Construction of The Wall

Construction team at the site for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Left to right: Architect of Record, Kent Cooper; John Marguart and Bill Choguette of the Gilbane Building Co,; Maya Lin, designer; Bob Doubek; Bill Lecky; Cooper Lecky Partnership.



As soon as the design was chosen, the next step was to consider the all-important details of getting it built.

Maya Lin worked closely with Cooper-Lecky on all aesthetic aspects of the design. Lin knew it was critical to maintain the simplicity of the design throughout the design development and construction process.



Choosing the granite

As the selection of the granite was narrowed down, Lin was keen on preserving the notion that the granite walls be reflective and thin - to help express a critical aspect of the design -  that the memorial was a cut in the earth that had been polished. 

Working with the construction manager, Gilbane Building Company, the design team had to locate the appropriate type of granite: a flawless, reflective, deep ebony stone. In the end, the quarry in India was selected. 


Finalizing the size

The choice of the lettering style - Optima, designed by Hermann Zapf - was a font Lin selected after considering a multitude of options.The font Optima seemed to fit that desire to match an almost printed quality with a hand-cut feel. 

The entire text size and layout Lin saw as an open book.

The text size is less than half an inch, which is unusual for monument design, but was selected to make the memorial read more like a book. This lends a sense of personal intimacy in a public space which helps create a sense of connection to the memorial.

Ultimately, one of the greatest challenges was how to get that many names on the wall panels in  such a short period of time.


Inscribing the names

The design Lin envisioned listed the names chronologically by date of casualty. However, that posed a problem of how to locate an individual name. When Lin asked how many Smiths would be on The Wall, the team realized how important the chronological listing was to the design. 

A chronological listing would also allow a returning veteran to find his or her time of service on The Wall and those who died together to remain together forever on The Wall. The solution on how to locate a name evolved into a directory of names with an alphabetical listing and the panel and line number of each name.

The families of service members who were missing in action originally wanted their names listed separately. Ms Lin arrived at a design solution to note those that were MIA with a symbol (†) that could be altered if the service member was found.

The original design proposal called for all of the names to be individually hand-chiseled in the stone, but it was soon realized the time and money it would take to do that were impractical. Instead, Lin found John Benson, a master stonecutter, to hand cut the text at the apex - the years of the earliest and latest casualties from the Department of Defense list and the brief prologue and epilogue adjacent to the dates. The design team and VVMF searched for a way for the names to be sandblasted rather than hand-carved. 

Larry Century, a young inventor from Cleveland, Ohio, was selected to serve as a consultant to Binswanger Glass Company in Memphis, Tennessee, which was awarded the contract for inscribing the names.

Excerpts taken from, Never Forget: The Story Behind the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, published in 2008. Updated in 2016 by VVMF.