Maya Lin: Architect & Sculptor

Maya Lin: Architect & Sculptor lesson plan

Create a miniature model of an expressive sculpture to symbolize your vision of a world event.

  • 1.

    Maya Yang Lin is a contemporary Chinese American artist whose interests have always been with architecture and sculpture. While a student at Yale University, she designed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial that was built in Washington, D.C when she was only 21 years old! Her design incorporated aspects of both architecture and sculpture.

  • 2.

    Organize students into small groups. Ask them to investigate the differences between architecture and sculpture. Then, using teacher-provided photographs of the national memorial, have students analyze the structure to see how Maya Lin incorporated aspects of both art forms into her award-winning memorial. Ask each group to a Venn diagram to document their findings. Provide time for students to discuss their research.

  • 3.

    The Civil Rights Memorial at the Southern Poverty Law Center in Birmingham, Alabama, Groundswell at The Ohio State University, and The Wave Field at the Michigan School of Engineering are additional examples of Maya Lin's work. Allow students class time to investigate these designs. How are these similar to the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial? How are they different?

  • 4.

    If time permits, encourage students to research other artists' site sculptures, such as Spiral Jetty by Robert Smithson. Encourage them to notice how artists use land and forms to create their work.

  • 5.

    Inform students that they will create a sculpture using ideas similar to the work of Maya Lin, beginning by reading a newspaper or magazine. Choose a world event that is personally moving and research that event. List words that are associated with that event using Crayola® Colored Pencils. From this list, students choose one or more words that best describe their feelings. These are the words to be used to create a sculpture.

  • 6.

    With Crayola Model Magic, students create a miniature site sculpture. Inivite students to imagine that they are very tiny and the Model Magic forms they are making are large enough to walk through or on. What shapes can be made to express the words chosen? If the emotions felt about the world event were pleasant, a student might use curved, smooth, shapes, and create spaces that are inviting to a person, like a park would be. If the words identified were unpleasant, satudents might make angular shapes that create distance. Create a relief sculpture over flat pieces of recycled cardboard. Cover the face and edges of cardboard pieces with Model Magic. Add freshly-made forms to build up the surface. Dry the sculpture at least 24 hours.

  • 7.

    Students cover work space with recycled newspaper. Have them paint their site sculptures with Crayola Watercolors and Watercolor Brushes. Encourage them to choose colors that compliment the mood being expressed, such as pastels for calm feelings or red for anger. Dry.

  • 8.

    Attach meaningful natural materials and decorative items on and around the sculptures with Crayola School Glue.

  • 9.

    Students title their sculptures, using both the names of the events they are responding to, and the thought or emotion expressed. Ask students to write about their choices, explaining the reasons behind their thinking.


  • VA: Intentionally take advantage of the qualities and characteristics of art media, techniques, and processes to enhance communication of experiences and ideas.
  • VA: Select and use the qualities of structures and functions of art to improve communication of ideas.


  • Students research well-known architects such as Frank Lloyd Wright and sculptors such as Michelangelo or Donatello. What do these artists have in common with Maya Lin? How is their work different?
  • Invite a local sculptor to visit with the class to share his expertise. Prior to the visit, students compose questions for the artist. After the visit, students post learning to a class blog.
  • Students research the artwork of Abstract Expressionists. Create a drawing or painting reacting to a world event, using their approach to color and subject matter. Write a summary of your choices.