Frank Lloyd Wright, Le Corbusier, and Frank Gehry were experimental architects: all worked visually, and arrived at their designs by discovering forms as they sketched. Their styles evolved gradually over long periods, and all three produced the buildings that are generally considered their greatest masterpieces after the age of 60. In contrast, Maya Lin is a conceptual architect: her designs originate in ideas, and they arrive fully formed. The work that dominates her career, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, was designed as an assignment for a course she took during her senior year of college. The dominance of a single early work makes Lin's career comparable to those of a number of precocious conceptual innovators in other arts, including the painter Paul Sérusier, the sculptor Meret Oppenheim, the novelist J.D. Salinger, and the poet Allen Ginsberg.
The views expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Bureau of Economic Research.