Field and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial give us a sense of the planet-size scale where she pursues her vision. Ground-level views of site-specific installations, buildings, and even pieces of her furniture, provide a sense of the edge — the boundaries — where Lin operates and the quiet, thoughtful, intense impact of this multi-faceted artist.

Author: Maya Lin
Published: New York: Simon & Schuster ©2000

Copyright ©2013 Jill J. Jensen | Clarity from Chaos