After winning the competition to design the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., Maya Lin — then an undergraduate student at Yale University- – first rose to fame in the world of architecture. Lin continued to design memorial projects such as the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, Alabama, the Women’s Table (commemorating the role of women at Yale), among many others (including landscape and gallery installations), despite the criticism she received for the Vietnam Memorial project. Lin started designing what would become her last memorial, as she stated, back in 2009.
The project, called “What is Missing?,” focuses on educating people on issues involving biodiversity, species loss, and habitat destruction due to both human action and inaction via a multitude of landscape and gallery installations and media. One of those sculptures is the Listening Cone at the California Academy of Sciences, a collection of 150+ videos (including “Unchopping a Tree”), and hundreds of stories collected through the website of the What is Missing? Foundation. The project lends itself very well to the professions and practices of architecture, landscape, sculpture, and information design. It asks the question that it’s possible for memorials to be a dynamic experience and not just a static object. The memorial allows for public and community involvement, as anyone who visits the website can send their memories of natural environments that would later be bulldozed to erect subdivisions.
It’s best to say that the “What Is Missing?” project epitomizes what a memorial should be: it maintains the memory of actions that have already occurred, those of species or natural habitats/environments that will never come back. The message it delivers is that it is already too late for much of Earth’s living things and encourages us to do our part to prevent future circumstances that could be harmful to our environment.